Western professor Victoria Esses stressed that our nature is to help.
“People want to do something, but they need a solution,” said the Director of Western’s Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations. “Sometimes, if you’re bombarded with information and, if it’s negative, you avoid it, turn away from it. Having a solution actually makes people pay attention. People are now ready to do something.”
The Syrian conflict has killed an estimated quarter of a million people in the last four years. That’s, basically, a city the size of Windsor being erased. Half of Syrians have been forced from their homes, creating more than 4 million refugees and displacing nearly 8 million people within the country. According to the United Nations, one million more people could be displaced within Syria by the end of the year. The situation has sparked a mass refugee crisis across the Middle East and Europe.
To aid in this relief effort, Western has mobilized a handful of efforts to assist families and scholars, alike, including the creation of the Refugee Sponsorship Fund and Syrian Refugee Student Awards, as well as using the Scholars At Risk Program to identify Syrian scholars who could be brought to the university.
“Western’s response is grassroots in nature and reflective of the very human and instinctual concern being expressed by people and university communities across the country and around the world,” said Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-President (Academic). “The tragic scale of the crisis makes it imperative that we take steps to make some contribution of our own. It’s heartening to see support coming from all corners of campus.”
Currently, Western’s efforts focus in three areas.
The Refugee Sponsorship Fund was established by the Faculty of Social Science, in partnership with the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre. Organizers hope to raise $30,000 to provide for a G5 Private Sponsorship Application for a Syrian refugee family of five. If more than the target amount is raised, more refugee families could be sponsored.
Esses proposed the idea of a fundraising campaign to support the application to Social Science Dean Bob Andersen. He agreed with the idea and took it on as a faculty initiative.
“People have been thinking about this for awhile,” Esses said. “Recently, I am sure a lot of members of the Western community have been wondering what they can do. This is something concrete we can do. We have got to take action. This is a good step.”
Donations can be made via Western’s Help Syria website, uwo.ca/helpsyria, or through the ‘Make A Donation’ link on the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre website, lcclc.org, under ‘Western Social Science Refugee Sponsorship.’
The Syrian Refugee Student Awards will cover tuition and living costs for up to 10 Syrian students admitted to Western as early as January 2016. To be eligible, applicants must be Syrian citizens or residents with satisfactory academic standing and have been admitted to begin studies in a Western degree program.
Western set up a similar program after the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
“Western is about education and scholarship. Therefore, it makes sense for us to look for opportunities to assist the Syrian refugees caught up in this crisis,” said Glen Tigert, Western Registrar. “A response along the lines of these student awards is something we are particularly well-suited to do. It makes sense in terms of what we are all about.”
Western International, in conjunction with World University Service of Canada (WUSC), is working to identify potential students. The university currently sponsors students from Africa and Asia via WUSC. Although WUSC primarily focuses on undergraduate students, Tigert said both undergraduate and graduate students will be considered for the awards.
The awards are administered through Western’s Office of the Registrar.
Unlike the Refugee Sponsorship Fund and Syrian Refugee Student Awards, the Scholars At Risk (SAR) program has been a fixture at Western since 2009.
“We have experience with the program and it has worked really well for us,” said Julie McMullin, Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President (International). “In looking to see what we could do for Syria, we thought it would be an important opportunity to engage with that program once again.”
By offering temporary, or short-term, academic positions, SAR member institutions can help qualified scholars escape dangerous conditions in their home countries and allow them to continue their scholarly work unimpeded. In return, these scholars contribute to their host campuses through teaching, research and other activities.
In 2012, Anna Dolidze, from the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union, was welcomed to Western Law under SAR. Law professor Michael Lynk and Political Science professor Joanna Quinn have been the key contacts on the program for the university.
Through this program and other avenues, Western is currently working to identify Syrian scholars who could be brought to the university, McMullin said.
It’s a monumental task, but one Western needs to undertake.
“It’s the sheer magnitude of this (crisis). We haven’t seen anything like this on the world scale in a long time,” McMullin said. “It’s heart-wrenching when anything like this happens, but the scale is really what makes this situation so different.”