UVic responds to international refugee crisis


History Refugee Committee to sponsor family from Syria    

On Sept. 15, the week after President Jamie Cassels wrote to the campus community about the need for a university response to the international refugee crisis, nine colleagues in UVic’s history department decided to proceed in sponsoring a family from Syria.

Now that number has grown to more than a dozen regular faculty members, two emeritus professors and one adjunct professor—so far. “It’s not an official departmental initiative,” explains Dr. John Lutz, chair of the department and one of the original nine. “This is colleagues in our faculty wanting to bring one family here to Canada.”

The group also wants to “challenge” or invite other departments and units on campus and from history departments at universities across Canada to consider doing the same.

“We knew our efforts could have a huge impact on one family, but wouldn’t touch the larger picture,” says Lutz. “However, it’s not an ‘either/or.’ As a nation, we can’t stop working on the larger front. That doesn’t mean we as individuals should be paralyzed by the enormity of the situation and do nothing.”

“It came up in informal conversations over the summer as to whether we as colleagues wanted to collectively explore support for this idea,” adds Lutz, “but the events of late August and early September pushed us to a place where we felt we had to act now.”

The History Refugee Committee is chaired by Drs. Elizabeth Vibert, Lynne Marks and Martin Bunton. Vibert says, “We hope our effort to sponsor a Syrian family, and our public sessions, help to draw attention to the horrific plight of over 50 million refugees around the world—attention and action.”

"We have been talking to the Intercultural Association of Victoria about identifying a Syrian family to sponsor,” adds Marks. “There are some bureaucratic hurdles to overcome first, but we are excited about this opportunity to make a difference."

As an academic unit, the history department also worked with the Centre for Global Studies and the European Union Centre of Excellence in co-organizing two panel discussions at UVic in September on the refugee crisis.

New campus initiatives double refugee support, challenge community to contribute

UVic as an institution has committed to provide $300,000 to two new initiatives. The first doubles the number of student refugee spaces at UVic for the next three years through funding to the World University Services Canada (WUSC) UVic Local Committee, which has been in place since the early 1980s. WUSC has many years of experience and expertise working in refugee camps to provide young adults with an opportunity to enter Canada as permanent residents and continue their education at a post-secondary institution.

The WUSC UVic Local Committee is student-driven and depends on UVic students to help provide the sponsored student refugees with support in the community.  The spaces cover both educational and living costs, and are available to refugees from Syria and other regions.

UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies has dedicated $25,000 to work with local refugee aid organizations to provide language and job skills training to refugee families.

The university also created a $50,000 fund—the UVic community matching fund for refugee assistance—to match the contributions of university community members who want to lend their support to these initiatives. These could further increase the number of spaces for refugee students at UVic in the future.

For more details of UVic’s response and for more information on campus events, activities and forums, local and international organizations working in the field, and how to contribute to the UVic community matching fund, please go to the website: uvic.ca/refugeeresponse.  

To connect on the history “challenge” initiative:


To connect with the UVic WUSC Local Committee:

https://www.facebook.com/wuscuvicor email: wuscuvic@gmail.com

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Keywords: human rights, refugees, community, history

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