Student society aims to build on refugee program

King's refugee program hopes to boost scholarship dollars for next year

King’s student Sixbert Himbaza says the conditions in Malawi, where he arrived from in 2011, are still not secure. Photo: Peter Marrack

A student society at the University of King’s College is preparing to sponsor its second refugee student next year now that the first one has entered second year.

Sixbert Himbaza, the first refugee program student to attend King’s in 2011, says he first saw the student refugee posters when he was in primary school, in a refugee camp in Malawi – which is in eastern Africa.

He says he applied for the program in 2009, which involved a lot of paperwork, and then two years later was granted a spot at King’s.

“A lot of people know about it,” says Himbaza of the program. “It’s the first option for high school grads.” He adds that a number of his friends had attended Canadian universities in the past through the program and reported positive things.

Himbaza advises prospective students not to “worry about problems because people always talk them out.”

“Many people are afraid of the snow when they come, but it’s not bad. You get through it.”

Himbaza is now in his second year at King’s and acts as the co-coordinator of King’s student refugee society, working alongside co-ordinator James Shields.

Himbaza says he needed to take out student loans this year in order to continue his studies.

Future refugees

Through additional fundraising, such as the quad bicycle race during frosh week and a special gala in the Wardroom pub, the King’s Students’ Union aims to bring in a new student every two years.

Starting next fall, they hope to pay for more than a year’s tuition – which, for international students, costs $25,000. Presumably, the levy brings in — at most — $11,000.

Shields says he expects the funding to match that of other universities, such as Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s University, which pay a percentage of tuition after the first year.

“We’re aiming to improve our funding to 75 per cent in the second year, 50 in the third and 25 in the fourth,” he says. “That’s what other schools in the area do.”

The program

The program, which is headed by the World University Service of Canada, matches sponsors from university campuses with refugees from countries such as Kenya, Indonesia and Malawi who would like to pursue university studies.

Students help raise funds to pay for a refugee’s education at King’s through a levy incorporated into their tuition fees. The $10 fee is listed in the financial breakdown of Dalhousie University’s online payment system – which serves King’s students as well.

Asnaketch Mekonnen and Michelle Manks, who oversee the program at WUSC’s Ottawa office, say prospective students must first meet The UN Refugee Agency requirements; in other words, they must be deemed a refugee.

Once the federal government admits them, these students must go through a selection process facilitated by the local WUSC offices in their countries.

Mekonnen and Manks make clear that “millions of refugees who qualify for resettlement… never find a sponsor.”

In an email, they list some of the criteria for prospective students. They include:

  • high school grades
  • written exam scores
  • proficiency in English and/or French
  • age range between 17-25

Mekonnen and Manks also note that refugee students must complete an oral interview with a Citizenship and Immigration officer, who will schedule a medical and security check.

Opting out of the levy

As far as the levy goes, King’s students may choose to opt out of the $10 incorporated into their tuition.

This year’s opt-out session will take place outside of Prince Hall on Nov. 29 between 12-2 p.m.

Shields says the refugee society has publicly offered the opt-out since the program’s inception in 2009, but that few people have chosen to withhold their $10. He says he doesn’t know exact numbers.

For Himbaza, he says the opt-out option “is not really fair, but at the same time in a democratic society people need to have a choice. Otherwise it would be totalitarian.”

Shields adds that the location at Prince Hall is not optimum, so the King’s Students’ Union is considering bringing together all of the opt-outs — potentially online.

“Sometimes people come to the opt-out area to convince people not to. That’s corrosive, and one of the reasons the KSU is looking to take over the process.” 



4 thoughts on “Student society aims to build on refugee program

  1. Hello!

    I have had the pleasure of working with WUSC King’s for the past couple of years, and we always appreciate media coverage that helps us get word out about the work that we do.

    I just wanted to make clear a few things that might come across as confusing in the article.

    The article refers to two coordinating bodies, the “Student Refugee Society,” and the King’s Student Union.
    While the KSU has been wonderfully supportive of our endeavours, they are not immediately involved in WUSC operations, and it is WUSC King’s and not the KSU that sponsors the students.
    The “Student Refugee Society” does not exist as such - WUSC stands for the World University Services of Canada and is an umbrella organization that focuses on international development. Through WUSC, there are a number of campaigns that focus on everything from education to women’s rights to AIDS relief. One of these campaigns, and the one that the WUSC King’s chapter has chosen to focus on, is the Student Refugee Program, and the topic of this article. Students looking to get involved with not find a Student Refugee Society, but should explore the Student Refugee Program as organized by WUSC.

    It is also important to note that the students sponsored by WUSC are granted permanent resident status - in other words, they do NOT pay the $25 000 international fee, but rather the fees that Nova Scotia students pay. This takes a great deal of stress off of our levy and allows us to help cover costs of living instead of allocating all of the money to tuition fees.

      1. No problem! Thanks for helping us to spread the word about our work. Out opt-out runs this week, so we definitely want to make sure that people know what we’re about. =)

        1. Thanks for your feedback, Megann! It’s great to hear from such informed WUSC supporters. Keep up the great work 🙂

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