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University creates scholarships for Syrian refugees

The University of Northern B.C. and its partners have pledged full scholarships for five Syrian refugees among the millions fleeing the war-torn country.
UNBC president Daniel Weeks speaks about a new program to help Syrian refugees who want to study at UNBC.

The University of Northern B.C. and its partners have pledged full scholarships for five Syrian refugees among the millions fleeing the war-torn country.

Every year students at UNBC sponsor a refugee, typically from an African country, through a program organized by its chapter of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC).

On Monday, the university announced it has kicked in a further $180,000 to give that chance to four more students.

And with four million refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, that is the new focus.

"This is a particularly acute problem in the world," said UNBC president Daniel Weeks. "We've not seen anything like this in literally centuries of this magnitude. It will take every university in Canada, every university in the Western world really to step up and have a significant response if we're even going to put a dent in this."

UNBC drew a significant portion from its Area of Greatest Need fund, a pot of donations that lets the university decide where money is most needed.

It's likely the first students will arrive next September, but not all five at once, said WUSC volunteer Tegan Lott.

The local committee helps settle students, fill out immigration forms and provide support throughout the year.

Right now, Lott is the only coordinator on campus, and the committee hoping to get four volunteers to help with next year's arrivals.

"I think it's really important to get the idea of what we do out there," said Tott.

"A lot of the time WUSC is under the surface a bit more. A lot of people on campus don't know what we do."

She said the group is grateful to have more community support to give refugees an opportunity at education.

"The Syrian crisis (means) huge amounts of people need help and I think it's important to do as much as we can," Lott said.

Every UNBC student pays a $5 fee that goes to support one refugee a year. Having these students is a positive for the whole student body, said Duncan Malkinson, president of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society.

"It's so beneficial for students that are removed from those kinds of circumstances to actually as they live and breathe, connect with somebody that was involved in those kinds of struggles," said Malkinson, and adding the extra students was the right humanitarian choice.

"I think it's a chance for us to show leadership nationally," he said of UNBC.

Mayor Lyn Hall was on hand to offer the city's support and noted Prince George city council called for stronger federal action in a resolution before the Union of B.C. Municipalities last week. In the end, UBCM selected a similar resolution sponsored by the Whistler local government.

"There's support even on a provincial level to take a look at what we can do during this really devastating time and (there's) a real need to help these folks out," Hall said.

It's important the university lead by example, Weeks said.

"We have to show our young students that it's important to look beyond yourself and look at what's going on in the world and really put yourself in a position to make a difference."