Monday, July 13, 2015

Student Action for Refugees Committee Training 2015

STAR National Volunteer and BA Development Studies Student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, Amira Rady, writes about her experience at STAR Committee training 2015.

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Student Action for Refugees hosted next year’s committee members at their annual committee training session, inviting guest speakers who are involved in the asylum process in varying ways and running workshops on issues from ‘campaigning together for refugees’ to ‘volunteering to support refugees’. Attending this event along with fellow SOAS students allowed me an insight into how other societies run, the positive involvement that these students have within refugee and asylum communities, and most importantly the dialogue that this induces around refugee and asylum issues. The national STAR movement of over 13,000 students has been fundamental in changing the narrative and in solidarity demonstrating the positive contribution that refugees make to UK society.

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As a new committee member I have entered STAR at a pressing time within a humanitarian crisis. During this year’s Refugee Week the UNHCR declared that there are “59.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide – that is one out of every 122 humans”, amounting to 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million internally displaced persons and 1.8 million seeking asylum. Out of this number only 126,800 people were able to return home in 2014. Whilst this is the reality, we as the international community have a responsibility to protect those seeking refuge and fleeing persecution. Through my involvement with STAR and attending the committee training I have come to recognise how a grass roots organisation like themselves are able to facilitate students to be effective in altering perspectives on refugee and asylum issues and organise within the community to impact the lives of refugees living within the UK.

The British Asylum System

Throughout the day I was repeatedly confronted with some shocking truths. Alison Pickup a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers who specialises in asylum and migrants’ rights started the day’s discussion with an insight into her involvement from a legal perspective. Alison gave a compelling account of how the British asylum system operates and demonstrated some of the issues that arise throughout this process, from the Dublin regulations to the fast track detention process. Being provided with an insight into some of the more technical barriers that asylum seekers face in the UK and the wider EU context has allowed me to really grasp the extent of the crisis that so many are currently facing.

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Refugees – The Facts & Figures

Alison was followed by Emily Crowley, STAR’s Deputy Director who provided us with Refugees: the facts , taking us through legal definitions, global statistics and further demonstrated issues that refugees and asylum seekers face in the UK. One interesting statistic that somewhat dispels the negative media narrative is that the UK hosts less than 1.5% of the of the worlds refugees, that amounts to just 0.23% of the national population. Emily further went on to discuss the detention process whereby 13,577 were detained in Immigration Removal Centres last year alone, of which 59 were children.

Throughout the talks already mentioned and those also by Nick Scott Flynn, Shrouk El-Attar, and STAR’s very own Emma Williams and Katie Hall demonstrated the multifaceted process of the asylum system, yet a reoccurring theme respectively was that of change. This change comes through action, persistency and starting a dialogue with those unaware of some of the issues asylum seekers face. Whilst we are facing the largest displacement of people since WWII, displaced people seeking sanctuary from persecution, facing further barriers if and when they reach their desired destination which could further push the most vulnerable into destitution, it is our obligation to raise awareness and fight for those lives.

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Campaigning Together for Refugees

Estelle Worthington and Lorna Gledhill from the Regional Asylum Activism project ran a workshop on ‘Campaigning Together for Refugees’, where we were provided with practical advice about developing campaign strategies, humanising issues and demonstrating how certain types of actions, tools and tactics can be effective. Campaigning can manifest itself in multiple fashions from sit-ins and sleep-outs to debates, exhibitions and demonstrations. I believe this to be an important message to translate as raising awareness and influencing decision-making is the desired aim, and showing that campaigning is an inclusive process will only further the STAR agenda.

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Equal Access to Higher Education

One particular campaign that was spoken about extensively was the Equal Access Campaign, a collaboration between STAR and NUS asking universities to recognise asylum seekers and people granted discretionary leave to remain as home students and allow them access to bursaries. We were joined by two young refugees who shared their personal journeys, the challenges they were confronted with and the barriers they are still campaigning against today. After hearing these inspiring stories there was an overwhelming response from the committee attendees, and the Equal Access Campaign has been given considerable priority in next years hopes and aims for local STAR groups.

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Looking towards the future of STAR

The opportunity to meet other STARs from across the UK who give up their time to volunteer, campaign and educate others has only motivated me further to pursue my interest in refugee and asylum issues. I am currently, along with several committee members, in the process of re-establishing the SOAS STAR society, and we have received an overwhelming response from current and prospective students. I feel that through attending the committee training, participating in workshops and having some enlightening conversations has better equipped me to run the STAR group this forthcoming year. We are in the process of setting goals, arranging events and recruiting new members. It is through student commitment and sustainable volunteering that we are able to win the support of the wider student body, the academics and the university staff in order to continue STAR’s campaign and raise awareness, dispelling negativity and sharing the positive contribution that refugees and asylum seekers make to UK society.

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Looking towards the future of SOAS STAR I feel extremely positive as to what we are able to achieve, and with STAR’s help we will continue campaigning and raising awareness in order to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers living in the UK. I want to thank STAR for hosting such an informative and encouraging day, for introducing us to so many people engaged with the asylum process in varying ways and for motivating next year’s committees to pursue STAR’s campaigns. It was so encouraging to witness so many young people engaged with refugee and asylum issues who act upon the belief that the UK should be a place of sanctuary to those seeking safety and protection. SOAS STAR are looking forward to the year ahead and being part of this national movement towards positive change.

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Posted by STAR team on 13/07/2015 at 01:59 PM