National recognition given to York student group supporting refugees

The World University Services of Canada (WUSC) recently awarded York University’s student Keele Campus Local Committee the 2018 Local Committee of the Year Award, the highest award given at the organization’s annual international forum. York-Keele is a local committee of the WUSC, a non-profit dedicated to improving education, employment and empowerment opportunities for youth around the world. York University also has a well-established committee on its Glendon Campus.

WUSC national staff with York students serving on the WUSC York-Keele Local Committee at the award presentation event

WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) is the only program of its kind to combine opportunities for refugee resettlement and post-secondary education. It has supported more than 1,900 young refugees from 39 countries of origin to resettle and study at universities, colleges and CEGEPs across Canada since it began in 1978. The Local Committee of the Year Award is awarded by WUSC’s Board of Directors to recognize the recent contribution by a group of students to international development and the SRP.

Amid a competitive field featuring numerous other student committees, the WUSC York-Keele Local Committee’s approach and accomplishments stood out from others, said Marilyne Tremblay, program officer of the SRP at WUSC national headquarters in Ottawa.

“This committee stood out because of their leadership on campus and ability to grow their membership in recent years. In the 2017-18 academic year, the York-Keele Committee was able to increase their impact through collaborating with partners on campus and in their community. In doing this, they were able to raise awareness and strengthen support for refugee issues,” said Tremblay. For all their hard work in 2018, we would like to extend congratulations to the students, faculty and staff of the York-Keele University Local Committee.”

Members of the committee accepted their award at the eighth annual WUSC and International Centre for Studies & Cooperation (CECI) International Forum in Ottawa at the end of January, an event attended by more than 500 participants.

More about WUSC York-Keele and the upcoming referendum

Since its launch in 1987, WUSC York-Keele has sponsored 28 young refugees through the SRP, allowing refugees to resettle in Canada and pursue post-secondary education in a Canadian institution. WUSC Glendon also sponsors one refugee student per year on its campus. Sponsorship at both campuses is supported by the York University community through tuition and residence fee waivers, as well as work study opportunities, a commitment strengthened in 2016, although the student levy devoted to sponsorship has remained the same for many years.

WUSC York-Keele is conducting a referendum this week, campaigning with four other organizations under a Better York banner. Students at the Keele Campus are being asked by WUSC York-Keele to increase their current three cent per credit levy to 10 cents per credit, indexed to inflation to maintain and increase support for the current four students per year sponsored by the committee, as well as sponsor additional students. York University students can cast their vote between March 19 and 22 at polling stations on the Keele Campus.

“Awareness and education is the key to real change, which is why we have increased on and off campus community partnerships to participate in campaigns, provide trainings, educate students on refugee crises and execute fundraisers such as the Krispy Kreme fundraisers,” said Areeg Bhalli, events director of the WUSC Keele campus committee.

Student referendums are common for WUSC committees and are an important outreach and educational tool as committees seek to sponsor and support refugee students, noted Professor Jennifer Hyndman, director of the Centre for Refugee Studies, which hosts the committee within the centre. “I was involved with WUSC in Alberta during my undergraduate degree; we had to campaign to win the referendum with very little knowledge in place. It was a formative experience and a primer for me on refugee issues 101,” said Hyndman. “WUSC is promoting the most fundamental of opportunities for refugees: the chance to start again, to return to their education, to remake a home while inspiring hope among those left behind.”

Robert Hanlon, former Chair of WUSC York–Keele for the period covering the award said, “the students of York University play an important role in helping the Student Refugee Program on campus maintain a stable and sustainable program so that we can continue to support sponsored refugee students for many years to come. Education is a right and we have a responsibility as global citizens to support others in achieving that.”