In The Classroom / Social Justice

Raising Awareness of Refugee Community in Vancouver

Alyssa McDonald is a student on our Vancouver Campus studying for a Master’s of Arts in Organizational Psychology. She is also the Adler Vancouver Student Association’s Social Justice Chair.

Adler University’s Vancouver community put aside the busyness of school and work on June 1 to participate in the sixth annual Community Action Day, entitled “Un/Settled: Building Community and Opportunities for Refugees.”

Being a graduate student, as socially conscious as I may be, it’s sometimes difficult to think beyond my next exam or paper. However, numbers relating to the refugee crisis are hard to ignore. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes by conflict or persecution. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum seekers, most of whom are under the age of 18. One person is forcibly displaced every two seconds worldwide and numbers are only increasing. Vancouver’s Settlement Orientation Services reports a 76% increase in the number of refugee claimants in 2017 compared to 2016. Our attention and action to support refugees as mental health professionals, policymakers, and organizational psychologists is more important than ever before.

Community Action Day was designed to help faculty, staff, alumni, community partners, and students better understand the needs of this community and learn how to support a more just society.

Mohammed Alsaleh shared about his journey from Syria to Canada as a refugee. Photo by Chang Linda Liu.

The morning began with a documentary screening of Welcome to Canada, a documentary about the journey of keynote speaker Mohammed Alsaleh, a former Syrian refugee. Later, a panel on “Navigating the Refugee System” featured representatives from Vancouver Association of Survivors of Torture, Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies, Immigrant Employment Council of BC, Inner Activist, and Adler alumna Mona Hassannia, from Immigrant Services Society of BC and Settlement Orientation Services. In the afternoon, we shared a meal catered by Tayybeh, a social enterprise restaurant staffed by Syrian newcomers. Then, groups split off to go to workshops on campus by Immigration Employment Council of BC and MOSAIC or to attend tours and volunteer at ISSBC Welcome Centre and Kinbrace.

A group of Alder University students, alumni, faculty, and staff at the ISS of BC Welcome Centre. Photo by Chang Linda Liu.

Although people’s experience throughout Community Action Day was diverse and wide-ranging, for me, the day was an awe-inspiring experience full of impactful lessons. Here’s a few insights I took from this day.

It’s not a refugee crisis

Stigmatization is one of the biggest barriers faced by refugees. As Canadians, it’s important to destigmatize refugees and educate others on what it means to be a refugee. By definition, refugees are forced to flee. As laid out in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, a refugee is: “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

As Alsaleh so eloquently said, it’s not a refugee crisis. The crisis is war, terrorism, climate change, or other factors. Refugees exist as a consequence of the real problems. Read more refugee myths and facts.

You can make a difference

There are so many ways to get involved. You can volunteer to work with refugees, donate items, write letters to your MLAs, provide housing, become an individual private sponsor, or donate financially to refugee support agencies. Find a complete list how you can get involved.

Listening is an act of solidarity

In touring the ISS of BC Welcome Centre and the Inland Refugee Society’s facilities, our group met a man from Afghanistan who crossed the border as a refugee claimant just 10 months prior. We were set to sort clothes and food items, but ended up putting the items aside and listening to his story instead. Creating space for him to share his experience was by far the most significant act of the day. Learning the difficulties of leaving his family and settling in Canada was a transformative experience that bonded us all and helped inform our group on how we can be better allies. Giving is great, but connecting is often more powerful.

I feel honoured to have heard the incredible stories of refugees settled here in Vancouver and to stand alongside those who support them. Thank you to Susanne Milner, our Student & Alumni Services Manager, and to Christopher Whyne, our Community Action and Engagement Manager, who organized the day. Your vision was realized and our hearts were transformed!