Launching York University’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative

This past week, York University’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative was publicly launched with enthusiasm and energy. The launch includes a new website for the Initiative (which I encourage you to explore). The site has links to obtain more information on educational opportunities for students and community members, information on refugee sponsorship projects, student and other York Initiatives as well as links to each of York’s refugee sponsorship and fundraising teams. The site highlights the sustained engagement and impressive history of the Centre for Refugee Studies in responding to the global refugee crisis, as well as further advocacy and volunteer opportunities as we build toward future activities and projects.
The launch is also an occastion to ensure everyone at York with an interest in participating in the response to the global refugee crisis gets involved. If you or your department or student group are doing work to support refugees we’d like to include a link to your work on the site. Please reach out to our team at refugees@yorku.ca .

The launch promoted several York initiatives to support refugees through enhanced donations infrastructure: to support WUSC and other refugee students more broadly, and highlighted York’s increased commitment to WUSC refugee sponsorship – with York committing spots to 5 refugees per year sponsored through this program starting this fall. The event and format are discussed here. The WUSC committees carrying out this increased sponsorship commitment can use your help- please learn more about them at http://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/refugees/wusc-refugee-sponsorship/ .

At the launch I was honoured to join Christina Clark-Kazak, Acting Director of the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS), and the President of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Loly Rico, as guest speakers. The audience found Loly’s words and reflections on her own experience as a refugee to Canada and the need to advocate for all groups of refugees particularly inspiring. We hope our initiative can form a part of a national response to answer this call.
A shout out is also due York’s amazing Syria Response and Refugee Initiative project team who summarized many of York’s initiatives to date- John Carlaw, who organized the events, Pierre-André Thériault who discussed the important and exciting work taking place through Osgoode’s participation in the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, and Mariam Hamaoui who described the many activities York students were undertaking for refugee awareness week.
The launch was preceded by a Syrian Refugee sponsorship information session. This event
drew over 60 attendees from York and the wider community, including members and prospective members of York sponsorship teams.

This Lifeline Syria Challenge sponsorship session, building on the leadership Ryerson University has provided for this aspect of the response, included presentations by John Carlaw, York’s Initiative Project Lead and Melissa Scott, Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) trainer. Melissa is an alumna of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies and York’s Keele Campus WUSC Committee. It was great to welcome Melissa back to campus. Audience members and our staff were very grateful for the outstanding background and overview of refugee sponsorship she provided and look forward to future sessions with RSTP and other guests, who are giving our teams valuable information to be strong sponsors and supporters of refugees.
Last week was also York’s undergraduate student led Refugee Awareness week, which also featured an information session for York student volunteers. We were proud to be part of their exciting and inspiring week of events. Mariam Hamoui, our Project Associate has been strengthening the links between these student-led efforts and the University response.
I am so impressed with York’s response to the challenge to engage in sponsorship and support and advocate for the rights of all refugees. The donor response has reflected extraordinary generosity. The growth of York’s sponsorship teams and the WUSC refugee tuition waiver and bursary program have together given the whole University a sense of purpose and momentum. This is a multi-faceted initiative in which every York community member has a distinct and important role to play. Most meaningfully, York community members who began their journey in Canada as refugees have stepped up to play a range of leadership roles. I look forward to sharing more of their and our stories in forthcoming posts.