On January 28th, 2017, UofMosaic Fellows at York University alongside the Syrian Response and Refugee Initiative team which is a part of the Center for Refugee Studies at York, organized – From Adversity to Action: A day of civic engagement and leadership for newcomer youth. The event’s objective was to create dialogue, training and information resources for newcomer youth and allies alike. The event was one of the 13 youth led projects by the Canadian Council for Refugees Youth Network and received funding support from the Government of Canada.
The event was structured in the form of break-out groups led by UofMosaic Fellows and other volunteers. Each break-out group focused on a specific topic that was of interest to newcomer youth. The break-out groups included: race, racism and culture, healthcare and social services, refugee policy and advocacy, education and language and employment. Participants were able to have open and substantive dialogue on these various issues. The groups created a safe space to engage in discussion and to learn more about particular subjects. The break-out sessions were successful in achieving the central purpose of the event – to spark critical thinking among attendees about deep-seated refugee issues and to collate suggestions on what can be done to remedy the situation.
Discussion The event attracted a large turnout of more than 70 participants. Among the event participants were refugees, recent immigrants, international students and newcomer allies who convened at York to identify the common issues and social problems that newcomer youth encounter. This event enabled all participants to express their concerns about pressing issues such as health inequities, employment challenges, immigration detention, transportation loans, among other obstacles that refugees face in Canada.
The second half of the day featured presentations by City of Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc and President of the Canadian Council for Refugees Loly Rico. They shared their personal experiences and insights on starting out as refugees in Canada and how they are mobilizing the public to improve refugee intake and crisis situation in Canada through their political positions and influence.
John Carlaw, project lead for the Syrian Response and Refugee Initiative at York, also delivered a presentation on concrete advocacy tools that students can use such as employing social media to create campaigns and promote social justice issues and how to lobby provincial MPs in order to get them to take note and make refugee issues a priority item on their agenda. Following this session, attendees from each of the breakout sessions shared their solutions with the city councillor for feedback and potential consideration.
Each of the youth groups divided in the five themes prepared comprehensive resource packages containing information on what the issue is, its current status, various advocacy organizations connected to the issue at hand, progress made, challenges present and policy recommendations. While the event was overwhelming in terms of the numerous refugee challenges that continue to persist, attendees left the event feeling more hopeful and resolute after being exposed to concrete tools of actions, professional insights from those directly working in refugee relief work and realizing their own capabilities for effecting change.
Blog written by: UofMosaic Fellows at York University (Ben Shachar, Reem Alhaj, Kanchi Uttamchandani, Nabil Bhatia and Arfi Hagi Yusuf)