Creating New Partnerships: Law Students at Welcome Place

Written by Maddie Pearlman (Third Year Law Student) and Kobra Rahimi (Recent Law Graduate) for the Welcome Place’s Annual Report

We had read numerous news articles about the increasing numbers of refugees arriving in Emerson, Manitoba – freezing, tired and scared after walking for hours to cross the US-Canada border. We read of never-ending paper work, backlogs and resource concerns. We knew then, that we had to act. In response, we created a program where law students from Robson Hall assisted refugees with filling in the initial forms to make a refugee claim.

Many of us came to law school to be advocates and make a difference in our communities. As law students, we have the capacity and the knowledge to work with individuals navigating complex legal processes, and to help in small ways, to make it easier and more just.

Working with MIIC, and immigration law professor Shauna Labman, we were able to coordinate placements for ten students to come to Welcome Place each week during the school term. Each student signed up for a 4-hour shift either in the morning or afternoon. Students had the opportunity to speak with refugees and listen to their stories and experiences. For some students, it was the first time they had met a refugee. By April, over 20 students have volunteered their time, often willing to come with just a few hours notice.

Our time at Welcome Place has changed our perspective and has positively impacted all of us. It has been inspiring, challenging and rewarding and many students wanted to share their thoughts:

The staff at Welcome Place are doing their very best to fill a real and urgent need with limited resources. As for us students, the opportunity to help out, in our own small way, is therapeutic in itself. This is why we went to law school in the first place – Sarah Khalil, First Year Student

Volunteering through Robson Hall in helping asylum seekers that newly arrived to Manitoba was truly a heartfelt experience. The strong community values we hold as a province make it easy to understand the struggle of asylum seekers and that is surely noticeable in the way people have come together so in helping others” – Jayson Rona, Third Year Student.

Volunteering with Welcome Place was a powerful learning experience, and a highlight of my second year of law school. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help people share their stories as they sought safety and a more hopeful future in Canada. – Victoria Weir, Second Year Student

“For the first time, I saw first-hand how law and policy have significant consequences on people’s lives, and being able to help meant a lot to me” – Mike Nerbas, Second Year Law Student

On behalf of all of the Robson Hall students, we would like to thank the MIIC staff for their passion and dedication to helping refugees and for their guidance and warmth during our placements.  We look forward to continuing the relationship we’ve formed, and assisting refugees make Winnipeg their home.

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