Friday, December 01, 2017

A Fantastic Day - STAR Conference 2017

By Claudia Wyatt

I recently had the privilege of attending the annual STAR Conference for the second year.

With the thought provoking title – Refugees Welcome? How the UK Welcomes & Challenges Refugees – it was a packed day of fascinating talks and workshops on the refugee emergency.

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We also considered the UK’s response to this as well as what we as students can do to make real change to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

Over 100 students gathered to celebrate the work of different STAR groups and it was inspiring to hear how other STAR groups campaign, run volunteer projects and fundraise.

I certainly took away a lot of ideas and it’s always great to meet and interact with other STAR members to gain insight and advice on how they approach their projects.

It was amazing to hear that the STAR Network has doubled in size since 2014 and there are now around 27,000 students involved in STAR groups throughout the UK operating in 42 universities.

Emma Williams, Chief Executive of STAR National opened the conference with an introduction to STAR and the basic issues that face refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and how we can make a difference.

She gave a stark overview of the refugee emergency through a few striking figures: 1 person in the world flees their home every 3 seconds, 65 million people are displaced worldwide. There are 2 million asylum seekers, 22.5 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced people worldwide.

For me these figures really put into perspective the UK’s response and how much of the burden is borne by neighbouring regions and countries to a particular conflict.

As a result, according to 2017 figures from the UNHCR, 84% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries.

We had the privilege of listening to a talk from Ahmad Al-Rashid, a forced migration researcher, campaigner and Syrian refugee, who has conducted a lot of research on refugee’s access to education.

He spoke to us about the impact of fleeing conflict on children’s education. He stated that 3 million children in Syria are out of education.

Another figure that really struck me was that 51% of refugees are children under the age of 18. Even though many refugee camps do have makeshift schools, still children’s learning is disrupted and they are being forced to grow up extremely quickly.

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Ahmad Al-Rashid also stated that only 1% of refugees in Europe go to university, even though 50% of degree qualified Syrians are now in Europe.

This is a statistic that STAR are working hard to help increase with their campaign Equal Access to Education, set up in 2012.

They encourage universities to set up scholarships and funding to allow asylum seekers to study at university and not be considered an international student.

Laura Padoan, External Relations Officer and the UN Refugee Agency gave a talk about the current refugee situation including the UNHCR’s response to Myanmar’s violent treatment of the minority Rohingya population.

Ms Padoan also outlined her view of the current challenges in the UK to our approach to the Refugee Emergency: the collapse of the Schengen Area and the Dublin Agreement, the rise of xenophobic sentiments and nationalist parties, and the questioning of key Human Rights instruments, particularly in the light of Brexit.

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I found it interesting how Emma Williams advocates for the use of the term ‘Refugee Emergency’ as opposed to ‘Refugee Crisis’.

‘Crisis’ became frequently used when the influx of migrants across European borders became a huge talking point and political conundrum in Western European countries. She describes it more as a crisis of values, management and politics.

The conference was a fantastic day where refugees, students, refugee activists, and charity workers could get together to share ideas, their experience and expertise on how the UK helps to welcome refugees in the UK – and how we can help them overcome challenges they face here.

It was a stark reminder of why organisations such as STAR are needed in the UK but also uplifting to learn of the many people that really care about the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK, as well the UK government’s response to the refugee crisis.

Posted by STAR team on 01/12/2017 at 12:08 PM