York Steps Up to respond to Global Refugee Crisis

As the Global Refugee Crisis deepens, particularly the exodus from Syria to uncertain European shores, it is moving to see so many quarters at York University stepping up to respond. I have focused on Osgoode’s initiatives and York’s collaboration with WUSC to provide support for refugees studying at York in a previous post, but here I wish to look more broadly at the University’s efforts. York is a large, vibrant and young University, with a particular focus on social inclusion and social innovation.


Within the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. Sociologists and Friends are frustrated with how wars, profiteering and political posturing are forcing people from their homes, and how our immigration system is stopping them from getting to safety. This group has gathered together to raise funds to sponsor a Syrian Refugee family based on a simply commitment “We say ‘refugees are welcome in our communities.’”. The lead for this team is Professor Lesley Wood and at last count, pledges topped $32,000. As with the other York sponsorship campaigns, the Sociology group is working with the Ryerson hosted Lifeline Syria Challenge in identifying families in need. To join LA&PS Dean Ananya Mukherjee-Reed and others supporting the Sociologists and Friends campaign, click here!
Faculty and community members at York have also been taking an active role in the debate regarding the policy choices in relation to refugees. Centre for Refugee Studies Acting Director Christina Clark-Kazak (with a colleague at UC San Diego) have authored an open letter calling for an affirmation of the right to all to seek asylum. This initiative is in addition to diverse and vibrant research initiatives throughout the University coordinated by CRS.
York students are actively engaged in the University response, particularly through RefugeAid, which has been galvanizing students to raise awareness, raise funds and raise support. Mariam Hamaoui, a former lead of RefugeAid prior to her graduation in 2015 with a Specialized Honors Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies, has now taken on the role of Syrian and Refugee Awareness Initiative Student Liason and Project Associate to lead a variety of student, volunteer and event oriented initiatives. She can be reached at hamaouim@yorku.ca. John Carlaw, who is completing his doctorate in Political Science, has taken on the role of Syria and Refugee Awareness Initiative Project Lead and is coordinating support for a range of Sponsorship groups, in addition to coordination with research and teaching initiatives in the global refugee response field across the University, and in close collaboration with York’s Centre for Refugee Studies. You can reach John at carlaw@yorku.ca.
York alumni are also leading the way. Virgil Haden-Pawlowski, for example, is currently Head of Programmes at the NGO Syria Relief. He is a 2012 BA (Hons) graduate in Political Science and International Development Studies. He was also the recipient of the Political Science 50th Anniversary Award for Commitment to Social Justice. He now oversees all project operations for a humanitarian aid and stabilization oriented NGO operating in Syria during the ongoing civil war, a portfolio of more than $10 million USD in development and humanitarian funding. Or, to take another example, Malcolm Brown, currently Deputy Minister for International Development in the Government of Canada, has just been announced as the new Special Advisor to the Clerk of the Privy Council on the Syrian Refugee Initiative.
This just scratches the surface of the breadth and depth of activities at York responding to the Global Refugee Crisis. I look forward to providing ongoing updates and welcome hearing about additional thoughts, ideas and projects York might pursue.