WUSC at Global Refugee Forum.
Wenasa Alaraba, SRP alum with Minister Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, at the Global Refugee Forum, December 2019.

One year in: How the WUSC network is fulfilling the pledges we made at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum

It has been a little over a year since we participated in the first-ever Global Refugee Forum (GRF), hosted by the UNHCR in Geneva. The Forum was an opportunity to demonstrate international responsibility-sharing, one of the key principles contained in the Compact on Refugees (GCR). During the event, various international actors, such as States, organizations, businesses, academics and refugees themselves, affirmed and reaffirmed their commitment to improving refugee situations by making over 1,400 pledges globally.

As an organization that has been working to enhance the lives of refugees, particularly through our Student Refugee Program for over 40 years, WUSC remains strongly committed to delivering long-term solutions for refugees. 

In collaboration with Canadian youth and our 100+ university, college, and CEGEP campus partners across the country, we pledged: 

  1. to expand education pathways and develop welcoming communities in Canada
  2. to champion education pathways and improve global practices and
  3. to include refugee voices in programming, public engagement, communications, research, and policy dialogue activities

Shortly after making these commitments in December of 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. By March of 2020, already many countries in the world had been impacted. Refugee communities were among those at highest risk of losing their livelihoods, not having access to quality healthcare, and not returning to school upon reopening. 

Even though we had to put a pause on the arrival of the new cohort for 2020, we continued to lay the groundwork and engage our partners and stakeholders on how we could ensure that durable solutions for young refugees remained at the forefront of global conversations and efforts, including in COVID-19 recovery. 

One year in, we are pleased to share an update on the progress made in 2020 towards pledges made during the GRF:

Pledge 1: How WUSC Local Committees are expanding education pathways and access to higher education:

As the pandemic impacted Student Refugee Program sponsorships for the 2020-2021 academic year, Local Committees stayed engaged and kept their work going. 

  • Eleven Local Committees have increased the number of sponsorships on their campus.
  • Nine Local Committees went above and beyond to ensure that as many students as possible could arrive through our program by sponsoring students that had lost their original placement due to COVID-19 pressures on partner institutions. 
  • Five  Local Committees ensured the sustainability of the Student Refugee Program on their campus by passing referendums. Many more increased their members, for a total of 1,500 Local Committee members across the country. Over 60 Local Committees actively engaged other institutions to implement the Student Refugee Program on their campuses; and over 50 have built welcoming communities for newcomers. 

With the support of a private donor, we also launched our Growth Fund, an opportunity for Local Committees to access financial support to fulfill the goal of growing the program on their campus for the 2021-2022 school year, and put in place funding mechanisms to maintain this growth in the future. 

Pledge 2: How we are championing improved global practices and education pathways

Over the past year, we continued to champion improving global practices and education pathways. In October, WUSC was elected co-chair of the Task Force on Education Pathways for Refugee Protection, alongside the Open Society University Network (OSUN). This taskforce will identify high-potential countries, regions, partnerships and initiatives that can sustainably expand opportunities for refugees to pursue their academic aspirations in a third country and find a durable solution through the granting of alternative legal statuses. 

We also received funding from the Canadian government to provide technical assistance for facilitating refugee youth integration in Peru. This one-year project, starting in 2021, will be a good opportunity to mobilize and support the higher education network and institutions in Peru to take local action on advancing the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees, and on accelerating the integration of refugees through the creation of welcoming communities and peer-to-peer support models. 

Pledge 3: How we are ensuring to include refugee voices

In line with our pledge to ensure that those with lived refugee experience play a key role in informing the design and implementation of all our work with and for refugee youth, we have expanded the SRP alumni advisory team so that they can continue to: 

  • contribute their diverse and unique perspectives, skills and experiences as newcomers to Canada and former refugees for the purpose of enhancing the preparation and integration experience of incoming students
  • influence program improvements and contribute to the design of new programming related to refugee higher education in countries of origin and/or asylum
  • build awareness and further the understanding and advancement of refugee rights and forced migration issues through speaking at events and on platforms in Canada and globally
  • assist WUSC in engaging the wider community of program alumni in advocacy and fundraising initiatives

Finally, as part of our commitment to promote refugee participation and amplify refugee voices in WUSC’s programming, public engagement, communications, research, and policy dialogue activities, WUSC signed on to the Global Refugee-led Network (GRN) pledge to support the meaningful participation of refugees and host communities in decisions that affect their lives. 

Looking beyond 2020 and ahead of the pandemic

Between December 2020 and January 2021, 109 students arrived in Canada in time to start their winter academic semester.  As many are now exiting their 14-day mandatory quarantine, WUSC Local Committees are beginning to support newly arrived students through their first year in Canada, discovering and learning alongside them. As we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic, Local Committees will plan for September 2021 arrivals, while also continuing to work towards their GRF commitments. 

The global pandemic imposed even more urgency to respond to the global displacement crisis. Creating and strengthening economic and education opportunities for refugees are more limited than ever. We are committed to continuing to provide durable solutions for refugees. We continue to accept pledges from all our Local Committees in support of this four-year goal.

In addition to welcoming students, we also look forward to welcoming the first HIRES cohort in 2021 through a unique, private sponsorship pathway that partners with Canadian businesses. We will also continue to support networks in other countries as they develop new tertiary education initiatives for refugees, including integration in first countries of asylum and pathways to third countries.

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