Opinions

The Student Refugee Program makes a difference

The Student Refugee Program (SRP) makes a visible, tangible difference on campus and for refugees around the world. Every two years, the program sponsors a young person living in a refugee camp in Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia to come study at Mount Allison, paying all the fees associated with their sponsorship and education until they are financially self-sufficient. Transitioning to life in Sackville and New Brunswick can be a challenge, and it’s our job to make sure students have the tools to get oriented and make their own choices. SRP-sponsored students are in our classrooms and clubs and at our parties, building a new life for themselves and bringing new perspectives to enrich the Mt. A community.

This is a difficult time for refugees worldwide. Not only have refugee numbers reached unprecedented levels due to conflicts in Syria, Somalia and South Sudan (among others), but refugees are increasingly blamed for many of the world’s other ills: terrorism, unemployment and a ‘change to our way of life,’ to name a few. The reality is that refugees are people persecuted for their identity and affected by conflicts that are beyond their control.

For refugees, the door to the U.S. has been slammed shut. In Europe, openness toward Middle Eastern refugees has disintegrated with public opinion hardening, even as thousands of African and other refugees drown in the Mediterranean each year while trying to make the crossing to Europe. Canada has avoided widespread anti-refugee hysteria, but its refugee policies leave much to be desired when those fleeing persecution in the U.S. are turned away at the border without even being given a fair hearing.

These are times of crisis for refugees. That’s why the SRP is going to hold a referendum to double our student levy from $8 to $16.

Right now, $8 of each student’s MASU membership fees, as well as generous contributions from the University and the Campbell-Verduyn Fund, support the SRP. With those $8, we accomplish a lot: We pay for tuition, rent, food, books and school supplies; we cover various immigration and sponsorship fees; and we make sure that we have enough savings to keep supporting the sponsored student in the event of an emergency.

But we need more funding for two reasons. Firstly, our revenue is going down just as costs are going up. Tuition, residence fees and food prices increase every year, but declining enrolment takes thousands of dollars out of our budget. We are and will be having conversations with all stakeholders, including administration, about cutting costs and raising revenues, but at the moment, we face long-term financial challenges.

Secondly, we want to do more. Current funding is enough to sponsor one student every two years, but we want to double that number and sponsor one student every year. We know that sponsoring one more student won’t solve the refugee crisis, but it will make a difference to at least one person and at least one community. It’s the least we can do.

If this referendum passes, Mt. A will have the largest student levy in the country. We have a chance to lead the way in supporting refugees. If this is something you care about, please, talk to your friends today and make sure they vote YES. Voting happens using the same program as other MASU elections; make sure to check your email.

Help us #WelcomeRefugees. Vote YES to grow the SRP on March 16 and 17