A year of uncertainty for refugee student sponsorship

By Gordon Lambie

Normally one of the surest signs of spring in Lennoxville is the massive arena sale for the Bishop’s University/Champlain Regional College Student Refugee Sponsorship Project. An annual tradition for many local bargain hunters, the sale usually sees the old W.B. Scott arena at Bishop’s University packed with second-hand treasures waiting to be scooped up by a lineup of locals that often stretches all the way across the nearby soccer field before the doors open.
Not so in the context of Covid-19.
With campus still largely locked down after the premature departure of the students and staff back in March, the early days of May passed without the formation of any queues, physically distanced or otherwise, near the arena. According to Lissa McRea, one of the members of the student refugee project’s executive committee, there isn’t likely to be a sale any time soon.
“Unfortunately it doesn’t look good for a simple postponement of the sale ‘till the fall,” McRea said. “As it stands, we do not know if the sale could, by law, be held, or whether people would feel comfortable enough to actually come to the crowded garage sale venue.”
While this might be a bit disappointing to garage sale fans, it is a very big hit for the project. In a normal year the sale is the project’s largest fundraiser and the vast majority of the funds that are used to support two refugee students through their studies come from the revenue. The program does usually get additional support through its fall used book sale but McRea said that she is just as skeptical at this point that the October sale will be able to go ahead as usual.
“In terms of the financial viability of the sponsorship of two students, as is the norm each September, not having the arena sale would deal a major financial hardship for our group” the committee member said.
Given the historical generosity of the Lennoxville community and those of the schools, McRae said that she has confidence that the financial hurdles created by this crisis could be overcome if needed. She pointed out, however, that the work of the project is dependent on a much more significant factor which remains up in the air.
“We are not even sure if the government will allow our newly sponsored students to come to Canada in September,” she said. “That will be a decision made by the federal government and our partner in student sponsorship, the World University Services of Canada (WUSC).”
McRae pointed out that in the context of Canada’s closed borders, all of the country’s refugee programs have been suspended, meaning that even though there were students already selected to come to Bishop’s and Champlain this coming fall, there is no guarantee that they will actually be able to do so.
“In these uncertain times, my heart goes out to the young refugees who had been chosen to come to Canada to start a new life, who now may be told that this dream is no longer a possibility, at least in the short term,” she said.
Without any clarity at this point as to what things will be like later in the year, McRae said that there has been some discussion around how things might work if the students are allowed to come partway through the year. As the discussion is ongoing about whether or not even the Canadian students of the two schools will be back on campus this year, however, she said plans are hard to make.
“Our October sale might be a February sale,” she speculated, underlining the fact that at this point, there is simply no way to know.

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