November 24, 2010 - 10:09pm
Akol Quir fled Sudan for a refugee camp in Kenya when he was six years old. He had to move from village to village, trying to stay ahead of armed groups that were ravaging southern Sudan. While shocking, his story is not unlike that of many refugees who have had to flee their war-torn homes.
Quir is now studying at the University of Alberta, thanks to the Student Refugee Program, administered by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). Undergraduate students at the U of A pay a $0.44 dedicated fee unit to support the program, which brings student refugees to study on campus. The levy goes towards residence fees and living expenses, while the U of A itself covers the cost of tuition for four years.
Refugee students vying to get into the program face stiff competition. Quir noted that it is difficult enough to study in a refugee camp, as rations often run short and students grow hungry. To get into the program, students have to struggle against the host of challenges they face and achieve good grades despite their difficult surroundings.
As a result of the number of highly qualified applicants, refugees who are selected tend to perform exceptionally well; according to WUSC, 97 per cent of sponsored students complete or are in the process of completing their degrees.
Quir is the latest student refugee to come to the U of A as part of the program. After arriving in Canada this past August, the 20-year-old is now studying for a Bachelor of Science degree.
"It is great that I've finally made it to Canada. It is a long process, and a long dream that you wait for a very long time," Quir said. "It finally comes out of hard work and determination."
While Quir joked that he sometimes feels like he's going to freeze when he walks to class from International House, he's dealt with tougher circumstances. When he was young, southern Sudan was in a state of chaos.
"Our village was attacked when I was about two-and-a-half years old. So I fled with my parents — and I didn't know what was happening, but I could see dead people all around, houses were burning beyond recognition. So we fled," Quir said.
For the next four years his family moved through towns, trying to avoid the fighting.
"Then the NCP [National Congress Party], the Arabs, come and they capture that town. And in the process of capturing, many people were killed, people you know. So it's very traumatizing. But it becomes normal, and when you see a dead person, it's just normal."
Quir explained that eventually, the war's toll became too much, especially after his mother and two sisters were killed, leaving only him and his father.
"When I was six years [old] we just couldn't … because the war was diversifying, intensifying, in the whole of southern Sudan. So there was nowhere to hide anymore. So I just [went] to the Kenya-Sudan border, and there we were received by the UN at the border and taken to the refugee camp."
At the camp in Kenya, Quir stayed with relatives while his father went back to southern Sudan. Quir said that he stayed at the camp so he could receive an education that he couldn't attain if he returned home. Because of the disruption that the war caused, he hasn't seen his father in years.
Quir said that he was very impressed by the academic environment at the U of A and the quality of education he was encountering on campus. Nevertheless, it's been tough getting used to Alberta.
"Now, this first semester, I've been digesting, adapting, and settling to the weather, the foods, and the teaching system and everything," Quir said. "Most of the time, it is very hot [in Kenya]. It is the opposite of here, it is negative 30 here and it is positive 30 there."