By Catherine Traer and Gisèle Nyembwe | This story was originally published by UNHCR Canada. Read the original here. [article in French only]
LEVIS, Canada – Catherine Dufort, a humanities and languages student at Cégep de Lévis-Lauzon, did not let herself be intimidated by the daunting task of convincing the entire school’s administration to sponsor a refugee to come and study at her CEGEP.
“It wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to persevere and keep my goals in sight, and in the end a lot of people got on board. It didn’t take long for students, teachers and the administration to get involved in this great project.”
Drawing inspiration from the work of WUSC local committees at universities across the country, Catherine sought to establish a local committee at her own CEGEP.
“It has always been my sincere belief that it’s vital to act according to one’s values. Since WUSC projects focus on the status of women, education, refugee issues and sustainable development, I felt committed to creating a local committee at my school to sponsor a student.”
Refugees who receive sponsorship enjoy a unique opportunity to access higher education on a Canadian campus. What is more, the permanent resident status they receive upon arrival allows them to build a new life in Canada.
While such an initiative benefits young refugees, sponsoring student refugees also creates a great deal of enthusiasm among Canadian students. In fact, it is up to them to gather the necessary funds to support the refugees during their first year of studies in Canada, and mentor them once they arrive.
“I am very proud of what we have achieved: sponsoring refugees is a very realistic and achievable endeavour. Our project will come to fruition next August and we’re all very excited to find out who will come to study at our CEGEP.”
According to a 2017 study, 96% of refugees who have taken part in this program have completed their post-secondary studies, and many intend to pursue their education further. The majority of student refugees (80%) obtain work in their field of study upon graduation.
Although it is well established in universities across Canada, the Student Refugee Program remains little known in Quebec CEGEPs. The strong desire to change this situation at Cégep de Lévis-Lauzon seems to have caught on at a number of other CEGEPs which now intend to follow suit.
Given the rapid worldwide decline in available resettlement opportunities for refugees and the lack of access to post-secondary education for the vast majority, the Student Refugee Program is a positive way for the Canadian government, WUSC and CEGEPs to answer the call of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to open up additional spaces for the resettlement of refugees.
Less than 1% of the 17.2 million refugees of concern to the UNHCR around the world were resettled in 2016. Today only 1% of refugees have access to higher education, in contrast with 36 percent of youth across the globe and 80% of young Canadians.
With close to 100 partners in Canadian post-secondary institutions, WUSC has supported nearly 1,900 young refugees from more than 39 countries over the past four decades. The UNHCR hopes that more CEGEPs will soon join this effort.
CEGEPs can consult this manual to guide them in their efforts to sponsor young refugees on their campus.