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University provides funding as well as legal counsel, scholarships

Professor Jennifer Bond and event organizer Anthony VanDuzer at the event in Fauteux Hall.       Photo: Eric Davidson.

The University of Ottawa has stepped up in the international refugee crisis with the creation of a Faculty of Law Refugee Sponsorship program, along with a post-secondary certificate program for Syrian and Lebanese refugees, and scholarships reserved for refugee students.

“Like all Canadians, members of the University of Ottawa community have been deeply moved by the plight of refugees fleeing war in Syria and other countries,” said Allan Rock, president of the U of O, in a press release.  “We feel an obligation to act in practical ways that will make a difference.”

The University is establishing a $400,000 fund in order to finance the programs.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has found that the number of displaced persons in the world is currently at the highest level ever recorded, with one in every 122 people either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that 2,200 refugees have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe since June.

Canada’s involvement in the crisis has been a contentious issue, particularly in the thick of the election campaign.

Professor Jennifer Bond, who is involved with the initiative, spoke about Canada and the U of O’s involvement in the crisis at an International Law Speaker series event held at Fauteux Hall on Oct. 6.

She stressed the fact that Canada can and must do more to aid in the resettlement of refugees.  Although the number of refugees keeps rising, Canada has not raised its resettlement target for the last five years.

The UNHRC claims that there are roughly 20 million refugees in the world today. Among those numbers, there is a quota for government-assisted refugees and a quota for privately sponsored refugees. If Canadians don’t take action to privately sponsor refugees, many of those spots go unfilled.

The University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law and the Refugee Hub have decided to take immediate action to make sure that Canada meets its quota when it comes to privately sponsored refugees.

The Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (RSSP) began as a modest initiative. Its aim is to train law students and lawyers in sponsorship, and then pair them with Canadians that wish to sponsor a refugee.

“It is an energizing and amazing time to be doing this work,” said Professor Bond. The model is simple yet effective, and with the overwhelming amount of Canadians that want to help, the program has potential for nation-wide reach.

The post-secondary certificate program is in partnership with the American University of Beirut, and combines online and on-site learning for people in refugee camps, especially since many of these people don’t have educational transcripts.

“Their path to higher education is blocked, but this provides a way forward for them,” said Nadia Abu-Zahra, program co-director and Faculty of Social Sciences professor, in a press release.

For the scholarships, the U of O will be working with  World University Services of Canada (WUSC) and other organizations to find candidates to start in January or September 2016.

For more information on what you can do to contribute, you can visit the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program at refugeessp.ca