UVic auction event supports refugees

Public forums in the new year will explore the refugee crisis and the Canadian and European response to it

Theresa Gallant

The University of Victoria History Department invites the community to enjoy an evening of appies and holiday shopping Dec. 9 and in the process, help support a Syrian refugee family on its way to Canada.

The History Refugee Committee hosts a live and silent auction Dec. 9 in the UVic Student Union Building, a way to continue toward the $50,000 needed to needed to help resettle the family of five in Canada in the coming year.

“The immediate impetus was the same for us as it was for so many others,” says history professor Elizabeth Vibert, pointing to the poignant image of the young boy drowned, alongside his mother and siblings, while trying to flee the violence in Syria.

However the Syrian refugee situation is also reflective of a mounting global refugee crisis, notes Vibert, who specializes in colonial history and in particular southern Africa. “We decided we want to do something.”

What started as a faculty project, working through the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, quickly expanded to include students, staff and others, both inside and outside the department.

The group is sponsoring a Syrian family that fled to Turkey two years ago, a professional couple and their three children. “They have been waiting a long time to restart their lives and the lives of their three children,” Vibert says.

While transitioning to a new community can be challenging, a friend living here already is helping, so “they have some community when they arrive, which really helps.”

At more than $25,000, the group is just over half-way to their fundraising goal and the committee recently received word that an anonymous donor has offered matching funds for donations received now, Vibert says.

Beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, the auction features a wide array of seasonal gifts, including a Whistler ski weekend, Harbour Air tickets, custom-made Cowichan sweater, wines, jewellery, restaurants, baskets and more, plus appetizers and a cash bar.

Also available will be Donor Gift Cards, allowing purchasers to donate a minimum of $25 to the cause in someone’s name and in turn receive a charitable tax receipt. Cards are available at the auction or from the history office (histao@uvic.ca).

In connecting with a refugee family to sponsor, “we focused on a family because we have lots of members in our group who have small children,” Vibert says. She points out, however, that while much international focus has been directed at women and children, single men are also in need of sponsorship, including those who have been separated from their families by the crisis.

Further, “the moment these folks land here, they are Canadian permanent residents; they’re not refugees anymore,” Vibert adds.

Because education is a natural fit for the department, the committee also continues its series of public forums on the history and current contours of the refugee crisis, and the European and Canadian responses. Following two standing-room-only forums held in September, two more are scheduled for early in the new year, featuring professors Andrew Wender, Oliver Schmidtke, Martin Bunton and others.

“It’s alarming to me the level of misinformation that’s floating around in the public,” Vibert says, including the suggestion that countries in the Middle East region aren’t doing their part. Vibert notes that one-quarter of Lebanon’s current population is Syrian refugees, and two million Syrians are currently making their home in Turkey.

Following last month’s Paris attacks, people also postulated that the terrorists had crossed borders with the refugees, which has been disproved, she says, adding that refugees are actually the most strictly reviewed class of immigrants.

“People need to really be aware of how much new immigrants bring to this country,” Vibert says.

For more information about the fundraising auction, the coming public forums, and general information about the refugee crisis – including a reading list for those wanting more information – visit historyrefugee.org.

 

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