Nfld. & Labrador

To help bring refugee students to MUN, this group wants a bump in fees

Some Memorial University students are campaigning for a hike in student fees in hopes of paying for a year of post-secondary education for a refugee student.

$2 increase to student fees could help refugee students chase their dreams, lobbyists say

Nabila Qureshi said most Memorial University students are on board with a proposed $2 fee increase to bring a refugee student to their campus each year. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Memorial University's student union will vote in early November on adding $2 per semester to student fees for all undergraduate students to help bring the Student Refugee Program to St. John's and fund a year of post-secondary education for a refugee student.

If all goes according to plan, the first student under the proposed program will begin studying at Memorial by next fall.

"I have lived in Syria for the first 19 years of my life. I know what these refugee students are going through, and I know how they feel," said Husam Basemah, a second-year physics student at MUN and co-chair of World University Service of Canada Local, the organization lobbying for the referendum.

The Student Refugee Program is currently partnered with 83 campuses across Canada, according to the program's website, and sponsors 130 refugee students per year. The program began in 1978.

But before going to a vote, Basemah said his organization was asked to collect 1,100 signatures from other students across the St. John's campus and present them to MUNSU. His group collected more than 1,700 signatures in three weeks, he said.

Husam Basemah says the World University Services of Canada reached more than 1,700 student signatures on its petition to bring the Student Refugee Program to Memorial University. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

However, at least 10 per cent of eligible MUN students must cast a ballot for the vote to be valid, and two-thirds of the total votes must be in favour for the referendum to get approved. There are 11,867 eligible voters on MUN's St. John's campus right now.

Get a sense of 'pride and spirit'

The organization says it believes most students support this measure.

"Students are in favour for it, for various reasons. They see it as an important program to advocate for refugee's rights, especially for their education," said Nabila Qureshi, co-chair of World University Service of Canada Local.

"It's a great way for students to have a great sense of MUN pride and spirit on campus."

Students at MUN will have the opportunity to vote to add $2 in fees to their tuition per semester to pay for one refugee student to study at MUN per year. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Qureshi came to St. John's 12 years ago. She has an undergraduate degree from Memorial and is currently completing her masters degree in community health.

Her research includes working with refugee youth who are settling in St. John's. 

If the referendum for the $2 increase to student fees to fund the Student Refugee Program is approved, MUNSU will ask MUN administration to collect the money and the student's union will then pass the money to the program.

As of now, full-time students at MUN pay $123.45 per semester in fees, which funds MUNSU offices and salaries, a fee for the provincial and national Canadian Federation of Students, CHMR radio, the Muse student newspaper, a recreation membership at the Field House, and optional health and dental coverage.

Basemah said that if there is a surplus in funding, that money will be moved to fund a second refugee student and so on. Neither the World University Service of Canada, MUN nor MUNSU will keep any surplus. 

The University of British Columbia and University of Toronto each sponsor more than one student under the same program, Qureshi said.

Many MUN students are surprised there isn't a program such as the one her group is lobbying for already in place at the university, she said.

"Students are curious to know how they can advocate for MUN to be a part of this, and then they obviously get fascinated to know that they can have the chance to contribute and to make a difference," she said.

"Just the fact that a student can be here amongst us a year from now, and we as an institution can help support that student realize his or her dreams, I think that's a very noble and intrinsically rewarding feeling."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Cec Haire