The University of Winnipeg has been welcoming WUSC refugee students each year since the beginning of the 1980s. That makes Winnipeg one of the first campuses to join a program that has successfully plucked more than 400 students out of refugee camps around the world and given them a new start in Canada.
The refugee program uses WUSC's international contacts to identify able students overseas, and then turns them over to the campus WUSC Committee, giving them one year to help the students establish their independence.
One of the factors that makes the program work at Winnipeg is that their WUSC program has established a useful link with the city of Winnipeg itself. When the WUSC refugee arrives on campus, the city guarantees them a summer job at the end of their first year. If the student performs well the summer job will be there for them at the end of their second year as well.
One year is usually enough for the former refugee to settle into a new academic course and get used to the climate — even when the climate includes the legendary extremes of Winnipeg.
Part of the material support comes from the university's board of regents which generously waives tuition fees for two full years for each refugee student. The faculty association contributes $800 from the annual dues of its members, and the student association guarantees support through a levy on students established by plebiscite three years ago.
Since there are no student residences at the University of Winnipeg, accommodations have to be found in neighborhood apartment buildings. Volunteers from the local WUSC committee are key to guiding the newly arrived refugee student through tasks such as finding housing, but their efforts pay off.
Geri Sweet, a faculty member at Winnipeg who was one of those volunteers for several years, once asked a WUSC refugee student whether they had really done him any favor by bringing him to a country where both the physical and economic climate were pretty severe. The refugee had no doubts."You gave me the chance to win or lose by my own decisions. That is enough!"
It may be there is never really "enough" — Ronald Hancock's message elsewhere in this issue concerning Bosnian students and professors is evidence that war continues to destroy universities and create refugees. Like Hancock's efforts the WUSC refugee program makes a real difference to some of those who think that choices have been ended forever.
Tom Faulkner is a professor of Comparative Religion at Dalhousie University.
If you are interested in encouraging your faculty association to support a WUSC student refugee, please contact your association officers, or write to: Professor Tom Faulkner, CAUT/WUSC Liaison Officer, c/o Department of Comparative Religion, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 3J5; e-mail: Tom.Faulkner@dal.ca.