Queen’s Law students help Syrian refugees adjust to life in Kingston

Law students inspired by program in Ottawa start their own program in Kingston

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Journal File Photo

As thousands of Syrian refugees enter Canada, four third-year Queen’s Law students have been integral in helping refugees adjust to life in Kingston.

In September, Rosa Stall, Lauren Wilson, Jess Spindler and Kaisha Thompson founded the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program.

The group said they saw a need for the program when they heard about law students and lawyers in Ottawa working together to guide clients through the process of sponsoring refugees in Canada.

“I was reading about that in the paper and reached out to Jess, Lauren and Kaisha and said this is something we could do in Kingston,” Stall said.

The student group focuses on assisting private sponsors with the legal work required to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.

Taking in Syrian refugees was one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises during his campaign last year. Since he took office in November, Canada has promised to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, with Kingston set to be one of the communities that will welcome government-assisted refugees.

The students set up a Tilt campaign — a fundraising phone and web app — for one refugee, Peter.

“On Tilt we had set a goal of $5,000. It’s about one third the cost of Peter’s sponsorship application. That’s a cost that his sponsors, who are all Queen’s professors, have incurred,” Thompson said. The fund has raised $1,793 on Tilt and $550 offline so far, bringing them to almost half their projected goal.

Assistance for Peter isn’t strictly financial. The group also helped him to find work in the community.

“We reached out to different employers when we found out that Peter had strong language skills,” Spindler said.

“We knew he’d been a hairdresser in Syria and in Lebanon. And so we reached out to a couple different salons and were able to very quickly find him a job placement right away. So he’s already started working and that’s huge in terms of community integration as well.”

So far, the group has received support from both the Queen’s community and the Kingston community at large. Dean of Law William Flanagan has been especially supportive of the program and has contributed financially to fundraising efforts.

The Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program isn’t the only campus group focused on assisting incoming refugees. Other student groups, such as We for Refugee, have also sprung up on campus to assist the influx of refugees.

“My belief was that students have a great role to play here in the community and there is sort of a void right now where we’re not doing that when it comes to the refugee crisis,” We for Refugee group organizer Adam Grotsky said. Grotsky served as president of the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society last year.

The student group is dedicated to fundraising and awareness efforts related to supporting Syrian refugees that settle in Kingston. Grotsky, ArtSci ’16, said he figured it would be a good place to start.

The group officially launched last week and has since gained 35 student volunteers. In light of the group’s early success, Grotsky said he believes assisting refugees immigrating to Canada is an issue that Queen’s students are interested in supporting.

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