Supporting student refugees

Global impact

Supporting student refugees

A longstanding Queen’s student group is recognized with a national award for its work to support students driven from their homes by conflicts around the world.

March 21, 2023


Photograph of students in the Queen's-WUSC Local Committee with students in the WUSC Student Refugee Program and Teresa Alm, who supported the program as Associate Registrar
Students in the Queen's-WUSC Local Committee with students in the WUSC Student Refugee Program and Teresa Alm (far left of front row), who supported the program as associate registrar, at the recent Student Recognition Awards reception.

For the past 34 years, Queen’s students have been committed to supporting a group of their peers who may have more difficulties adjusting to campus than other students: refugees who are pursuing their education in Canada through the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program. Students serving on the Queen’s-WUSC Local Committee volunteer time each year to help forcibly displaced students set up lives in Canada, acclimate to their new surroundings, and get their bearings as new university students.

Since 1989, they have welcomed and supported 36 refugee students. Now, the WUSC National Office is recognizing the longstanding commitment of the Queen’s local committee by presenting the group with its annual award for Outstanding Contribution to the Student Refugee Program.

“The students who come to Queen’s through the WUSC program are experiencing an enormous change most of us can’t imagine,” says Aidan Sander, chair of the Queen’s-WUSC Local Committee and a student in the MD program. “Our local committee at Queen’s works hard to make their adjustment as smooth as possible. We help them set up Canadian bank accounts, teach them how to buy food in Canada, make sure they’re connected with their academic advisors, and anything else they might need. These students are on an incredible trajectory, and it’s an honour to be recognized by WUSC for our efforts to help them.”

When these students arrive at Queen’s, the WUSC local committee connects them with a student mentor who becomes a go-to resource for getting established at Queen’s and in Canada. This can include anything from helping them set up wi-fi to teaching them how to access the Canadian health system. The local committee also builds a sense of community for these students by holding periodic social events throughout the year.

Queen’s and the local committee working together

Students established the Queen’s-WUSC Local Committee in 1989 and typically supported one student every other year through a student activity fee. In 2007, the university joined the effort and agreed to fund tuition, fees, and residence for refugee students in their first year. Then in 2013, Alfred Bader established the Principal Wallace Freedom of Opportunity Fund, which further supplements the financial support for the students. Today, the funding packaged provided to WUSC students is comprised of a combination of funds from the AMS and SGPS student activity fees, the Principal Wallace Freedom of Opportunity fund, and financial aid resources from the university.

The four-year financial package covers all tuition and fees and provides funds for living expenses as well as items needed for academics and life in Canada, such as a computer and winter clothing. Queen’s generally supports one student in odd years and two students in even years. In 2016, the university sponsored five additional students from Syria, and in 2021 it committed to sponsoring five additional students from Afghanistan.

The WUSC National Office facilitates the process of placing refugee students in a Canadian university, college, or CEGEP. They work with international agencies to find the students and with the Government of Canada to secure permanent residency for the students. They then coordinate with the local committees of different learning institutions to ensure plans are in place to support students.

“Students who come to Canada through the WUSC program see a university education as a pathway to a better life for themselves and their families,” says Teresa Alm, recently retired associate registrar who was closely involved with planning for WUSC students for years. “Queen’s provides support so these remarkable individuals have time and space to work toward their dreams. They also bring an eye-opening perspective to campus that teaches many of us a lot about the experiences of people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflicts.”

Alm recently earned the Michael Condra Outstanding Student Service Award for her years of work supporting the WUSC Student Refugee Program at Queen’s. At the same ceremony, the students in the Queen’s-WUSC Local Committee were presented with the Peer Leadership Award.

The impact of education

Bassam Hashem, ArtSci’20 and MPA’21, is an alumnus from Iraq who came to Queen’s through the WUSC program and was funded by the Principal Wallace Freedom of Opportunity Fund.

“When I learned about this, it was honestly a miracle,” says Hashem, speaking in a 2021 video of learning he would be a part of the program. “It was the two things I wanted at the same time—traveling to build a better future but also getting an education.”

See the full video below or on the Queen’s Alumni website. Learn more about the WUSC Outstanding Contribution to the Student Refugee Program award on the WUSC website.

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