Canada’s Migrant Resettlement and UBC’s Involvement

We want to make it easier for Canadians to stay updated as we welcome Syrian refugees.” — Government of Canada, Immigration Office.

The state of Syria and its citizens has proven to be a humanitarian crisis that requires the involvement of the global community to provide space for Syrian refugees to find shelter. The shocking news of Alan Kurdi’s death spurned the necessity for world leaders to accommodate migrants into their countries, and Canada was among the countries that actively took part in drafting budgets and making resettlement plans.

Trudeau’s Liberal Government had made promises during its campaign to resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of February 2016, with an estimated $678m allocated towards the effort to provide housing and other necessary amenities to migrants. This was a stark increase from the original budget that allocated $250m, with the reason for the change implied by the Immigration Minister, John McCallum, as not having “anything scientific in it.” The Liberal Government, much like Harper’s previous Conservative administration, relied on corporate and private funding, particularly for housing costs which are about $50m.

Accounting to the latest accommodation issue in Vancouver, this massive immigration to the lower mainland has the potential of disrupting the housing market for current Canadian citizens, especially for Vancouverites for whom finding housing is already a challenge — a task most UBC students should be starkly familiar with in their hunt for housing close to campus. CBC news reports that there already exists inadequate housing for government sponsored refugees, with some stuck in the airport for weeks, in comparison to privately sponsored migrants who continue to arrive and find housing.

Accommodating refugees into a new place, a new country with cultures, religions and laws, that may be foreign to them is not an easy task. Beyond the statistics of the money and houses required to settle incoming migrants, there is also the psychological aspect that has to be considered — many refugees have had to endure trauma on their travels to escape the horrors of ISIS in Syria and Governments have to take measures to ensure the safety of migrants against political and social discrimination once they have been settled.

The University of British Columbia has been actively involved in the resettlement effort for refugee students and in collaboration with World University Services Canada (WUSC) aims to provide financial support to refugee students, collaborating with over 60 campuses across the country, including our very own UBC. UBC however, is the only campus in Canada to undertake a Resettlement program that oversees students personal well-being, housing, finances and other needs taken of. UBC has been assisting students with refugee status or who are financially unable to attend post-secondary education since 1981. The Director for UBC’s International Recruitment of Students in the Americas, Middle East and Africa, Aaron Anderson states that, “while these students are coming from other countries, and hold other citizenships, once they become refugees in Canada, then their status is considered equal to a ‘domestic’ student. They are eligible for domestic student financial support and government assistance.” Under a contractual agreement, UBC offers Financial aid alongside resettlement opportunities, offering renewable scholarships up to $40,000 for Domestic and International students. UBC Enrolment Services clarify that the academic requirements of all prospective students, including Refugees, and assessed fees are all the same. Acceptances are based purely on merit.

“Refugee’s entering UBC are assessed no differently than any other domestic student.” — UBC Enrolment Services

One of the main concerns of accepting refugee students to post-secondary educational institutions, however, is their lack of education credentials from their country of origin. WUSC and UBC aim to increase the number of incoming students attending UBC as of the 2016–2017 academic year to 8, equally distributed into the Graduate and Undergraduate programs considers the diverse nature of circumstances applicants are faced with.

Canada’s resettlement efforts of refugees in British Columbia could have tremendous consequences in the future, both negative and positive. With over 43% of the Province willing to welcome Syrian migrants, it paves way for intercultural understanding and may come to influence the cultural lifestyle of the area significantly. Despite the economic turbulence s at the moment, the resettlement efforts of both the government and the University deliver a stark example of public institutions working together for the common good.