York researchers launch Syrian refugee archive for scholarly use

A team of researchers at York University has developed a web-based archive on Syrian refugee settlement. It is the first web archive at York that is publicly accessible and permanently protected within the library system.

Nergis Canefe

Nergis Canefe

The development of Syrian Refugee Settlement in Canada was led by Professor Nergis Canefe with support from the York University Libraries, the Centre for Refugee Studies and York University Vice-Provost Academic Alice Pitt.

The project, which was funded by a research grant from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LA&PS), also served as a pilot for faculty Scalar training for the creation of similar archives with scholarly use. The research and development team included Faida Abu-Ghazaleh, archive specialist, Centre for Refugee Studies librarian, York University; and Robyn LeLacheur, former student of Canefe.

The digital, open-source scholarly archive is organized into five topics, including: the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Context; Political Debates in Canada; The History of Private Sponsorship and Private-Public Partnership Programs for Resettlement; Drawbacks of Hybrid/Blended Refugee Resettlement Schemes; and Back to the Future. It features an analytically organized display of important policy and legal documents.

Canefe says since the 1980s, humanitarianism, multiculturalism and system-wide adherence to administrative due process in immigration have been officially presented as trademark features of Canada’s immigration policy framework. While this trilogy informs the formally stated direction of the Canadian state in immigration-related matters, since the early 1990s other factors such as economic imperatives and divided public opinion led to a far more selective approach to immigration, prioritizing Canada’s immediate economic and political interests over humanitarian needs of vulnerable populations.

In light of the projected demand to increase annual newcomer intake from 250,000 to over 400,000 by 2030, issues of immigration policy are likely to remain at the forefront of both political and policy-related debates and the Canadian public will have to make some challenging decisions.

“The global trend in the exponential increase of displaced populations and forced migration indeed requires us not just to engage in new ways of thinking regarding resettlement and new technologies for streamlining admissions but also fortification of the political will to address the institutional fragmentation that currently frames refugee acceptance,” said Canefe. “Concerning the Syrian case, the Canadian model of private sponsorship has opened up the possibility of leveraging government resources with significant investments of time and money by private-sector partners and individual citizens.”

This model of “shared economy” platform to support the admission and integration of immigrants and refugees is worthy of critical note. Public and policy debates predating the official endorsement of this model are also of particular importance as they shed light on the conflicting agendas and future directives that currently dominate Canadian administrative and legal discourses.

“In this broader context, this web archive strives to offer a documented commentary on the most recent addition to the Canadian resettlement scheme, the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) program,”said Canefe.

The BVOR program was introduced in 2013 as a calculated mixture of private sponsorship and government-assisted resettlement and constitutes a modified version of private sponsorship of refugee and immigrant applicants. While the program was met with significant criticism and skepticism indicating that the government was practically offloading its resettlement responsibilities to private sponsors, there is also the counter argument that without the program, the Syrian crisis significantly impacting the Canadian resettlement landscape could not have been addressed, she says.

In this regard, BVOR has to be examined in relation to both private and government resettlement schemes, and in comparison to the historical use of private sponsorship for Indochinese refugees. The documents presented to the reader in this web archive allow for an examination of the background debates that led to the institutionalization of the BVOR program, the challenges BVOR is intended to address, public and political debates concerning the proposed division of public and private responsibility, and the links made between this particular model and the public acceptance of the en masse resettlement of select Syrian refugees in Canada.

“These debates are essential for assessing the direction of Canada’s future resettlement and refugee policies,” said Canefe.

Canefe has spent more than 20 years doing in-depth qualitative research with displaced communities, and teaching human rights in war-torn societies globally. She is also specialized in international criminal and public law, with particular emphasis on crimes against humanity and critical approaches to transitional justice. Canefe joined York University in 2003 and has been a full-time faculty member, regularly teaching in the departments of Political Science, Social and Political Thought, Socio-Legal Studies, Public Policy, Administration and Law at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Courtesy of YFile.