Student Refugee Program changes lives at UVic

- Sasha Gronsdahl

The arrivals area of the Victoria International Airport is generally a pretty quiet place. So this August, when it was filled with UVic students holding brightly coloured signs in Swahili, it was clear they were celebrating an important occasion. The welcoming committee was there to greet Ali Issack, Mohamed Idle, and Hanna Godalle to Canada. The three students were sponsored to come to Canada and study at UVic through the World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) Student Refugee Program.

They are three of 72 students who were sponsored to come to Canada this year from refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East through the WUSC Student Refugee Program.

WUSC works in refugee camps in Syria, Kenya and Malawi to provide young adults living in the camps with an opportunity to resettle in Canada and continue their education at a Canadian post-secondary institution. In the camps, students apply for the program and go through a competitive selection process. In Canada, local committees of student volunteers on university campuses fill out sponsorship papers and make a commitment to support the sponsored students for their first year in Canada.

The UVic WUSC local committee has been active since 1981, and the student club currently sponsors three students each year. In recent years, sponsored students have been from Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of this year’s students, Ali and Mohamed are originally from Somalia and Hanna’s country of origin is Ethiopia. All three students travelled to Canada from refugee camps in Kenya.

Once the sponsored students arrive in Canada, UVic WUSC is responsible for everything from arranging their housing to navigating the Canadian immigration system. Along with coordinating the logistical details of the students’ resettlement, UVic WUSC helps new students integrate into life in Canada by organizing social activities from potlucks to an intramural soccer team.

The program is funded by a yearly donation from the UVic administration and by student fees. Each full-time undergraduate student pays $1.50 towards WUSC each semester. This funding provides financial support for the sponsored students’ first year in Canada, and usually they find jobs and take out student loans to pay for the remainder of their education.

“My thanks to WUSC and UVic is unlimited,” says Ali. “WUSC has become a famous organization all over the camps in Kenya due to its wonderful positive impact on the refugee students.”

Canadian student volunteers benefit greatly from the program as well, says UVic WUSC’s General Coordinator Felicia Wall. “Meeting the new students and learning from them is the most rewarding part of being in WUSC,” she says. “It makes me smile whenever I see them on campus.”

To all those who made his sponsorship possible, Ali has one final message of appreciation. “I am honoured to be a recipient of this tremendous gift,” he says. “Thanks to your generous support, I am proud to be a first-year student at the University of Victoria.”


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Keywords: student, refugee, progr

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