Research marathon benefits cases for new refugees

It was no ordinary Saturday recently for more than 90 Western Law students who lent their time and talent – in light of the recent travel bans imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump on seven majority-Muslim countries – to take part in a research marathon to assist the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR).

Western joined a collective effort from all 22 law schools in Canada to create research materials for the CCR in order to launch a challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement. This event marked the first time Canadian law students have coordinated an effort of this magnitude, with Western bringing together more students than any other law school in the country.

The agreement, which came into effect in 2004, prevents refugees from seeking asylum in both Canada and the U.S. Those seeking protection must make a claim in the first country they arrive in. Because of this, refugees thrown into limbo as a result of the U.S. travel ban cannot be offered asylum in Canada.

Second-year Law student Yasmin Sattarzadeh, whose mother was a political refugee from Iran, coordinated the research initiative with the help of fellow student Nusaiba Al-Azem and Law professor Asad Kiyani.

“The events across the border under President Donald Trump have been jarring, unsettling and unjust,” said Sattarzadeh. “Those who participated in the event signaled they don’t want to stand idly by and watch this form of injustice occur. We were happy we could use the tools we learned in class to participate in this cause.”

The students’ research aimed to create a clear articulation of the reasons why the United States is not a “safe nation” for the purpose of making a refugee claim.

With assistance from professor Sam Trosow and PhD student Lisa Macklem, the students produced a research paper on non-refoulement, the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

“I was deeply impressed with the number of students who turned out to work on this project,” said Kiyani. “They were there to support each other, and to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world. That selflessness and social conscience is a great credit to our students.”