Seek Refuge on Campus

Although many students find their “home away from home” at college, many people do not have any home to call their own. This trend is increasing tremendously with the ongoing Syrian crisis, as crowds of people leave their homelands to wherever they can go.

While many countries have welcomed and encouraged Syrian refugees into their borders, other countries have been less than welcoming, as America has shown through its immigration ban for several Muslim-dominant nations. According to CNN, Trump’s executive order bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

The Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown immense empathy and understanding for those in need leaving war-torn places. He took to Twitter, just as another world leader is notoriously known for doing, to ensure that all refugees that America might reject are more than welcome in Canada, as reported by Canadian news outlet iPolitics.

Europe has also made positive strides toward helping to alleviate the crisis for refugee students. Last May, the European Union committed 12 million euros (about $13.5 million) to pay for scholarships and short-term higher education courses for Syrians in the Middle East. The real disconnect in further benefiting refugees is support from the United States.

Outside the realm of government, each North American country contains a population of people unafraid to stand up for their beliefs. This global crisis should be no different, and the best place to start is in education. College campuses, Canadian or American, can play crucial roles in how the general public views refugees. If higher education can find means of housing and supporting displaced peoples, why can’t others?

At Bishop’s University, a Refugee-Student sponsorship project receives a small dollar amount from students’ compulsory fees to help refugees study and live on campus. As the group’s website states, protecting refugees is both a responsibility and a privilege. Refugees are forced to leave their home countries because of serious human rights abuses. They have a well-founded fear of persecution and therefore cannot return to their countries. They did not make that choice for themselves. Every day, the basic rights of refugees are violated in countless places around the world. Refugees make easy scapegoats: they are foreigners in their country of asylum, they have no home to go back to, and as many as half of them are children. In countries created on a foundation of diversity and immigration, offering these people a safe place to live makes sense.

Bishop’s is not the only campus offering services to house refugees. Even American universities like Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, have begun a campaign titled “Every Campus a Refuge” in an effort to call every campus to house, mentor and support a Syrian family in transition. Professor Diya Abdo told the Washington Post that college campuses, with their housing, cafeterias, health clinics, and plethora of other social, academic and human resources, are natural conduits for refugees into their new life. Through community outreach, refugees can save money, live in safe conditions, and access a support system from the students and faculty that could accelerate their adjustment.

Also, since many Syrian refugees are young adults, their opportunities to further their education take a back seat to the crisis at hand. The Institute of International Education states that more than 100,000 Syrian refugees are university-qualified students. A lack of quality education and hope for future social mobility for young refugees is a risk factor in terms of security and stability, since a young generation without hopes for social mobility and employment is at risk of exclusion and radicalization. The Middle East is today a region in fragmentation and turmoil; a number of states are rapidly falling into the category of weak, fragile or collapsed states.

Access to education is a basic human right, and higher education is a means of achieving stability, work, and making a living. Higher education institutions themselves can act in accordance with a commitment built on the values system found at a university: humanism, academic freedom and integrity.

The funding required to support Syrian refugees is limited compared to its growing demand. Universities must make the crisis a priority when considering their budgets and fees for students. The cause is one beyond an individual campus’s athletic program, but a cause of global proportions. Whether it is through scholarship funding, budgeting aside money to establish refugee support programs on campuses, or community contributions, financial support and widespread awareness are both key.

If every North American campus supported just one Syrian refugee, the impact would be astounding. In an ideal setting, American, Canadian and European universities would create relationships with universities in the Middle East, where they would each  help finance the tuition of students for a couple of years, then allowing students to the United States for a another year. Every country with a higher education fortunate enough to do so bears some of the burden of supporting refugees. The need will continue to rise if key countries ignore it.

Human rights matter. The place to begin teaching that is the classroom.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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