York U sponsors welcome Syrian refugees to Canada on World Refugee Day, June 20

FEatured image shows refugees in a camp in syria

In addition to a special campus film screening, two York University-based sponsorship teams will mark World Refugee Day today by welcoming three more Syrian refugees to Canada through the Syria Response and Refugee Initiative (SRRI).

Sara Wasef

York’s Glendon Collective and Team Math&Stats  are two of 10 refugee sponsorship teams at York University who are participating in the pan-GTA Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge (RULSC) who will collectively sponsor 41 Syrian refugees to settle in Canada. The two York University teams will be at Pearson Airport on June 20 to welcome the Syrian newcomers they are sponsoring.

“World Refugee Day is an international day observed on June 20 to raise awareness about refugee crises and situations across the world,” said SRRI Student Ambassador and third-year Global Health student Humaima Ashfaque, a member of the Glendon Collective sponsor team who helps coordinate the project’s Refugees Welcome Here! campaign.

She and fellow Glendon Collective student team members, Hammad Saif, a kinesiology and health science student, and Sara Wasef, a biomedical science student, point to their prior experiences as newcomers to Canada and values of solidarity for their participation in the sponsorship project.

Wasef expresses her gratitude for “a feeling of security; security to be myself, speak my mind, and go out on the street without having to fear for my life or dignity,” and a desire to have “the honor to provide a semblance of that to those who need it most” as motivations.

a collage of team members from Math and Statistics
The Team Math&Stats

“This program has taught me a lot of things about advocacy and truly working towards a vision and goal that you believe in I am glad that I got to be a part of this whole endeavor and I would absolutely do it again if given the chance,” said Saif.

The desire to act is echoed by their team lead, Glendon College Associate Professor María Constanza Guzmán, who shares her team’s appreciation “to have had the chance to respond in this way to the global refugee crisis” as they “remain committed to engaging actively in what we view as our responsibility.”

Teams in the RULSC Challenge have committed to fundraising and managing the necessary funds to support Syrian refugees and provide settlement support for up to one year upon their arrival in Canada.

Centre for Refugee Studies Director Jennifer Hyndman and SRRI Project Lead John Carlaw agree. “The York sponsors should be commended for their preparations, patience, and tenacity in waiting for the Syrian families to arrive. The work began more than a year ago, and will continue for more than a year after their arrival,” they said in a joint statement.

Jennifer Hyndman

“Some have said that private refugee sponsorship defines what it means to be a resident or citizen of Canada,” said Hyndman.

The Syria Response and Refugee Initiative, housed at York’s Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) with significant support from Osgoode Hall Law School also engages with and highlights the work of students and student groups in other forms of refugee support and activism within the University. The Muslim Students Association, for example, has raised more than $1,500 for the Glendon Collective’s sponsorship efforts and worked with the project’s student-led Refugees Welcome Here! campaign on a clothing drive for clients of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre.

John Carlaw

“Sponsorship creates many different opportunities for York, opportunities to build and support the University community and the communities around us, opportunities for experiential education about the refugee system and about the positive difference every individual can make in the lives of those who come to Canada as refugees, and finally opportunities to gain and share a better understanding of the global dynamics that have created the refugee crisis, and the policies that might solve that crisis,” said Osgoode Hall Law School Dean and Special Advisor to the President on Community Engagement Lorne Sossin.

Faculty of Science Mathematics & Statistics Professor Mike Zabrocki, the lead of Team Math&Stats notes that for his team, “many members are themselves immigrants to Canada and the reason we originally wanted to participate in the sponsorship of Syrian refugees is that we felt like we were in a position to help.”

While highly motivated, Zabrocki’s team, like several others, has found the long wait times for sponsored refugees to arrive a major challenge. He hopes that members of the University community “make their politicians aware that there is still interest from groups like ours for Canada to do more to sponsor refugees. We are anticipating welcoming a second family, but the wait times indicate that the family may not be approved for a very long time.” After the arrival of the Syrian families on June 20, the York University teams will still be waiting for the arrival of 16 Syrian refugees with the length of those waits being uncertain.

Hyndman echoes Zabrocki’s concerns and the importance of refugee sponsorship. “Refugee resettlement is the only ‘durable solution’ that works in the current order we call the global refugee regime. It’s a WWII invention that needs serious rethinking, but private sponsorship such as that underway by the York teams, remains relevant and important to providing permanent high-quality protection for refugees,” said Hyndman.

To learn more, visit the Syria Response and Refugee Initiative website.