Thursday, November 30, 2017

Building a Generation

Student Action for Refugees (STAR) held its annual Conference on Saturday November 18th in central London the with the theme ‘Refugees Welcome?’

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The event brought together refugees, human rights activists and refugee agencies for a day of learning and discussion.

Over a hundred student activists from around the UK and Ireland heard form world class speakers. The focus was on how the UK both welcomes and challenges people seeking refugee protection.

The keynote speakers included: Ahmad Al-Rashid, a researcher in forced migration and prominent campaigner on refugee issues who fled the civil war in Syria.

He said the refugee crisis should be seen as “a golden opportunity” because so many talented young people were coming here. He added he had “huge faith in the young” and their ability to change things.

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Laura Padoan from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told activists she was “deeply moved” by their support for “an important cause.”

Alex Fraser, a UK Director with the British Red Cross, said “life within the asylum process is difficult”, when explaining the huge challenges people face applying for asylum.

Actor and activist – Sayed Najibi – who arrived in the UK in 2012 after an eight-month journey from Afghanistan told the gathering: “we are all human. Keep doing what you are doing, it matters.”

There was a range of lively and dynamic workshops, including a session focussing on public attitudes towards refugees led by Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future thinktank.

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Commenting on the day Emma Williams, chief executive of STAR, said: “Conference was a great success and shows that as a network STAR is going from strength to strength. We are a charity of 27,000 students. It’s extraordinary and I think a testimony to the will of students wanting to welcome refugees.”

“What we have seen today is that young people are at the frontline of welcoming refugees here. We have 4000 refugees now being assisted to learn English, to understand their local environment, to learn football. It makes me hugely proud.

“It makes a difference in the future because the cohort that we are moving through university, learning about refugees, they will then graduate and become teachers, doctors and parents.

“We are building a generation that has a clear understanding of refugees.”

There were also presentations from STAR activists, reflecting on their work and experiences.

Shrouk el-Attar – from Cardiff STAR and also a STAR trustee – is a refugee from Egypt. She spoke about advocating for refugees in the media.

Asked why Conference was an important event she said: “It’s good for us all to get to know each other. For example on Equal Access (the STAR campaign to ensure people in the UK seeking refugee protection have equal access to higher education).

“In Wales we want to make Wales the first nation of Equal Access and events like this make it easier to meet people from other universities in Wales; which you do need to do.”

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Holly Findlay from Birmingham STAR, discussed volunteering to support refuges in the community.

She said: “STAR is a brilliant network and has broadened my worldly knowledge, made me a lot more aware of the issues refugees face when they come to the UK.

I think Conference is a great opportunity to meet other STAR groups and hear what they are saying. It’s great to hear stories of real refugees who have made it successfully to the UK”, she added.

Posted by STAR team on 30/11/2017 at 03:56 PM