8 months after Alan Kurdi's body found, refugees the focus of Winnipeg events

A mere eight months ago, the body of a three-year-old Alan Kurdi was found dead on a beach. The moment brought the realities of the Syrian crisis to the world's attention. All this month Winnipeg will be host to a series of events focused on refugees -- to put concern into action.
Eight months ago a Turkish police officer carried the lifeless body of refugee Alan Kurdi off a beach of the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. (DHA/Associated Press)

A mere eight months ago, the body of a three-year-old Alan Kurdi was found dead on a beach. The moment brought the realities of the Syrian crisis to the world's attention.

People were desperate and children were dying.

In Canada, communities mobilized to privately sponsor refugees. Campaign promises during a federal election led to government action at an unprecedented pace.

In less than four months, from November through February, 25,000 Syrian refugees were resettled to Canada and the numbers continue to grow.

In contrast, just over 12,000 refugees were resettled across Canada in all of 2014.

In Manitoba, 770 government assisted Syrian refugees have arrived since November 2015 and an additional 162 Syrians have come through private sponsorships and the blended government sponsor partnerships.

In January, the provincial government committed $1.6 million to help Syrian refugees settle in Manitoba.

At the same time, other refugees from around the world continue to find protection here. Operation Ezra has been working steadily to sponsor Yazidi families into Winnipeg.

In August 2015, Yahya Samatar culminated his year-long journey through Central America and the United States with a daring and uncertain swim across the Red River to claim protection in Canada.

In January, a sponsored Somali family of 11 children arrived in Winnipeg following the successful refugee claim of their older brother and months of hiding in Saudi Arabia under the threat of deportation.

Just last month, cheers went up when Hazim Ismail, an openly gay and atheist Malaysian student at the University of Winnipeg, was accepted as a refugee.

We are "Friendly Manitoba" and as our community grows and changes it is important to know who our new neighbours are, where they come from and how in the future, we can both continue to help and welcome while working to lessen refugee flows.

One such opportunity will take place next week. Menno Simons College is hosting the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies 9th Annual Conference from May 11 to 14 with events at Menno Simons College, University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Mennonite University.

The conference theme is "freedom of movement: exploring a path from armed conflict, persecution, and forced migration to conflict resolution, human rights, and development."

Scholars, advocates and settlement workers will be meeting in Winnipeg from more than 20 countries around the world to explore these issues. While anyone can register to attend, certain events are also open to the public.

Dr. Elspeth Guild, an expert in European migration law will give a public lecture on Wednesday, May 11 titled "For Whom Are EU Borders Deadly and Why?" It takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Winnipeg's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.

On Friday, May 13th, a special panel of judges from the International Association of Refugee Law Judges, coming from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada will discuss "The War Refugee in International Refugee and Humanitarian Law." That takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Marpeck Commons at the Canadian Mennonite University.

Both talks are free and will benefit from a diverse audience.

For the duration of the conference, Menno Simons College will host two free photography exhibits open to the public on sea rescues by Doctors without Borders and African Migrant Workers in Calabria.

Finally, if you have ever wondered about the realities of life in a refugee camp or want to help your children understand why refugees need help and welcome, Doctors without Borders is setting up display tents for a mobile refugee camp clinic on the lawn in front of Wesley Hall, University of Winnipeg on Thursday, May12 and Friday, May 13.

So come, learn more about refugees, migration and movement and meet those working in our community and advocating around the world to resolve conflicts, ensure human rights and support development.

Shauna Labman is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba. She is a co-organizer of CARFMS2016, a co-founder of the Migration Law Research Cluster at Robson Hall and a 2016 CBC Manitoba Future 40 finalist.