Rising to the challenge

Rising to the challenge

Queen’s students and faculty are helping Syrian refugees settle in Kingston

By Anne Craig

January 13, 2016


Several third-year law students at Queen’s University have come together to welcome Syrian refugees to Kingston.

Jess Spindler, Rosa Stall, Kaisha Thompson and Lauren Wilson have created the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program after receiving training through the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program. The Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program is already offering assistance to Peter (his name has been changed by the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program to protect his identity), a 26-year-old who fled the violent civil war in Syria.

“We are now working to help him deal with the realities of living in Kingston,” says Ms. Spindler. “That includes shopping for groceries, banking, getting a job and dealing with the cold weather.”

Working on the Queen's Law Refugee Support Program are (l to r): Jess Spindler, Kaisha Thompson, Lauren Wilson and Rosa Stall.

Ms. Thompson says it’s helpful that they are the same age as Peter so they can help him through the loneliness. “Cultural isolation is a definite issue so we are trying to get Peter to meet with other Canadians and members of the Kingston community who speak his language, people who understand where he is coming from.”

Initially, the Queen’s group was going to help with paperwork for new refugees. With the federal government assuming those duties, they are now focused on fundraising and helping refugees resettle in the community. They have launched a Tilt campaign which is getting close to $1,500. William Flanagan, Dean, Queen’s Law, has been a key supporter in the students’ efforts and the program is supervised by Queen’s Law professor Lisa Kerr.

“The campaign has been going really well,” says Ms. Wilson. “The Dean and the entire law school have been very supportive.”

“We are here to help and that means many different things,” says Ms. Stall. “We are prepared to assist with any tasks and want to continue to reach out as more refugees arrive in the future.”

Arriving on Boxing Day, Peter was the first of three Syrian refugees who have been formally sponsored by a group of Queen’s faculty, staff and alumni to arrive in Kingston.  This group is also sponsoring a young couple who arrived in Kingston on New Year’s Eve. They are now taking full time English classes and hope to start volunteer activities soon. They are currently living temporarily with Sandra den Otter, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies.

 “It has been a rewarding experience, and we’ve been astounded by the response from the Queen’s community and the Kingston community,” says Dr. den Otter. “There has been an overwhelming response to this opportunity for us to share the work of resettlement with newcomers from Syria.” Organizations like ISKA (Immigrant Services Kingston and the area), KEYS employment services, Queen’s Family Health Team, and others have been extremely helpful.

Along with Sandra den Otter, Queen’s professors Margaret Moore, Zsuzsa Csergo, Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, John McGarry in Political Studies, Henry Laycock and Alistair McLeod (Philosophy) and Queen’s alumna France Pellicano are supporting the couple, in collaboration with several community members.

In addition to the law student group, graduate students from History, Political Studies, and Computing have been actively supporting the newcomers. Dr. den Otter says providing support for refugees gives Queen’s students a unique experience. “Assisting in the settlement of newcomers from Syria is such a valuable form of community engagement and global citizenship for graduate students.”

For more information about how to assist visit the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program Facebook page, email Jess Spindler at jess.spindler@queensu.ca or to help in the settlement of the three newcomers to Kingston please email Sandra den Otter at denotter@queensu.ca or Margaret Moore at margaret.moore@queensu.ca.