Somalian refugees adapt to university

Somalia-born students adjust to life outside the confines of a refugee camp.

Vancouver Island University international student Noor Mohamed Maalim

Vancouver Island University international student Noor Mohamed Maalim

Like many of the close to 1,700 international students at Vancouver Island University, Fatuma Hassan Ali and Noor Mohamed Maalim had to adapt to their new surroundings on Canada’s West Coast.

Unlike almost all the other students at VIU, the two Somalia-born students are adjusting to life outside the confines of a refugee camp.

Ali was an infant when she and her family fled the civil war violence in her home country. Maalim was four years old.

For the past 20 years, the two students lived in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, a sprawling site made up of three overcrowded camps that are home to more than 450,000 Africans. Somalia, wracked by decades of civil war, is the source of the vast majority of refugees.

Ali and Maalim are among more than 70 students supported by World University Services of Canada local committees on campuses across Canada.

Since 1978, WUSC has helped more than 1,100 young men and women resettle in Canada as permanent residents and pursue their education through the Student Refugee Program.

The world university committee at VIU began sponsoring students in 2009. The university, through the Department of International Education, is backing the initiative by providing scholarships to cover tuition fees for the students’ first year of study.

The students appreciate the opportunity to build a new life for themselves and contribute to their families and communities.

They are also extremely grateful to be half a world away from the hardships of the camps where this fall cholera broke out and aid workers were kidnapped.

“The situation in Dadaab is really terrifying. Security is poor and the living standard is low. There’s a lack of resources for education. Life there is difficult,” said Ali.

Maalim said the move to Nanaimo meant a big adjustment.

Naturally both students miss their families, found plenty of support on campus and in the community.