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From refugee camp to Canadian campus

BY ANGELA PEREIRA | JUN 09 2008

A program that helps refugees to start a new life on Canadian campuses hits a milestone this summer. The Student Refugee Program, run by World University Service of Canada, will welcome its 1,000th student this August.

The program, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, targets refugees who’ve fled their homeland and sponsors them so that they can continue their education in Canada. “There is no other program like this that combines refugee resettlement with access to higher education,” says Paul Davidson, WUSC’s executive director. Many of the students who complete their studies become very active Canadian citizens, he says.

WUSC selects the students from refugee camps in Asia and Africa, brings them to Canada as landed immigrants, places them at postsecondary instit- utions and pays their expenses for a year. The sponsored students also receive support through WUSC committees set up by faculty and students at individual universities.

Mike Luti, a consultant with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health, was accepted into the WUSC program about 20 years ago to do his master’s degree in geography at the University of Regina. He was a teenager when conflict forced him to flee his home in Uganda. He heard about the program while studying in Sierra Leone on a United Nations scholarship. “I had already traveled so far and given up a lot … but my hope was this was going to open up a new beginning for me.”

Mr. Luti is now married with two children. He does volunteer work in his community that includes helping new sponsored students thrive. “I tell them you need to take this opportunity because there are so many others out there … who aren’t fortunate enough to get it.”

Mr. Davidson says WUSC plans to expand the program so that more students, particularly women, can be sponsored each year. And since WUSC receives many more applications than they can accommodate, the agency is also exploring ways for Canadian universities to help refugees to access education in the countries where they currently live through distance learning or by sponsoring students to attend local schools.

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