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Associated Alumni

Supporting Syrian refugees

UNB, alumni and friends have been doing their part to help Syrian refugees settle in New Brunswick.

From clothing donations and education about the Syrian civil war to helping with the immigration process, there’s been no shortage of support from the university.

UNB’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society has been at the forefront of many of these initiatives, working with local community groups to coordinate and organize ongoing efforts.

"We approached the President's Office to see how we could do our part in welcoming Syrian refugees," says Cindy Brown, program coordinator and communications manager for the Gregg Centre. "We wanted to ensure that we worked with our local organizations to welcome Syrians and also help raise awareness of their plight. The information piece is really a unique role for UNB.”

Brown emphasizes that this support is really a UNB effort, not just a Gregg Centre initiative. 

"The community has really pulled together, but UNB does have a unique role to play because of The Gregg Centre’s expertise in war and society and conflict," says Brown. "We hope our various events show the complexity of the problems that Syrian refugees faced before they came to Canada and also when they arrived in Canada.”

On Jan. 26, the Gregg Centre held its first of several information sessions to educate the public. The focus of the first session was the Syrian civil war and the Islamic State.

"I think [this type of information session] was important because, first and foremost, people have questions and concerns," says Brown. "Most of all, we wanted to use our expertise to help inform the public about the background and context so that [they] had a sense of what the Syrians who coming to New Brunswick and Canada have gone through. It will make them people as opposed to things that they hear about on the news."

The second public information session was held on Feb. 23. It focused on how refugees come to Canada and what organizations like the Multicultural Association of Fredericton are doing to help in the resettlement process. A clip from this session is online.

The Gregg Centre has also been a collection point for clothing donations for the refugees. After the Multicultural Association of Fredericton identified a need for waterproof gloves and mittens for refugees new to the region, the UNB Student Union held a mitten drive from Feb. 15 to Feb. 26. 

"We have quite a bit of stuff now, so we're in the process of organizing the reception and output of other items,” says Brown.

On Feb. 27, more than 200 members of UNB, Fredericton and surrounding communities, in partnership with the Multicultural Association’s First Friends program, came to a welcome event at UNB's Student Union Building.

"We wanted to create an event for which language was not a barrier," says Brown, who helped  organize the event through The Gregg Centre. "We had a lot of things for people to look at, listen to or eat, so there were no barriers to people coming together to meet one another.”

Currently, The Gregg Centre is spearheading a friendly fundraising competition between faculties and departments on the Fredericton campus to raise funds to buy beds and car seats for newcomer families. The initial goal is $10,000, which would buy 86 car seats, 100 boxsprings or 40 complete bed sets.
UNB professors and alumni are also helping with the transition and immigration process.

Law professor Hilary Young started a new chapter of the refugee Sponsorship Support Program (SSP) in New Brunswick. SSP brings together pro bono lawyers, law students and sponsorship experts to offer support to those interested in assisting with privately sponsored refugees. In early February, Young and UNB’s faculty of law held a training session for close to 25 lawyers to learn how to deliver services to people who wish to privately sponsor refugees.

“New Brunswickers’ response to the refugee crisis has been incredible,” says Young. "With the SSP expanding to New Brunswick, groups sponsoring refugees will have an excellent new resource to help bring refugees to our province.”

UNB physics professor Abdelhaq Hamza has been helping to organize welcome events through the Fredericton Islamic Association. Hundreds of community members have flocked to the Cultural Centre for the first two of three welcome events.

“When you have people who have been uprooted from their place the way those people have been uprooted, you want to give them a feel of home,” Hamza told The Daily Gleaner. “If we get them together, they see family ambiance that we have here, then probably the transition will happen a lot more smoothly than if they were on their own.”

In Beirut, Lebanon, where she has been since Nov. 30, alumna and navy lieutenant Sheena Teed (BA’06, BN’13) is using her expertise to help Syrian refugees immigrate to Canada. Teed oversees the lab of an immigration medical exam clinic that processes tests for Syrian refugees immigrating to Canada. The clinic sees between 150 to 250 people every day and conducts blood and urine testing, as well as behavior analysis.

“We’ve had people come in who have had their houses blown up or who have lost family members in the war,” says Teed.  “The most rewarding part has been knowing that the Syrian refugees will hopefully have a better life in store,” she says. “I really hope people will welcome the refugees and have some faith in the system.”

Back to Alumni News Direct - March 2016