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Mock refugee campus used to raise awareness, lobby for increase in student levy

Photo by Lindsay MacMillan

Students set up camp March 18–20 to hold a mock refugee campus and raise awareness for the Student Refugee Program.

The white tents put up in the University Centre Agora and in front of the Faculty of Social Sciences building represented a typical situation families face in refugee camps. They were set up by members of the University of Ottawa Local Committee for the World University Service of Canada (WUSC).

“It gives an idea of where a family of five would live and the hardships they would face,” said Lyse-Pascale Inamuco, co-president of the University of Ottawa local committee of the WUSC and a former refugee. “It invites students into a public space to raise awareness about our committee. The main focus is education and empowerment.”

The Student Refugee Program provides refugees with the chance to achieve higher education. The WUSC is a national non-governmental organization focusing on international development, with 70 local committees in Canada. Goals of the Student Refugee Program include allowing students to sponsor student refugees, providing refugees an opportunity to study in Canada as permanent residents, and supporting sponsored students to adapt and succeed in school and in Canada.

When the student comes to Canada, they are welcomed at the airport, provided with resources to counter culture shock, shown around campus, and helped to find summer jobs and apartments. After university, some students stay in Canada to work while some return home.

The U of O has hosted eleven refugee students, with two attending this year. Funding for the program comes from a $1.36 levy of every student’s tuition, which allows for two refugee students per year.

One of the goals of the mock refugee campus was to seek student support to raise the levy to $2.50, Inamuco said, which would sponsor three students per year.

Inamuco said the other goals of the event were to educate students about the program and the WUSC and to recruit new members to the committee.

“I had to do something based on my experience,” she said. “There’s a global refugee crisis. Students don’t get opportunities unless sponsored, and we have to start with education to organize ourselves and provide those opportunities.”

Erika Massoud, secretary of the local committee, said the application and acceptance process is long and complex.

“It starts off in the camps in WUSC offices in Malawi, Kenya, Thailand, and other places,” Massoud said. “Potential students apply to the office where they have to do interviews and exams. It’s a long process to get accepted.”

Accepted students have their files sent to the local committees, who choose which students should come to their campus.

“We try to accept students who can get one of the admission scholarships here,” said Massoud, “so it’s easier for them financially.”