Osgoode student lawyers save family from deportation

Statue of justice

With only 11 hours to spare, two student lawyers from Osgoode Hall Law School’s Community & Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP) saved the parents of a York University student from family breakup and deportation to Colombia, where they faced potential danger or even death.

When second-year student Brandon Jeffrey Jang and third-year student Emma Sandri learned on Dec. 18 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had ordered the parents of a fellow student to be deported on a Colombia-bound plane on Jan. 18, they worked tirelessly over the winter break to prepare about 1,000 pages of legal submissions to stop it – on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).
Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).

The student’s father became a target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the early 1990s when he was a candidate for the country’s Liberal Party, actively working to prevent youth from joining the paramilitary organization. After several threats and acts of physical violence, the family fled to the United States. They returned to Colombia seven years later, but remained in danger and fled again, eventually making their way to Canada in 2009. With the Colombian peace process currently faltering and FARC still a viable force, the family believes their safety could still be threatened if they return to their home country.

The couple’s adult son is a student in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and their daughter is set to graduate from Queen’s University and plans to study medicine. The son and daughter, who already have permanent residency status in Canada, faced being separated from their parents as well as possible academic repercussions if the deportation had gone ahead as scheduled.

The CLASP team’s request to save this family from deportation was initially denied by the CBSA, so they filed two supporting applications with the Federal Court, under the supervision of CLASP review counsel Subodh Bharati. On Jan. 17, just one day before the scheduled deportation, they appeared in person before a Federal Court judge in Toronto to make their case for the family – and they succeeded.

The parents – who have become actively involved in their Toronto community, volunteering during the pandemic, for example, to deliver food to house-bound, immune-compromised residents – expressed their gratitude to the CLASP team in an emotional email.

“Thank you very much for all the effort that you put in our case,” the mother wrote. “I don’t have enough words to express what I feel right now and to say thank you. You are the best lawyers that Toronto has.”

Their joy was shared by Jang and Sandri.

“We were just so happy,” said Jang about hearing news of the successful stay application. “We’ve built a close connection with the family and we’ve all worked extremely hard on this case.”

Jang said the experience has confirmed his desire to pursue a career in immigration law – and this summer he will work for Toronto immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP.

Sandri said preparing hundreds of pages of court applications in a month was a tremendous challenge, but learning that the family can stay in Canada as a result of their efforts was a huge relief and incredibly rewarding.

“It was difficult, in terms of wanting to put out our best work in such a limited time span,” she explained, “and we really felt the pressure of the fact that these people’s lives were possibly at stake.”

As they waited for the court decision, she added, “we both couldn’t sleep because we were thinking about what’s going to happen to this family and we were really stressing about that.”

In the wake of the court decision, Bharati said, the parents can now obtain work permits while they wait for the Federal Court to hear judicial reviews of previous decisions that rejected their applications for permanent residency status.

With the students’ time at CLASP nearing an end, Jang and Sandri expressed special appreciation for Bharati’s guidance and trust.

“All of our experiences at the clinic leading up to this case prepared us for the uphill battle we confronted when fighting for this family,” said Jang. “The result was a total team effort on everybody’s part and it was all worth it.”

Innovative safe water tool receives major grant

Many hands reaching for tap water

Access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are critical to health and well-being, and yet an estimated two billion people globally still lack access to it. Researchers in the Humanitarian Water Engineering Lab at York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research are doing their part to address this crisis, and their efforts have been recognized with a major grant from Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge (CHIC).

Water supply tower at the Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda
Water supply tower at the Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda, where the SWOT has been deployed to help ensure water safety. Photo by Gabrielle String.

Valued at $300,000, the CHIC Transition to Scale Grant will provide transformational funding to accelerate the global scale-up of the York-developed Safe Water Optimization Tool (SWOT), an innovative water quality modelling platform that helps humanitarian responders ensure water safety and protect public health in crisis zones globally.

This free and open-source tool has been deployed in nine countries by seven different humanitarian organizations, as part of initiatives aiming to improve water safety for over half a million people. The new funding will support the development and piloting of the tool as a joint quality-assurance platform used by safe water programs in a selected country this year.

“This grant will enable the integration of the SWOT into the ways of working in the humanitarian sector,” says Syed Imran Ali, an adjunct professor at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering and research fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute who leads the Humanitarian Water Engineering Lab. “We are excited to work with local implementing and global co-ordination partners to demonstrate how the SWOT can help ensure safe water program effectiveness and protect public health in crisis zones globally. We are incredibly grateful to Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge for their amazing support in the past, and now with this grant.”

Syed Imran Ali
Syed Imran Ali

Fawad Akbari, director of humanitarian innovation at Grand Challenges Canada, which oversees the implementation of CHIC, says, “The Safe Water Optimization Tool is a pre-eminent example of how innovation adoption in the humanitarian system can directly and efficiently save and improve lives. We are proud to continue to support this initiative and are looking forward to nurturing this next stage of collaboration.”

The SWOT was developed by a team of researchers and humanitarian practitioners at the Dahdaleh Institute and Lassonde, including Ali; Lassonde Associate Professor Usman Khan; Professor James Orbinski; and Lassonde PhD candidate Michael De Santi; with collaboration from Dahdaleh Institute research staff James E. Brown, Mohamed Moselhy and Ngqabutho Zondo.

Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge is a partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Global Affairs Canada, with support from Grand Challenges Canada. CHIC seeks to enable local organizations, humanitarian agencies, and the private sector to work alongside affected communities to respond more nimbly to complex emergencies, address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering around the world and empower people to create better lives for themselves. This challenge seeks to fund and accelerate innovative solutions that enable life-improving assistance to reach the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people in conflict-generated humanitarian crises.

To learn more about the Safe Water Optimization Tool, read YFile‘s recent story or visit safeh2o.app. To learn more about Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge, visit humanitariangrandchallenge.org.

Study highlights experiences, identities of refugee and migrant drag artists

A member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community holding a fan with the pride rainbow

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

A study by Paulie McDermid, an incoming research Fellow in refugee reception at York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies, looks to advance knowledge of drag artists with refugee or migrant backgrounds and provide greater understanding on how they shape their identities and sense of belonging as they navigate making livable futures for themselves and others in Canada.

Not long after McDermid moved to Canada from Ireland in 2008, he volunteered with a settlement organization supporting migrants and refugees. As someone who identifies as queer and a migrant, he felt invested in helping those with shared experiences. He asked the organization what efforts were being made for those groups. “We don’t have any of those here,” he was told.

“I thought, ‘That can’t be the case,’” McDermid recalls. “It stuck with me.”

A decade later, that memory – that lack of understanding, and even awareness, of an entire group of people – proved to be a point of inspiration for his recent doctoral research study titled “Drag Across Borders: Negotiating 2SLGBTQ+ Being and Belonging Through Drag Personas.” Supervised by Canada Research Chair in Citizenship, Social Justice and Ethno-Racialization Chris Kyriakides, the paper explores intersectional identities and experiences of belonging among 2SLGBTQIA+ drag artists with a refugee or other migrant background.

McDermid's alter ego, Philomena Flynn-Flawn. (Photo credit: Brian Damude).
McDermid’s alter ego, Philomena Flynn-Flawn. (Photo credit: Brian Damude.)

McDermid notes that drag performers, like refugees and migrants, push against borders; they engage in actively cultivating a sense of who they are – in their drag personas and selves as “the newly arrived” – along with a sense of community. McDermid sought to learn more about how they do so. “I was interested in asking people about the relationship between the persona that they invent and the person they are,” says McDermid.

He sought to answer questions such as, “What meanings do drag personas hold for the identities of refugees and other migrants?” and, “In what ways, as refugee or migrants, do they create a sense of belonging in their new home?”

McDermid interviewed 19 drag performers from 16 different countries, now living across Canada, and discovered some common threads among the rich diversity of their lived experiences.

The study, overall, highlighted how these refugee and migrant drag artists make careful selections from their history and experiences to create their drag personas, weaving together gender, ethnicity, race, culture, sexuality, as well as “given” and “chosen” family.

McDermid found that families had significant influences on their drag persona and sense of self, countering what McDermid calls the common “western queer narrative” where given family is framed as a source of potential rejection. Instead, says McDermid, “even in families where some form of rejection was experienced, for the people I interviewed, family was positioned as a really profound resource that helped them secure their sense of belonging.” The drag personas they then created would draw upon family, sometimes memories of family, from their countries of origin, to inform their drag personas in Canada and facilitate who they are in the present.

McDermid’s study also found that participants exhibited notable agency in creating a sense of belonging – typically through the choices they make in cultivating relationships and community. “The drag artists constantly emphasized what they were doing socially and relationally for the communities in which they find themselves and that they’ve created,” McDermid says. For example, one Latinx drag artist who participated in the study created groups for Latinx queer people, Latinx refugees and Latinx HIV-positive individuals. “She was creating community that reflected the elements of her self that she had invested in her drag persona,” he says.

McDermid hopes those two findings – among others in the study – help counter narratives that strip drag performers, and especially refugees or migrants, of agency. For example, he notes how refugees can often be positioned by western countries as “objects” of rescue. Instead, McDermid’s study highlights how these artists push back against a range of anti-migrant and anti-trans/queer forces that seek to exclude and dehumanize them. He adds that refugee/migrant drag artists are also active shapers of their world in ways that are reflective of their art too.

“Drag performance is different from an actor being given a script to follow. Drag artists are the authors of their own script. They decide what they want to do. Theirs is a ‘total’ art of self-presentation,” he says.

Most of all, McDermid hopes his study can build on and reshape knowledge about those who make up this cross-section of identities. Moving forward, he is looking to do that by sharing his work in as many different venues as possible. He’s already partnered with the Centre for Refugee Studies and the Positive Spaces Initiative of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants to share findings from the study.

He’s also pursuing workshops, such as one earlier this year funded by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation for York students and wider community members, which took place at The 519 community centre on Church Street in Toronto. It featured two drag artist participants in the study performing and speaking about what their drag personas mean to them as people with refugee/migrant backgrounds.

Whatever the outcome of his work is, however, what he is most proud of is having been trusted with the lived experiences of those he spoke to: “I felt humbled by the confidence they placed me in sharing those stories. The study is theirs. I’ve intervened in order to bring it together but, ultimately, it’s their stories.”

York-developed safe water innovation earns international praise

Child drinking water from outdoor tap water well

The Safe Water Optimization Tool (SWOT), an innovative technology used to help humanitarian responders deliver safe water in crisis zones, developed by two professors in York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering and Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, was recently highlighted as a success story in two international publications.

Syed Imran Ali

Built by Syed Imran Ali, an adjunct professor at Lassonde and research Fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute, in collaboration with Lassonde Associate Professor Usman Khan, the web-based SWOT platform generates site-specific and evidence-based water chlorination targets to ensure water remains safe to drink all the way to the point of consumption. It uses machine learning and process-based numerical modelling to generate life-preserving insight from the water quality monitoring data that is already routinely collected in refugee camps.

One of the SWOT’s funders, the U.K.-based ELRHA Humanitarian Innovation Fund, recently published a case study on the tool to serve as an example of a successful humanitarian innovation.

As a result of that publication, the SWOT was then highlighted as a success story in another case study, this time in the U.K. government’s latest white paper, titled “International development in a contested world: ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change.”

Water quality staff tests chlorination levels in household stored water at the Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan. Photo by Syed Imran Ali.

“These international recognitions highlight the impact our research is having on public health engineering in humanitarian operations around the world,” explained Ali.

As his team works to scale up the SWOT globally, he believes these publications will help increase awareness of and confidence in the technology. “We’re excited to build new partnerships with humanitarian organizations and help get safe water to the people who need it most,” he said.

For more information about the Safe Water Optimization Tool, visit safeh2o.app.

To learn more about how this innovation is advancing, read this YFile story.

Passings: Howard Adelman

A field of flowers at sunset

Howard Adelman, who passed away July 23, was a York University professor, associate dean and Senate Chair, as well as the founder and former director of the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS).

Howard Adelman

Adelman was a philosopher and scholar of contemporary Canadian and global issues, an activist academic driving change in public policy, and a cultural and political commentator providing valuable and informed insights across cultures and nationsHis distinguished career spanned more than half a century and his work as an academic, author and advisor furthered multiculturalism, diversity and human rights for refugees and forced migrants in Canada and abroad.

At York, Adelman joined the Department of Philosophy in 1966, going on to be active as a professor emeritus and senior scholar at the University. In 1988, he founded the Centre for Refugee Studies, which has become the leading research centre in North America focused on forced migration studies. He served as CRS director for its first five years and since then remained a mentor to those at the centre. In 2008, in his honour, the Annual CRS Howard Adelman Lectures were inaugurated to provide an opportunity for scholars, practitioners and advocates to discuss issues impacting refugees and other forced migrants. He also served as a long-term friend and affiliate of the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York.

Beyond York, Adelman served as a national and international leader in refugee protection, human rights and diversity accommodation, often contributing commissioned research reports for governments and international institutions. He has acted as an advisor on refugee concerns to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Government of Canada. In 2018, he was awarded the Order of Canada in recognition of his wide-ranging scholarship, public policy work and political activism, which included contributing to the rewriting of the policy of private sponsorship of refugees.

Funeral services were held on July 27 at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. The family has requested that tribute gifts in Adelman’s name be made to either the Holy Blossom Israel Engagement Committee or the Holy Blossom Refugee Relief Fund.

An obituary by David Dewitt, professor emeritus in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, has been published by the Centre for Refugee Studies, further detailing Adelman’s extensive accomplishments.

York student seeks to improve lives of refugees

By Elaine Smith

After graduating from York this spring, Tegan Hadisi, the daughter of Iranian refugees, will apply what she learned at the University to further study and assist migrants, contributing to a better future for them.

Hadisi’s academic pursuit of refugee studies is inspired, in part, by personal experience. She was born stateless in Turkey, after her parents left Iran, and came to Canada as a toddler. Growing up, she observed the challenges her parents faced learning a new language, finding employment and gaining financial security before finding their feet.

Tegan Hadisi
Tegan Hadisi

“I can only imagine what it is like to be successful in your own country, then be unable to translate your skills when you come somewhere new due to language and finances,” said Hadisi, who heads to the University of Oxford this fall.

Hadisi also struggled. Like many children of the diaspora, she felt stuck between two worlds, never feeling 100 per cent part of the community where she lived, and longing for her parents’ home country even though she never really knew it.

While earning her undergraduate degree at Western University in art history and museum studies, Hadisi’s understanding of the refugee experience led her to serve as president of Western’s chapter of World University Services Canada, an organization that provides refugee students scholarships to attend university in Canada. During the Syrian refugee crisis, “We had an influx of refugees to campus in one year. It was a really unique opportunity to connect to other lived histories,” she said.

“I realized the importance of higher education and access for historically oppressed and minoritized people. I thought about what I could do with this experience.”

Hadisi chose to enroll in York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, which, since its inception in 1988, has been recognized as an international leader in the creation, mobilization, and dissemination of new knowledge that addresses forced migration issues in local, national and global contexts. There she worked towards her second bachelor’s degree, with an honours specialization in human rights and equity studies and a certificate in migration and refugee studies.

During that time, Hadisi volunteered at Matthew House, an organization that offers a range of support services to help refugee claimants establish new lives in Canada. She supervised mock refugee hearings, preparing claimants for the experience. Her ultimate goal was to attend graduate school somewhere with a centre for refugee and migration studies that published solid research. Yvonne Su, an assistant professor in the Department of Equity Studies, encouraged her to apply to the University of Oxford to earn her MPhil in development studies, confident Hadisi would excel there.

“Tegan shows tremendous potential as a scholar,” said Su. “She has exemplary interdisciplinary research skills, strong critical thinking skills and strong academic writing capabilities. In addition, she is passionate about studying topics of displacement and refuge. She has what it takes to succeed at Oxford and I look forward to seeing where her studies will take her.”

Hadisi applied. “Sometimes, you need someone else to tell you just how capable you are,” she said.

While taking a morning walk in early March, she decided to take a quick look at her phone while standing at a street corner and noticed one from Oxford. She assumed it was simply spam until she opened it to find an acceptance letter.

“I was stunned,” Hadisi said. “It must have showed on my face, because a passerby came up to ask me if I was all right.”

Her two-year program at Oxford will begin with courses, followed by research and a thesis. Hadisi is not quite sure where she’s headed, but she is confident that she’ll discover many options. She loves research, but “My goal is to stay connected with the actual experiences of migrants and refugees, not to just sit behind a desk.”

One thing of which Hadisi is certain is that she’s committed to aiding refugees and migrants. Her passion reflects York’s vision of building a better future and creating positive change, as set forth in the University Academic Plan, along with its commitment to advancing global engagement.

“Refugees are so deeply connected to my own identity, and the work feels so important,” Hadisi said. “If I don’t do this, who will? Who is prioritizing these people? All the dehumanizing rhetoric is so inhumane and I can’t stand by and watch it happen.”

“Working with migrants and refugees is a mutual relationship and I feel so fortunate to be part of the process. What we get in return is just as important as what we give, and we have so much to learn from people who continue to be oppressed.”

As for her time at York, Hadisi is grateful. “York offered a fantastic opportunity to pursue the things I cared about and I knew I needed to take the leap,” she said. “I blinked and two years went by because I had such an incredible time at York. I made good friends and had incredibly inspiring professors; York will always have a special place in my heart.”

York anthropology professor marks Ugandan Asian expulsion with panel session, podcasts

Book covers: We Are All Birds of Uganda, Where The Air Is Sweet, Orange for the Sunsets

This September marked the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Asian expulsion and Canada’s resettlement of nearly 7,500 refugees – exiled by dictator Idi Amin – between 1972-74; it also marked the anniversary of the commencement of Amin’s mass murder of over 500,000 Ugandan Africans.

In honour of those who endured these tragedies, the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival and Carleton University introduce the public panel “No New Land? With Tina Athaide, Tasneem Jamal, and Hafsa Zayyan,” to be hosted by York University Professor Zulfikar Hirji on Nov. 14.

Zulfikar Hirji
Zulfikar Hirji

Hirji, who experienced the expulsion and resettlement when he was a child, will be joined by three authors who have written fictional stories of loss, longing and belonging, each set in the historical context of the expulsion.

Click here to livestream the event.

In collaboration with the three authors, Hirji has also produced a series of podcasts with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, which debuted on Nov. 8.

The panel and podcasts each comprise the inaugural event of the larger conference, “Beyond Resettlement: Exploring the History of the Ugandan Asian Community in Exile,” hosted by Carleton and co-organized by Hirji. The conference engages communities, scholars and government policymakers to consider not only the expulsion and immediate arrival of immigrants but the longer-term impacts of resettlement.

“Beyond Resettlement” will include a series of community forums and workshops in which affected community members will have the opportunity to tell their stories and add to the Uganda Collection, an archive on the expulsion and its aftermath.

Podcast episode 1: We Are All Birds of Uganda with Hafsa Zayyan

Award-winning writer, trial lawyer and hobbyist painter Hafsa Zayyan – who is of Nigerian and Pakistani descent – is the author of We Are All Birds of Uganda (2021).

In this episode, Zayyan describes overcoming writer’s block by immersing herself in research on the expulsion of Ugandan Asians. In researching and travelling to Uganda, Zayyan was amazed by the ways in which – even coming from a half South-Asian and half West-African family – her education failed to inform her on the experiences of Ugandan Asians.

Episode 2: Where The Air Is Sweet With Tasneem Jamal

Tasneem Jamal – a non-fiction book editor, contributor to The Globe and Mail and communications officer – is the author of Where The Air Is Sweet (2018).

Jamal’s book is heavily inspired by her personal experiences as a child, having fled from Uganda to Kenya, England, Canada and even back to Uganda at one point. She recounts vivid memories, like that of having crossed paths with Idi Amin at a hotel swimming pool in Uganda’s capital Kampala, and compares the abrupt banishment of Ugandan Asians to the wreck of the Titanic.

“Survivors talked about being on the Titanic that night, as it was sinking, being told that they need to get off the ship and onto these rickety little lifeboats,” Jamal said. “Intellectually they knew it was sinking but they couldn’t, viscerally, believe it.”

Episode 3: Orange for the Sunsets With Tina Athaide

In the third and final episode of the series, writer and teacher Tina Athaide, author of Orange for the Sunsets (2019), offers a new perspective on how to remember and honour the Ugandan Asian expulsion.

With the initial goal of making a picture book for young children, Athaide discusses working with her editor, who eventually told her “there’s so much material here, put it into a middle-grade book, a novel.”

Now, having toured to classrooms around the world with her book, Athaide recognizes the unique opportunity that storytelling for a young audience presents – as students return home from school with a new curiosity for their family’s culture, or that of a classmate.

Skills development program highlighted by provincial government

Representatives from NEW, representatives from Schulich ExecEd, Sister2Sister ALP participants, and Minister Monte McNaughton

A skills development program at Schulich ExecEd that bridges the gap between employer needs and newcomer women’s skills was recently highlighted by the provincial government.

On Oct. 3, Schulich ExecEd joined Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto (NEW) in a meeting with the Minister of Labour, Immigrant, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, where the topic of discussion was the Sister2Sister Advanced Leadership Program (ALP).

Representatives from NEW, representatives from Schulich ExecEd, Sister2Sister ALP participants, and Minister Monte McNaughton
Representatives from NEW, representatives from Schulich ExecEd, Sister2Sister ALP participants, and Minister Monte McNaughton

The Sister2Sister Advanced Leadership program (ALP) is a skills and leadership development program that bridges the gap between employer needs and newcomer women skills through an intensive training in soft and hard skills capped by a paid internship. Offered in partnership with Schulich ExecEd, a strategic business unit within York University’s Schulich School of Business.

The centrepiece of the program is a foundational Project Management certificate – a highly condensed certification that provides go-to strategic market plans, employment readiness, career coaching and a paid internship. Graduates of this program earn a micro-credential from a top-tier Canadian business school. 

Earlier this year, NEW and the Sisters2Sisters ALP received funding from the ministry through its $90-million Skills Development Fund program.

The Oct. 3 meeting included feedback from program participants, who shared their experiences with the unique and interactive program structure. Through this program, Schulich ExecEd offers racialized newcomer women opportunities to (re)build their leadership capacity, supporting these women’s upskilling, upward mobility, and economic resilience.  

“Immigrants make our province stronger and our culture richer. Our government is proud to invest in programs that give newcomer women the skills to find meaningful jobs in their communities, lead purpose-driven lives, and grow Ontario’s economy for everyone,” said McNaughton. 

Funding from the ministry enabled support for 75 immigrant and refugee women through comprehensive skills and leadership development training, said Sara Asalya, executive director of NEW.

Sandi Martyn, a Schulich ExecEd instructor, said: “Project management training is needed in every industry, and this was an opportunity to provide a skill that would benefit our newcomer women, helping them become confident and settled in our communities.

“I met so many intelligent, courageous, dedicated and hard-working women,” continued Martyn. “They valued their training and overcame every challenge to attend the sessions. It became so much more than project management training. It became a caring, supportive network of women – truly a Sister2Sister experience.” 

Since the Sisters2Sister ALP launched in the Summer of 2022, Schulich ExecEd has helped create direct pathways to the Canadian labour market for 75 immigrant and refugee women, seeing more than 84 per cent of the pilot program graduates securing employment in line with their previous skills.

NEW and Schluch ExecEd will be using the funds from the last round of ministry funding to expland the program and align it with the target audiences, described as “people with prior involvement in the criminal justice system, at-risk youth, those with disabilities, Ukrainian newcomers, and others facing barriers to employment.”

The Sisters2Sister ALP is now accepting applications for its third cohort. Visit the website for more information.

Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health presents two events in October

global health

The Dahdaleh Institute continues its Global Health Research Seminar Series for the 2022-23 academic year with two events in October.

All talks will be delivered in hybrid format. Everyone is welcome. Attendees will join global health leaders, researchers, practitioners and students and during the series, they will have an opportunity to learn about the important collaborative and transdisciplinary research happening at the Dahdaleh Institute (in the thematic research areas of Planetary Health, Global Health & Humanitarianism, and Global Health Foresighting).

The full schedule of events is available at https://www.yorku.ca/dighr/events/.

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 1 p.m. EDT
Computer Modelling in the Assessment of the Health Impacts of Climate Change in Malawi, with Mohammadali Tofighi

In this seminar, Mohammadali Tofighi, a postdoctoral research Fellow at York University, will introduce an agent-based computer model for studying the health impacts of climate changes in the Lake Chilwa Basin. He will present an overview of the model’s features and capabilities and discuss the challenges in developing and verifying the model and the road map that could be used to address these challenges.

Malawi is a land-locked country in the south of Africa. Malawi, and particularly the Chilwa Basin in the south of Malawi, has been highly affected by global climate change over the past few decades. The region has seen a range of devastating climate shocks, and their frequency is increasing. The most prominent shocks are irregular rainfall, drought, prolonged dry periods, and high winds. The changing climate has significant negative impacts on the economy and human health, including population displacement, disruptions in the delivery of healthcare services, increasing prevalence of infectious diseases, and both acute and chronic malnutrition.

The Dahdaleh Institute’s complex adaptive modelling project aims to understand and shed light on the relationship between climate change and health impacts (infectious diseases: malaria, cholera, schistosomiasis, and acute diarrheal disease) and food security in the Lake Chilwa Basin.

Computer simulation models are increasingly being proposed as efficient tools for predicting variations in climate indicators. Recently, they have been used to study the variety of impacts of climate change. They can provide a safe environment for researchers, decision-makers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to examine different scenarios of climate change and to monitor the impacts and evaluate solutions, prevention methods, and adaptation interventions.

Tofighi holds a PhD in civil engineering in water resources management from Sharif University of Technology, Iran. He has worked as an adjunct assistant professor at the Sharif University of Technology and assistant professor at the Ale-Taha Institute of Higher Education, Iran. He has has expertise in water resources management, particularly water-related disaster management and modelling. He has participated in numerous multidisciplinary projects in flood modelling, disaster management, health care modelling, and risk analysis. He is interested in integrating simulation approaches such as agent-based and discrete events modelling, system dynamics, and machine learning methods for a better understanding of the behaviour of the systems.

Read more and register to attend.

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 1 p.m. EDT
Migrant Buses, Trochas, and the Darién Gap: The Venezuelan Refugee Crisis, with Yvonne Su and Gerson Scheidweiler

Since 2014, 6.8 million Venezuelans have fled the country due to economic, political, and social collapse, making this the world’s second-largest external displacement crisis. Venezuelans are often forced to take dangerous routes –through trochas (informal trails guarded by paramilitary or gangs) and the Darién Gap (a deadly trek through Panama’s jungle) – to reach host countries. When they are received, they face other challenges, especially accessing health care and employment, as well as suffering violence and discrimination. Yet, despite these unprecedented numbers and the risks displaced Venezuelans have to take, international funding for the crisis is severely lacking, and now Venezuelan refugees are being weaponized in the United States by Republicans who are bussing refugees across state lines under false pretences.

Yvonne Su and Gerson Scheidweiler will provide an overview of the Venezuelan refugee crisis and discuss the experiences of LGBT Venezuelan refugees in Brazil, particularly those in Pacaraima, Boa Vista, and Manaus.

Su is faculty Fellow of the Dahdaleh Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Equity Studies at York University. She is an expert on forced migration, queer migration, climate refugees, and post-disaster recovery. She currently holds three SSHRC grants that examine the Venezuelan refugee crisis and compare local, national, and international responses to LGBT Venezuelan refugees in Colombia and Brazil.

Scheidweiler is a postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Equity Studies at York University. He is an expert on gender, communication policies, human rights, and sexual health. His postdoctoral research explores the extent to which local, national, and international responses to receive and integrate Venezuelan refugees in Brazil have taken into account the sexual health of vulnerable populations (e.g., women and LGBTQI+ migrants).

Read more and register to attend.

Asylum data visualizations present graphic depiction of flow of refugees

FEATURED image Research theses

Creating the asylum data visualizations, available on YouTube, required a unique combination of legal, coding and data aggregation skills, said Professor Sean Rehaag, director of the Refugee Law Lab (RLL). Research assistant Matthew Tran, who combines those skills, played an instrumental role in bringing the project to life.

“For this project specifically, my legal background helped with discussions between myself and Sean about what data was appropriate to include to provide a clear picture of what we were trying to convey through the data visualization,” said Tran.

“For the Refugee Law Lab at large,” he added, “my legal and process knowledge of refugee law from my experiences working in different legal clinics and community organizations has also been helpful during lab discussions relating to projects/resources that are being created for legal practitioners to use.” 

The federal government imposed a visa requirement on visitors from Mexico in 2009 after it became Canada’s top source of refugee claims. Those claims totalled 9,000 that year. The visa requirement prompted a sudden drop in claims.

Tran used the Python programming language, commonly used in data science, to access APIs (application programming interfaces) that automatically downloaded refugee data from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. He then used Python packages to produce moving graphs. The RLL is now making the code available for the use of other researchers.

“I think what’s interesting is trying to understand patterns and outcomes in the legal process using data and code rather than standard doctrinal legal methods,” said Rehaag.

“We’ve put out data before, but not visual representations,” he added. “Our hope is this would be the first of several attempts to make it more accessible.”

Over the 20-year period, he noted, refugee flows to Canada have been influenced by global conflicts and crises, but also domestic political trends and changes in immigration policy and processes.

The animated bar graph (below) depicting changes in the top 15 asylum source countries in Canada shows that Mexico overtook Pakistan as the leading source of asylum seekers as early as 2006.

Refugee claims from Mexicans increased when the federal government again removed the visa requirement in December 2016.

Over the same 2000-20 period, the Immigration and Refugee Board’s recognition rate for refugees dropped as low as about 42 per cent, rising to 68 per cent around 2016. The visualization also portrays the trend in the cumulative total of asylum applications over that period.  

By 2020, the top two source countries for asylum seekers to Canada, based on the cumulative total of asylum applications, were Mexico with 58,149 and Colombia, with 35,859. Those two were followed by China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Haiti, India, Hungary, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iran, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan and Venezuela.