Law students helping refugee claimants
A Robson Hall Welcome at Welcome Place
In February 2017, Robson Hall students participated in a nation-wide research-a-thon on the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement and other refugee law and human rights law topics. Since then, student interest in, and awareness of, immigration issues has grown. The number of refugee claimants crossing the U.S.-Canada border and arriving in Emerson, Man., has also grown. As of March 2017, more than 360 claimants have sought protection in our city.
Shortly after the research-a-thon, Kobra Rahimi, a recent Robson Hall graduate, and I grew concerned about the access to justice implications of the increasing arrivals, a lack of resources and mounting paperwork. We strongly believed that law students had a role to play in helping local organizations, and refugee claimants.
With the support and guidance of professor Shauna Labman, immigration and refugee law professor at Robson Hall, we reached out to the staff at Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council – commonly known as Welcome Place – to facilitate volunteer student support.
As law students, we learn about the importance of making the law accessible for everyone. We learn about the direct consequences the law can have on the daily lives of individuals. Many of us came to law school with a passion for social justice and have a strong desire to be advocates and make a difference in our communities.
Kobra and I facilitated placements for students to go to Welcome Place and assist claimants in filling out their application forms and developing their narratives to submit in support of their refugee claim. Every week, for two and a half months, from Monday – Friday, two students a day worked with refugee claimants for approximately four hours each. We hope to continue this initiative in the summer, as well as more formally in the fall.
As students learned, a refugee’s story is the foundation and most important part of their claim. In speaking with refugee claimants, we developed critical interview skills, were exposed to very different realities from our own, and began to familiarize ourselves with the complexities and nuances of Canada’s immigration system. We had to navigate language barriers, and balance the need to extract as many details as possible to develop a strong narrative, and the inherently personal and often traumatic nature of claimants’ experiences. Through conversations with claimants and Welcome Place staff, students became more aware of policies directly impacting newcomers from immigration to housing, health and employment.
We are proud to share that over the winter term, more than 20 law students from all three years, volunteered their time to help refugee claimants. This term has been incredibly inspiring, challenging and rewarding. This project has allowed us to use the knowledge and skills we learn in the classroom, and apply this to help some of the most vulnerable people.
Shauna Labman, assistant professor in the Faculty of Law is working with both the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba to host a Newcomer-Indigenous Bridge Building conference. This two-day event will be held at Thunderbird House with funding from the U of M from May 12-13, 2017.
Panel A: “History, Rights & Understanding”
A preliminary panel will provide foundational presentations on treaties and the history of residential schools as well as Canada’s immigration and refugee laws and the international legal obligation of non-refoulement.
Panel B: “Building Bridges and Making Connections”
Community and academic presenters will be invited to discuss their programs and research on indigenous-newcomer relationship building.
The Connection Conversation
Small group breakout session and questionnaire followed by full group review. – What connections already exist between organizations? – How do we use existing means to further aims of building bridges and reconciliation? – How do we build internal capacity?
Panel C: “What’s Happening Elsewhere?”
Speakers from outside of Manitoba (but in Canada) will be invited to present on the work in their communities to foster indigenous-newcomer relationships.
Youth-Led Visioning Exercise
Small group breakout session on visions of Winnipeg’s inner-city and Indigenous-Newcomer relations in the year 2027, 2067, and finally, another 150 years from now – 2167.
Panel D: “The Future”
Artists working towards building stronger, more inclusive communities through performing arts. A showcase of what the future holds through variety of creative forms (music, art, poetry) followed by a discussion with the panellists.
Skills & Knowledge Exchange Bank
An activity and product of the conference will be to create a “bank” of speakers and resources (plain language and culturally brokered handouts on key pieces of information) to help organizations share information and make issue connections (displacement, violence, access to resources, integration).