The Trent University community has raised $35,000 through Trent Gives to support the World University Services Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program (SRP). As a result of the combination of the student levy designated to the SRP and the University’s fundraising efforts, Trent will welcome one Syrian refugee in January and three more refugees in the fall of 2016.
As President Groarke notes, “The funds raised by the Trent community in support of the WUSC Student Refugee Program are a strong expression of Trent’s commitment to internationalization and social justice.” Dr. Mike Allcott, director of the Trent International Program and an important figure behind the efforts to raise funds and support the SRP, shares in the view that such an accomplishment reflects Trent University’s desire to step up and take an active role in addressing the refugee crisis.
While university-wide support for the SRP is undeniably an incredible expression of global citizenship and must be recognized and celebrated, it is equally important to acknowledge that the $35,000 represents only a small victory in the context of the global refugee crisis and the on-going war in what was once Syria and Iraq.
Dr. Allcott contends that the funds are but a small part of the resettlement process: “The thing that our community needs to learn is how to genuinely befriend someone with whom you have very little in common.” He argues that the largest challenge in welcoming refugees is integrating them into the community and engaging in a process of mutual support, learning, and respect.
Building genuine support networks is essential for welcoming refugees into the community; however, such an effort is challenged by the negative discourse surrounding refugees and the rise in Islamophobia. Addressing the refugee crisis is not simply a matter of raising funds, but of changing the way in which we imagine and construct ‘the other’ and in which we understand the interconnectedness of global issues.
Before blindly celebrating Trent’s open doors for refugees, it is essential to question why there are 59 million displaced persons in the world, and why our actions have not been adequate to the magnitude of this issue in past years? In our support for Syrian refugees, let’s not forget that worldwide, the number of refugees is only rising.
It is essential to understand Canada’s role in displacing and failing to adequately respond to the 4 million refuges who have fled Syria and Iraq, and the 11 million who remain internally displaced. Before celebrating our achievement in welcoming refugees, understand that Canada has carried out over 200 airstrikes in the area and has remained complicit with the daily bombings and civilian deaths in the Middle East, where the events of November 13 in Paris are repeated day after day by a multitude of actors. However, these bombs, we mistakenly call war, while the ones in Paris, we call terror.
Understand that in the past 10 years, Canada’s legislation on refugees has become increasingly regressive. Understand that the 25,000 refugees that the government had initially pledged to so graciously grant entry by 2016, has been significantly reduced to 2,000, out of which 80% are being funded by private programs and organizations, such as WUSC’s SRP.
Understand that a refugee is not a victim who has been stripped of all agency and autonomy that needs to ‘be saved.’ Our complacency with regressive immigration policies, continued violent and disruptive foreign interventions, and fictitious construction of ‘the other’ as a threat has contributed to the global refugee crisis. Understand that a refugee is a person whose life has been disrupted because the world chose to wage its war on their territory, while we did nothing about it.
Understand that we are all connected to the global refugee crisis and to the conflict in the Middle East; that our support should not be thought of as charity or philanthropy, but as our responsibility as global citizens.
As Jason Najum writes: “When something terrible continues to happen, over and over, all of us are to blame. By not resisting old ways of thinking nor doing whatever you can to open eyes, by not demanding better of your country or culture.”
Trent University’s commitment to financially support four refugee students is a portrayal of the university community’s values of global citizenship and social justice. It is a baby step in the right direction, but what we need are strides.