If you’ve managed to keep up with the news as well as your assignments in these first weeks, you’ve almost certainly watched the Syrian refugee crisis ramp up right alongside your reading list.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, four million people have fled the country in hopes of finding refuge. Although this journey is treacherous — sometimes even fatal — families often have little or nothing to come back to, and leave with hopes of starting new lives in welcoming countries.
Aside from an announcement on Sept. 19 stating that the Canadian government would fast-track their previous commitment to bring 10 000 refugees to Canada over a three year period, many Canadian politicians have been frustratingly vague in offering specific details on how refugees will be accepted into, and supported by, Canadian society.
This delayed response extends to the University of Victoria, with President Jamie Cassels finally offering comments about UVic’s commitment to the crisis as of Sept. 17. As Cassel’s outlined, UVic’s efforts include a $300 000 pledge towards “[doubling] the number of student refugee spaces on campus for the next three years,” and allowing “a total eight new students from Syria and other regions to attend UVic each year.” By failing to outline exactly what constitutes a “student refugee space” or what “other regions” he is referring to specifically, Cassels appears to merely be adding another instance in a long line of “sort of” commitments UVic has made to marginalized populations.
By contrast, and without merely pledging empty dollar signs to the problem, UVic’s Department of History has proven itself to be a leader in aiding those affected by the crisis, as they have stepped forward independently to sponsor a refugee family. These efforts have been echoed across the country, as other Canadian universities have similarly stepped up. Ryerson University in Toronto went above and beyond its duty by partnering with Lifeline Syria, a non-profit group that is attempting to resettle 1 000 Syrian refugees in Toronto, and the University of Alberta has offered 10 four-year scholarships to Syrian citizens.
While UVic and the Government of Canada’s pledges would seem promising, it is imperative that we remain vigilant and hold both the university and the Government to account for its promises. We should all take a leaf out of the History department’s book, and look to what we can do for refugee families now. We must not become complacent or apathetic — it would be too easy to let this issue fall by the wayside, only to be brought back up again the next time we care to pay attention. Be angry now, be frustrated now, and agitate for proper action to be taken by Western governments.
The Centre for Global Studies is hosting a panel to discuss the Canadian response to the refugee crisis thus far on Friday, Sept. 25, from 12:30–2 p.m., in Room 116 of David Strong Building. For more information, please visit uvic.ca/refugeeresponse/home/events/index.php.