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Syrian refugee could be coming to study at Yukon College

A group of students and staff at Yukon College are working to bring a Syrian refugee to study in the territory. The plan is the latest example of Yukoners working to sponsor refugees.

A group of students and staff at Yukon College are working to bring a Syrian refugee to study in the territory.

The plan is the latest example of Yukoners working to sponsor refugees from the devastated country and bring them to Canada.

The college group is applying to partner with World University Service of Canada, a national organization that has sponsored more than 1,500 refugees from 37 countries since it was founded in 1978.

This would be the first time a school in the North has participated.

Yukon College’s adult basic education coordinator, Gabriel Ellis, worked for a different branch of the organization six years ago in Malawi.

He got a chance to see how the education program was changing refugees’ lives, he said.

“I got to see the students and meet them, the ones that got placed in Canadian colleges and universities,” he said.

“I just saw the big smiles on their faces and the hope that they had for this great opportunity. Otherwise they’re just stuck there.”

The college’s planning group estimates they’ll need $24,000 to support one student for one year.

Yukon College Student Union has voted to donate $5,000 from its reserve fund and the college has agreed to cover tuition for two semesters. The Yukon Employee’s Union has also agreed to contribute. Details of that donation haven’t been finalized yet.

That means a total of at least $10,000 in cash and in-kind donations has been raised so far, Ellis said.

Once the application is completed, the organization matches students, usually between 18 and 25, with Canadian schools based on their skill and interest. They then go through the same intensive federal screening process as any other refugee looking to come to Canada.

The plan is to have someone here by the end of August, in time for the beginning of the school year in September, Ellis said.

“Yukon has a history of helping folks in need and I think, specifically at Yukon College, to help somebody through school. That’s what we do.”

The rest of the college’s fundraising committee is made up of instructor Martha Burkle, student engagement coordinator Allison Furniss and liberal arts students Ulrich Trachsel and Matthew Landry.

Education Minister Doug Graham said the Yukon government hasn’t talked to the college’s committee about helping out. But he’s open to having that conversation, he said.

The government has committed to donating up to $18,500 to each of the two other groups working to bring refugee families to the Yukon.

A Whitehorse-based group called Yukon Cares has been raising funds to sponsor a family of 10 Syrian refugees. The Riverdale Baptist Church is also in the early stages of completing a sponsorship application, Graham said. There are no details yet about the family they would be supporting.

Graham said the government money would match the cash that is being raised by both groups.

He said the sponsoring groups are signing up for a long-term commitment to the refugees and “helping out with the money was the least we could do.”

In Canada sponsorship groups are responsible for supporting the refugees, both financially and with acclimatizing to life in Canada, for the first year.

Graham said he’s happy the federal government decided to reinstate a program making Ottawa responsible for a refugee’s health care for the first year they’re in the country.

“That’s a big load taken off the provinces and territories,” he said.

After the first year, any refugee that stays in the territory would be covered by Yukon’s health plan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the recent election campaign that Canada would resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of the year. He has since admitted that Canada will not meet that deadline and bumped the deadline to February.

Contact Ashley Joannou at