A group of Princeton University journalism students were in Manitoba this week to learn about refugees, as part of a class trip to learn about social issues that has taken previous classes to the likes of Athens, Paris and Berlin.
"If you want to look at all the aspects of Canadian [refugee] policy, this is the place to do it," said Deborah Amos, a journalist with NPR and Princeton journalism professor.
"You can see the private resettlement project in Altona — probably one of the best examples that you get — and then you can go to Emerson and see what's called the irregular border crossers, and, you know, that was a big story for us in the U.S."
Students spoke to officials dealing with incoming asylum seekers in Emerson, met refugees in Altona, toured a Winnipeg resettlement agency, and took in a Jets game on Thursday night.
"I don't think it changed attitudes. I think it deepened understanding, and that was the point of this trip," Amos said.
Kieran Murphy, one of Amos's students, said he was struck by the personal stories of some of the refugees he met.
"I think that we think of living in the United States as a safe country for refugees … and just seeing the reasons that people are coming across the border has been both horrifying but also a very important learning experience," he said.
People he spoke to had been held in detention centres, denied lawyers and prevented from speaking to family before leaving the U.S., he said. He was also impressed by Winnipeg resettlement agency Welcome Place, which is staffed largely by former refugees and immigrants.
"I think I see it much more now as an absolute moral imperative to bring refugees over, and that it's something that's absolutely worth fighting for in the United States," he said.
'I'll be paying more attention'
Rose Gilbert, another student in the class, said she was struck by the attitudes of Manitobans living in southern rural communities as they adjust to increasing numbers of asylum walking across the border nearby.
"I think people are a little scared. They mentioned they're worried people will come up to them, knock on their doors, people they don't know when they know everyone in town," she said.
"But despite that, I was surprised at how willing to help people seemed. The reeve said that about half the people are just as willing to help as they were before, and the other half are cautious, but they'll still help."
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Gilbert said she's also leaving with a better understanding of Indigenous issues. Where she lives in the U.S., she doesn't encounter many "Native American" issues, she said.
"But being here, you know, going to APTN, talking to resettlement organizations about the work that they're doing to build community between newcomers and the Indigenous community of Canada, really made me aware of how much I've been missing out on," she said.
"So I'll be paying more attention."
To learn more about the students' experience, you can vist their blog online.