Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Telling the Truth About Asylum: STAR Conference 2014

On November 8th & 9th students from across the UK gathered in London for STAR’s National Student Conference. Weren’t able to come or just interested in what happened? Here are our highlights from the day!


STAR National Volunteer, Tom Jessop, recalls his experience at STAR National Student Conference 2014

Last weekend STAR hosted its annual student conference in London. Students came from far and wide to learn the truth about asylum and to share their ideas on how to provide refugees and asylum seekers with a warm welcome to the UK.

STAR Chief Executive, Emma Williams, got the day off to a great start, welcoming students to what promised to be an exciting and engaging weekend.

Amnesty International’s Jan Shaw then gave an insightful talk on the growing global refugee crisis. Sharing some powerful statistics, Jan talked specifically about the conflict in Syria, the work Amnesty International are doing to support refugees and the need for the UK to do more to help those fleeing conflict, persecution and torture.


Talking of the government’s Syrian resettlement programme, Jan said, “what has been done is good, but its really not enough. We’ve really got to start taking thousands more and step up to the plate”.

So far the UK has resettled just 90 Syrian refugees. We all agreed that this is not enough! Please tell your MP to act!.

Shrouk El-Attar of the NUS followed with a moving account of her personal struggles navigating the UK asylum system. Shrouk, who waited six years before being granted refugee status, told of the pain that she went through when she found out she couldn’t go to university and urged students to get involved in STAR’s Equal Access campaign to fight for those denied their right to education.

“I cannot stress how important the Equal Access campaign is and how important it is that all of you are here. Its so amazing to get so many supporters”.


Paul Dillane of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) then delivered an important talk on the work of the UKLGIG and their efforts to support LGBT people fleeing persecution, in a world where homosexuality is still illegal in more than eighty countries.

“LGBTI claims are complex…much more needs to be done to ensure that those who are at risk of persecution are granted asylum and that during the asylum process they are treated with dignity and respect”.

Emma, Jan, Paul and Shrouk then took part in a stimulating panel discussion with the student audience.

After a tasty lunch, we were lucky enough to be joined by a number of guests who ran interactive workshops for students to get involved in. Tom and Olivia of the British Red Cross ran a workshop on how to advocate for the rights of asylum seekers, whilst Shrouk El-Attar and STAR’s Jack Hansen encouraged students to think about how to orchestrate Equal Access campaigns at their universities. STAR’s Regional Activism Co-ordinators Lorna, Estelle and Sunny talked to students about the UK asylum system and Raj and Laura of Wilsons Solicitors LLP delivered a fascinating workshop on their experiences of the asylum and detained fast track systems as caseworkers working to help secure refugee status for those seeking asylum.


The final session of the day was led by Counterpoint Arts, Platforma Arts and Refugee Network. They encouraged students to think creatively and talked about the impact that can be achieved through using the arts to reach new audiences, while explaining how students can invite helpers.

With day one finished, everyone headed off to celebrate STAR’s 20th Birthday. Braving their way through torrential downpour, students were rewarded with excellent curry, a fun quiz and some delicious birthday cake! STARs celebrated in style!

Kicking day two off with a bang, Ghada Al-Nasseri, co-chair of the London Women’s Refugee Forum and Gamu Sadomba, STAR student trustee, both gave talks on the difficulties that they faced when applying for asylum in the UK and the work that they are now doing to open up access to higher education and fight for the rights of those who arrive in the UK seeking safety and support.


One student said afterwards, “Its so important to have this perspective. They were fascinating and engaging”, whilst another commented, “its great to have individuals who are willing to tell about their lives”.

STAR then held their Annual General Meeting. Students were given the unique opportunity to learn more about how the charity operates, about the organisation’s plans and achievements and to share their ideas for future projects. Awards were also given to STAR groups who held the best campaign event, awareness-raising event and groups who ran the best volunteering project. At the end of the meeting students from affiliated STAR groups were asked to vote for two new student trustees. STAR is delighted to announce that Barbara Chinyani (University of Bedfordshire) and Shrouk El-Attar (Cardiff University) have been elected to join the board of trustees.


After lunch we were thrilled to be joined by Channel 4 news reporter and award-winning filmmaker, Jamal Osman. Jamal, who was born in Somalia but fled the country’s violent conflict and sought asylum in the UK in 1999, gave an inspiring speech on his experience as a refugee and the extraordinary achievements he has gone on to make. He went on to talk specifically about the role of the media in shaping the immigration debate and gave student activists some practical suggestions on how to go about challenging media representation of asylum seekers, particularly through getting involved in social media campaigns.


One student called Jamal’s talk “really wonderful, very inspiring, interesting and motivating”, whilst another commended his “personal, engaging and very practical advice”.

The final guest of the weekend was Asylum Aid’s Zoe Gardner, who joined STAR’s Emma Williams for a talk on public attitudes to asylum in the UK and how to change minds. Zoe, former president at LSE STAR, gave a powerful talk on why we should care about ensuring asylum seekers and refugees are made to feel welcome in the UK and gave students some great tips on how to go about changing the way people think about refugees.

As the weekend came to a close, Emma thanked STARs for attending what proved to be an inspiring two days and encouraged them to take what they had learnt and go out and achieve brilliant things in the coming year. She reminded us that to make real change we all need to get others involved.

“I didn’t know what to expect from this weekend, but I have been so inspired by the speakers and their incredible stories, as well as the individuals doing amazing and influential work in the refugee cause. It has been a great opportunity to meet people from around the country that have such interesting things to say. I feel prepared and determined to carry on the work we’ve started”.

Thank you so much to all our guest speakers and to everyone who attended! You were all amazing and we can’t wait to hear about the incredible things you get up to this year!

Posted by STAR team on 25/11/2014 at 03:39 PM