Welcome Director Kelley of the UNHCR: Syrian Refugee Crisis

The United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) Director Ninette Kelley has graciously agreed to speak with Burnaby students via videoconference on Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 in the second session of the Global Experts Speaker Series being held at Alpha Secondary School. The session will be in a traditional United Nations “Press Debrief” format, with student facilitation and a question and answer session.

KelleyDirector Kelley is a high level United Nations official, lawyer and author originally from Canada. Prior to her assignment in New York as UNHCR Director, Kelley served five years as UNHCR’s Representative in Lebanon, leading one of the most complex refugee operations in the history of UNHCR. Lebanon currently hosts over a million Syrian refugees.

The Canadian government is currently coordinating the single largest intake of refugees at one time in our history. Of the 25,000 Syrian refugees being welcomed into Canada within 2015, approximately 3000 are destined to British Columbia, mostly to the Metro Vancouver region.

Upon hearing news of expected refugees, Burnaby principal Mr. D. Starr responded to his staff, “These are people who have gone through unimaginable experiences, grief and trauma to reach our shores, and [our school in Burnaby] will be the physical realization of their hopes and dreams.” This is an important perspective for not only staff and students but for all Canadians to consider.

In 2012, the Syrian Arab Republic had a population of 22 million in a geographical region of 185 thousand square kilometres. Compare that to Canada’s population of 35 million found within an area of 9 million kilometres.

The crisis began in 2011 with the eruption of pro-democracy protests. By 2012, a full-fledged civil war was in progress, with President Assad refusing to resign. The civil war has the Sunni majority pitted against the Shia Alawites who are backed by the President. Neighbouring countries and world powers such as Russia and Iran, in addition to the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have also been drawn in with the group known as the Islamist State firmly entrenched as well.

As of October 2015, the United Nations has registered 4 million Syrian refugees outside of Syria and it is estimated that internally over 7 million are displaced. The math clearly shows that over half of the original population of Syria has had to leave their homes.

Thank you in advance to UNHCR Director Ninette Kelley for her upcoming engagement with Burnaby students, a clear committment to help young people become empowered with the up-to-date knowledge required to support the crucial world decisions of the future.

Other Burnaby students may attend with permission from their parents and teachers. All students must register at burnaby.events (at) gmail.com with contact information including name, school, grade, email address and cell number (if applicable).