Wednesday, December 02, 2009

STAR Conference 09: Celebrating student support for refugees

STARs from 25 universities across the country descended on London on 7th and 8th Nov for a 2-day extravaganza of all things STAR-like, it was the STAR National Conference 2009!

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Catch up on what happened at our biggest event of the year where students get a unique opportunity to learn, meet other activists and share ideas for how to make the UK a better place to seek asylum.

Photographs by Dana Montgomery

“I feel inspired and motivated”

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Speakers

Conference kicked off on Saturday morning with two inspiring speeches.

Burmese student activist Ko Aung gave a very moving speech, describing his experiences in Burma and life after seeking asylum in the UK.

Aung impressed us all with his absolute dedication to and belief in the fight for freedom. His talk ended with the entire audience chanting for human rights, in Burmese!

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Next up was award winning author Chris Cleave who told how a temping job in the kitchens at an immigration detention centre led him to write his novel ‘The Other Hand’ about a young Nigerian refugee.

Chris reminded us that just two decades ago refugees were seen as ‘heroes’ who had managed to escape to freedom and that the current depiction of people seeking asylum as ‘devils’ is completely baffling.

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He inspired conference delegates to believe that, through our myth busting and positive images work STAR and our friends can convince the world that refugee are, indeed, our heroes.

The traditional STAR Question Time, chaired by Lisa Nandy from the Children’s Society, was raucous as ever.

Keith Best (Immigration Advisory Service), Elhum Shakerifar (DOST), Ko Aung and Chris Cleave took on hot issues from the floor such as “was the BBC right to let the BNP leader onto Question Time” and “what changes will a new Conservative government make to asylum policy”.

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Neil Gerrard, Labour MP for Walthamstow, has been a tireless supporter of refugees for many years.

He shared the wealth of his parliamentary experience and gave STAR a strong endorsement for its work with refugees.

“Excellent, thoroughly enjoyable”

But the day had only just got started…

Learning the facts

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There were five fantastic workshops on the Saturday afternoon:

  1. The ‘Introduction to Asylum’ was a great starting point for those wanting to get to grips with the basics of the asylum seeking process.
  2. Sarah Campbell from Bail for Immigration Detainees outlined the strict Government policy of detaining people seeking asylum.
  3. Brighter Futures explained how asylum seeking young people face multiple barriers in getting into university and how it is possible to persaude universities to be more open.
  4. Kamina Dorling from The Children’s Legal Centre explained the rights and entitlements of refugee and asylum seeking children.
  5. The International Rescue Committee provided a unique view of the situation of Somalian refugees living in camps in Kenya.

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“very useful and inspiring…”

After such a long day of learning STARs deserved a good night out so we headed to the aptly named ‘Star of Bethnal Green’ pub.

We celebrated STAR’s 15th Birthday with a huge cake and Kevin Dunbar hosted the highly competitive STAR annual quiz.

It as won by the Atlantic STAR alumni – for the second year running!

Sunday

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Sunday morning was time STAR business when the Trustees held the Annual General Meeting.

Then two of our current student members and our Higher Education Intern shared their stories of trying to get into British universities while seeking asylum.

All three told their fellow STARs how, despite gaining excellent grades and being awarded places they were repeatedly blocked from uni by the large cost of international tuition fees. Not being permitted to work, access student loans or grants, makes these fees impossible to pay for people seeking asylum.

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Two members of Actors for Human Rights (ice and fire), Christine Bacon and Isobel Mascarenhas-Whitman, performed an excerpt from their moving play ‘Asylum Monologues’ to kick off the afternoon session.

Then it was time to put all that learning into action with the four action workshops:

Sharing skills

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Then it was time to put all that learning into action with the four action workshops:

  1. Key campaigners in each group were led through Sara Hall’s (Campaigns Intern) step-by-step master plan to get Vice-Chancellors to allow asylum seekers to pay home fees at their university.
  2. Alison Leslie, STAR’s Yorkshire Volunteer, ran through ideas for making conversation classes a success.
  3. There was poster-making and debates at James Fisher’s (Student Network Coordinator) workshop on promoting refugees through campus events and witty conversation.
  4. Emily Crowley (Volunteering Project Coordinator) looked at why evaluating your volunteering project is so important and that it can also be fun!

Resources

Handout for Equal Access campaign workshop:
Guide to Equal Access campaign
Equal Access Briefing
Equal Access Petition template

Handout for English Conversation workshop:
STAR Guide to Running English Conversation Classes

Handout for Promoting Refugees workshop:
Tips for winning arguments on asylum

“I cannot wait to get campaigning now!”

Next year…

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STAR members are now back at university putting their knowledge and skills into practice, doing what we’re all here to do… improve the lives of refugees!

If you weren’t there you missed a truly great event and we hope to see you next year!

“Thank you! … Such a great experience”

Photographs by Dana Montgomery

Posted by Stephen Rowling on 02/12/2009 at 10:52 AM