By: Gurpreet Kambo
“I was born as a refugee,” said Wafaa Zaqout, Refugee and Newcomers Program coordinator at SFU, when asked where her interest and passion for refugee rights began. Zaqout was born in a camp that was called Canada, in Egypt, near Palestine. “It’s a part of my identity.”
June 20 is internationally known as World Refugee Day. This year, the SFU chapter of World University Service of Canada (WUSC) marked the day by holding an event in the Diamond Alumni Centre called “Pursuing Equity In Education for Refugee Students.”
“WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) has allowed people who have had their education interrupted by conflict and persecution continue their studies in post-secondary institutions across Canada. SFU has been sponsoring students since 1981.”
Their first year’s tuition and living expenses paid through semesterly student levies: $2.50 per full-time student and $1.25 per part-time student.
“[Refugees] have been deprived of their basic rights in education, security . . . Everything you take for granted, they’ve been deprived of,” said Zaqout, who helped organize the event, on why holding it was so important.
“To mark one day is not enough. We need to keep reminding people that there’s this huge group of people that’ve been forced to flee their houses. We need to try to help out, do something, anything.”
That evening, three short films highlighted different issues affecting refugees and at-risk and vulnerable youth. The event also featured a brief workshop and discussion led by three facilitators from the Access to Media Education Society: Ayan Ismail, Valeen Jules, and Vida Nacho.
Zaqout also announced at the event that because the costs of bringing refugee students to SFU are rising, WUSC SFU will be seeking an increase to its student levy from the current $2.50 to $5 dollars per student per semester. According to a previously reported article by The Peak, the part-time student levy would implement a $1.50 increase.
A student levy increase must be voted on via referendum the student body. It is not yet confirmed when WUSC plans to seek the increase.
“It’s a collective responsibility,” said Zaqout on why SFU students should support the referendum. “There are [millions] of refugees across the world. Among them, they have lots of dreams.
“I was dreaming of being an astronaut . . . but I was dreaming only. I can’t be an astronaut, because I’m a refugee. We need to make sure that some of these people have access to education and have another chance. A second chance.”