The student refugee program (SRP) is the only program of its kind combining opportunities for higher education with resettlement for young refugees, while engaging post-secondary institutions and their students in refugee protection.
The program is built upon a unique youth-to-youth support model, where campus-based student volunteer groups (WUSC Local Committees) provide critical academic and social support to refugee students. These committees are responsible for helping the newly arrived students navigate the Canadian post-secondary system and integrate into their new life in Canada.
Additionally, WUSC engages nearly one million Canadian youth each year to fund the program in a sponsorship model that relies significantly upon the financial contributions from both students (often through a tuition levy) and their campus administrations. By engaging with the program, hundreds of thousands of Canadian students further enhance their awareness and understanding of pressing global issues, while working together to build more welcoming communities for all newcomers to Canada. Since the program began operating in its current format under Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program, the SRP has enabled more than 1,700 refugee youth to continue their post-secondary education in a safe and secure environment. Former refugee students, in turn, become ambassadors for the refugee response on their campus and beyond, as they provide insight to fellow Canadians into the challenges facing those forcibly displaced globally.
What causes a person to be a refugee?
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
Who are eligible to participate in the SRP?
Only refugees recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) can participate in the SRP.
WUSC presently accepts applications from five countries of asylum: Kenya, Malawi, Jordan, Tanzania, and Lebanon. Applications to the SRP are only accepted through WUSC’s partner organizations in these countries. To be admitted to the SRP, candidates must be recognized as refugees by the UNHCR and be accepted by WUSC, the Canadian immigration authorities, the Registrar’s Office at the college or university, and by a sponsoring Local Committee.
To be selected for the program, the applicant must also:
- Be between the ages of 17 and 25.
- Have completed secondary school. (Preference is given to refugee students who meet the “O” level requirements. Having a diploma is an additional advantage.)
- Be a recognized refugee in his/her country of asylum (e.g. a UNHCR convention refugee).
- Express the need to be resettled.
- Be proficient in English or French.
- Be single, without dependents and able to resettle in Canada.
- Be self-reliant and mature.
The SRP is highly competitive: WUSC receives hundreds of applications every year and can only sponsor approximately 100 of those individuals who apply. Once refugees are identified as potential candidates (i.e. they meet the above criteria), they are evaluated on their secondary school grades, their English and/or French language skills, and on their perceived ability to successfully resettle in Canada. Before being accepted, candidates must also successfully undergo in-depth interviews with WUSC, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, and they must pass medical and security tests organized by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.
Once refugees have been selected, WUSC matches each successful candidate with a particular Local Committee and post- secondary institution, taking into account the refugee’s personal needs and preferences, the sponsoring Local Committee’s capacity, and the institution’s admission requirements.
Why the age limit?
WUSC requires that candidates be between 17 and 25 years old when applying for the SRP because the program is rooted in the idea of “youth sponsoring youth”. The vast majority of Local Committee members are undergraduate students in this age range, and since sponsorship involves committing to socially and emotionally support, it is important that the SRP student and Local Committee are able to relate to and learn from each other. Ideally, with “youth sponsoring youth”, friendship will develop between the SRP student and the members of the Local Committee.
What is the history of the SRP?
Since 1978, WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) has enabled over 13200+ refugees to settle in Canada as permanent residents and pursue post-secondary education. During the program’s history, students have been sponsored from over 35 countries of origin, including Afghanistan, Burma, Burundi, Czechoslovakia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, and Uganda.
|1920s||Following the First World War, the European Student Relief takes on a highly successful campaign to supply the basic needs of postsecondary students in Europe. Campus-based committees of students in over 40 countries around the world raise funds and collect donations of clothing and books for European students in desperate need. Educational assistance is also offered to prisoners of war.|
|1930s||WUSC’s predecessor, the International Student Service, provides material assistance to students coping with natural and man-made calamities, as well as helping refugees fleeing oppression in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. In 1939, a group of students and professors form the first Canadian committee of ISS at the University of Toronto, and help to resettle Jewish academics to Canada through various academic exchanges.|
|1940s||Following the Second World War, ISS student volunteers provide assistance to displaced persons and help to receive and resettle refugees to Canada.|
|1950s||ISS changes its name to World University Service in order to reflect the involvement of the whole university community as well as to capture its shift in focus from relief and rehabilitation operations in Europe to those in the Middle East and Asia. In 1957, World University Service of Canada (WUSC) is incorporated as a non-profit, non-governmental organization. Through WUSC, Canadian students respond to the urgent needs of refugees from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, including by helping these refugees resettle in Canada.|
|1960s||In the 1960s, many African students come to Canada through WUSC.|
|1970s||The focus shifts to supporting the anti-Apartheid movement, with Local Committee activism on campus and facilitating access to education for anti-apartheid activists.|
|1978||Canada establishes the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, and WUSC sponsors its first student to Canada. The student is originally from Zambia and is sponsored at Carleton University.|
|1981||WUSC becomes a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) by signing a Master Agreement with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).|
|1987||WUSC signs a Sponsorship Agreement with the province of Quebec.|
|2008||WUSC celebrates the arrival of the SRP’s 1000th SRP student.|
|2013||WUSC celebrates 35 years of sponsorship|
What benefits does the SRP bring to campus?
The SRP provides a tangible way for Canadian students, faculty, and staff to positively impact global humanitarian and refugee crises. SRP students are protected and given life essentials they might not have had access to, and they’re able to access post-secondary education which gives them the power to support themselves, their families, and their communities. The power of education can do a lot to eliminate the root causes of crises around the world like: poverty, climate change, war and conflict, racism, sexism, etc.
SRP students are given the education and skills they need to be self-sufficient in Canada and contribute to the Canadian economy. The SRP provides an excellent avenue for academic and economic integration for young refugees. A 2007 study found that 97 percent of sponsored students had completed or were in the process of completing their post-secondary program with many intending to further their education. The vast majority – 85 percent – had found work in their chosen fields after graduation.
SRP students bring important intercultural or international perspectives to Canadian colleges and universities. The voices and perspectives of refugees would not be heard in campuses without the SRP. Having these diverse perspectives is important for colleges and universities to fulfill their societal roles: the creation and dissemination of skills and knowledge to the public.
The SRP provides an opportunity for Local Committee volunteers to build their skills while planning and supporting the program. Volunteers must engage in a variety of projects and roles to ensure the smooth operation of the SRP including, but not limited to:
- Navigating the Canadian sponsorship process, communicating with WUSC, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and the post-secondary institution
- Identifying resources within the community (e.g. settlement organizations).
- Developing and implementing an outreach strategy to raise awareness and support of the campus community.
- Assisting SRP students with social and community integration, orienting them to campus and the community, involving them in social activities, etc.
What about the problem of “brain-drain”?
Brain drain is defined as the emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from a particular country and is often thought as a form of economic colonialism where developed nations steal the best and brightest people from developing nations. This disadvantages developing nations by preventing the development of businesses, entrepreneurship, research, education, and other socio-economic systems in those nations.
The SRP does not contribute to “brain drain” because it is providing educational opportunities to students who wouldn’t otherwise have any opportunities. The SRP is providing new access to education for these students in Canada, not diverting them away from already existing educational opportunities in their country of refuge. That being said, many SRP students do in fact return home, support family members in their home countries or countries of refuge, or stay and work in Canada to improve the situation in their homeland.
Who are WUSC?
World University Service of Canada (WUSC) is a Canadian international development non-profit organization dedicated to improving education, employment and empowerment opportunities for youth, women and refugees in more than 25 countries around the world. For over fifty years, they have empowered a unique network of post-secondary institutions, private sector partners and volunteers to help build a more equitable and sustainable world for youth. To find out more, please visit wusc.ca.
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For more information, contact:
Student Refugee Program. World University Service of Canada. (2018). Retrieved from https://srp.wusc.ca/
 UNHCR. “What is a Refugee?.” https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/