Osgoode’s Response to the Global Refugee Crisis

As the heart-wrenching images from Europe continue to shape the refugee debate in Canada (how many refugees should Canada take? How can the time-consuming process be expedited? What are the legal and social implications of these efforts? How will the new Trudeau Government make good on its ambitious campaign pledges?), the place of Universities has come to the fore. Ryerson University partnered with the NGO Lifeline Syria to create the Lifeline Syria Challenge which facilitates private sponsorships through the University and has established a target of raising funds for 25 families (with a minimum threshold of $27,000 each), in addition to volunteer efforts to support resettlement of those families in Toronto for a first year after arrival. The GTA’s other Universities, including York, have joined forces to support this initiative, in addition to pursuing others to bring more resources to supporting refugees (York, for example, working with World University Students of Canada (WUSC), plans to expand the tuition waivers and financial supports for refugees coming to the University to study as discussed in today’s Y-File story).

I am privileged to lead Osgoode’s community Syrian Sponsorship campaign – our goal is to reach the $27,000 threshold before the end of the year – and we are well on our way. For those who wish to join Osgoode in sponsoring a Syrian Refugee family (or other York sponsorship campaigns), click here! We will also need volunteers with a variety of skills and experience. I am incredibly proud of the dozens of Osgoode students who have already signed up.

Universities also are uniquely positioned to integrate experiential learning and collaborative research into the sponsorship and resettlement process. Further to this goal, the University of Ottawa has created directed research opportunities for students who join the emerging Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (RSSP). The overall vision of the RSSP is to “match” pro-bono lawyers and law students to sponsors so that we can help more Canadians help more refugees get here faster. A key component of the RSSP is a two part-training program: the first occurs through custom online videos and the second occurs through an in-person internal training meeting, which involves both a subject-matter expert (on the nuances of sponsorships) and an RSSP team member (on such issues as the RSSP intake processes, the boundary between legal information/advice re. students, etc.). Once training is completed, matching will occur and student/lawyer teams will help a group work towards sponsorship. A roster of sponsorship experts (drawn from lawyers, resettlement agencies, social workers, education, housing and health specialists, etc.) to support these teams if complexities arise and a roster of resettlement experts to support planning for refugee-arrival.
Osgoode is joining these efforts with its Directed Research course in support of the RSSP, which will commence next term. To find out more about the Directed Research course, contact Pierre-André Thériault at pierre-andretheriault@osgoode.yorku.ca.

Osgoode JD and graduate students separately are working as pro-bono volunteers with local law firms seeking to assist with the refugee approval system for those refugees who have made it to Canada, and with NGOs like Lifeline Syria, focused on advocacy to accept more state-sponsored refugees and facilitating more private sponsorship. Members of the Osgoode community are also involved in research collaborations with York’s Centre for Refugee Studies which seek to explore the causes and consequences of the Refugee Crisis, and to chart better policies, processes and principles for the future.

Other Osgoode students are working closer to the centre of the Refugee Crisis. For example, Jennifer Danch, a second-year Osgoode Hall Law School law student found herself on an exchange program this semester with one of our partners, the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. After class, she joined an informal network of volunteers supporting refugees who had been camped out at the train stations in Budapest on route to Austria and Germany. Jenn reached out to colleagues back at Osgoode and the response was overwhelming – within days, she had purchased 435 train tickets and those families made it to Austria and Germany before the borders closed. She is now keen to share her experience as a mentor for others seeking to learn about community organizing.

Universities ought to be drivers of community development in all the senses this can mean – and the experience of the University response to the Global Refugee Crisis demonstrates both the possibilities (and, of course, the limits) of this aspiration. Every aspect of the University (philosophy and medicine, engineering and health, sociology and law, etc.) will have resources to support projects and experiential opportunities in relation to refugee support initiatives and I hope Osgoode can play a collaborative role within the York community. Indeed, bringing the different parts of the University community (whether in the sense of various faculties, departments and divisions or in the sense of students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners and donors) together in support of a shared goal like the response to the Refugee Crisis is itself a meaningful outcome.

I hope Osgoode’s efforts live up to the Law School’s long tradition of pursuing social justice as well as York’s values of inclusion and global reach, but most of all, I hope our efforts make a positive and concrete difference in the lives of those most in need of our support!