Sabine Lehr, Private Sponsorship of Refugees Manager
(Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies)
May 15-18, 2017, at the University of Victoria
The 10th annual CARFMS conference took place in Victoria in May with a great turnout of about 250 delegates, quite a few of whom were international participants. At a time of globally shrinking spaces for refugees and other vulnerable migrants during an escalating crisis, Canada is widely regarded as a country that takes refugee protection seriously.
The conference presented opportunities for lively discussions inside the formal sessions and in the corridors of UVic’s MacLaurin Building where there was a lot of buzz throughout the conference. The surrounding corridors also included photo exhibits on North Korean Refugee Art from the Yeomyung School in Seoul, South Korea, and the “Double Jeopardy in Forced Migration” exhibit presented by Médecins Sans Frontières. The latter draws attention to the horrific conditions along escape routes encountered by those fleeing war and violence in their home countries.
The three evenings of the conference provided opportunities for the public to engage with conference-related topics during free public keynote addresses:
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and environmental, cultural and human rights advocate, on the links between environment, economy, foreign policy, health, and human rights;
Jyoti Sanghera, Chief, Asia Pacific Section, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the topic of “Dying to Live”; and
Romola Sanyal, Assistant Professor in Urban Geography at the London School of Economics, on the management of refugee flows.
Plenary sessions provided updates on recent developments in Canadian refugee law and the engagement of multi-lateral organizations in the refugee architecture. A special plenary on the role of civil society featured speakers from the Canadian Council for Refugees, from CultureLink Settlement Services in Toronto, PeaceGeeks in Vancouver, and ICA’s CEO, Jean McRae.
Most conference sessions were concurrent panel discussions and workshops on a diverse range of topics, featuring academics and graduate students; however, there was also a sizeable presence of and contributions from practitioners, as well as a few Government representatives.
Some prominent topics at the conference included: securitization of migration and asylum in Canada and other parts of the world; Indigenous displacement; gender dimensions of refugees; access to services for refugees; internally displaced persons; detention; vulnerabilities; and discourse analyses of migration issues.
The conference made use of livestreaming technology with links to South Pacific Islander communities adversely affected by climate change. The documentary film “Chasing Asylum” on Australia’s offshore detention policies was followed by a live link with the film’s director, Eva Orner.
A few events were scheduled on the edges of the CARFMS conference, among which a training session for private sponsors, jointly organized by the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, the Anglican Diocese of BC, and ICA. The event focused on post-arrival settlement and integration matters and was well attended by approximately 70 sponsors from Greater Victoria and a few participants from further up-Island.
Next year’s CARFMS conference will be hosted by Carleton University in Ottawa on the topic of Dialogue Beyond Boundaries – stay tuned!