By Sauvé Fellow Rolando Jr Villamero

My Sauvé co-Fellow Jonathan McPhedran Waitzer reported in our last blog entry that we’ve spent the past several weeks deep diving into the challenge of refugee integration. This process is an essential requirement for us to craft a collective project that is truly responsive to the needs of refugees arriving in Montreal. We are grateful to the individuals and organizations who have generouly shared their time and expertise with us and allowed us to move our collective understanding forward.

The last two weeks of February provided an opportunity for the Fellows to further understand the refugee integration issue, specifically on a political level. Our deep dive during this period, which included many dialogue sessions and site visits, was geared towards exploring the bigger picture of refugee integration.

Denise Otis, Legal Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), spoke with us about how the United Nations has been working to hold the states that signed the 1951 Refugee Convention to account. She also shared the importance of maintaining neutrality in dealing with the issue of refugee integration. “At the UNHCR, it is my utmost priority to consistently practice diplomacy and to maintain a neutral ground. These are essential principles moving forward”, Ms. Otis stressed. Later on, during another eye-opening Leadership Encounter, Professor Payam Akhavan shared with an interesting perspective on how one can work with integrity within the superstructures that characterize the international community.

The Fellows also had the opportunity to meet the staff of Concordia University’s Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights (MIGS). This organization has been instrumental in providing a space for human rights professionals and advocates to convene and in creating a collective platform in combatting extremism, terrorism, and genocide. Specifically, during our discussion, MIGS highlighted the role of social media and technology to advancing human rights, and shared an analysis of the root causes of the current conflict in Syria.

As Montreal continues to welcome Syrian refugees, the Fellows recognize that this group of people is heterogeneous – some are children, some have disabilities, some are LGBT, etc. And each of these groups has their own specific needs. For example, refugees with disabilities are the most marginalized and are oftentimes excluded from access to services and opportunities. This alarming situation encouraged me to organize a workshop on disability within the refugee crisis context. With the participation of the Fellows, the session started with a discussion on the theoretical aspects of disability such as terminologies and models of disability. It was then followed by a panel discussion on the lived experiences of those with disabilities in relation to the refugee crisis agenda. Panelists were the members of Concordia University’s Critical Disability Studies Working Group and representative of L’Association multiethnique pour l’intégration des personnes handicapées (AMEIPH). The session ended with a strong emphasis on the ‘nothing about us, without us’ slogan, which speaks to the need of those with disabilities to lead in advocating for their rights within the issues that directly affect them.

The very enriching ‘deep dive’ process was capped off with a practical exercise, known as a Human Centred Design Hack, facilitated in by Anita Nowak, Jeanne Sauvé Senior Fellow and professor of social innovation at McGill University. In this exercise, the Fellows, alongside a group of dynamic undergraduate students, designed a hypothetical suite of services for refugees. Collaboration among different organizations and agencies in the community was found very important in creating employment opportunities for all refugees coming to Canada.

Now that the Fellows have officially completed our ‘deep dive’ process, we’re working on synthesizing our learning and rolling out the implementation of a collective project. Are you excited to know what it will be? We Fellows all are. Stay tuned!

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