Thursday, December 09, 2010

Students gather in support of refugees: STAR Conference 2010

A bunch of students from all over the UK, inspiring speakers, fantastic workshops, movie-making, big banners, penguin-races… and all for refugees! Check out the photos from STAR National Conference 2010.

‘Refugees: the global issue in your back yard’


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Once again, the doors of Oxford House were open to all those passionate about supporting refugees and asylum seekers during the weekend of the STAR National Conference 2010… ‘Refugees: The global issue in your backyard’.

STAR members came from all over the UK, including Cardiff, Newcastle and Bradford, and were joined by other students eager to learn about the difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Saturday

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There was a slight chill in the air on Saturday morning, but the enthusiasm of the students and incredible stories of our speakers brought a huge amount of warmth into the room. This year there was a special treat for the delegates, as Andy Davies, the founder of STAR, spontaneously dropped by to open the session of talks by telling the fascinating story of how STAR began.

Next up, the first keynote speaker Helen Bamber OBE, who founded the Helen Bamber Foundation (‘HBF’ as she prefers to call it), spoke of her organisation’s work with asylum seekers who have been waiting for a grant of refugee status, including some who have been waiting for over ten years with no right to work.

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She spoke of the effects this has on those that eventually get permission to stay, as they have no real work experience in the UK and can only be employed in low paying jobs.

The HBF works to give a voice to those who cannot speak, in defending asylum seekers who are victims of torture and are unable to articulate what they have been through. They also hold workshops on photography and music (among others) because the HBF recognises the need for asylum seekers to work and thus feel like a part of life.

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Our second keynote speaker was Mehri Jafari, an Iranian activist who gave an overview of student protests in Iran, their importance and the way these are violently put down by the government.

She then moved on to talk about the role of women’s movements in Iran. These movements have been very important in Iran, particularly because they draw a lot of international attention to the situation of women in that country.

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The keynote speakers were followed by ‘Question time’, chaired by Nat Avdiu, student trustee from Southampton STAR, with Azar Sheibani (Head of Ragu), Nick Oakeshott (Asylum Aid) and Helen Bamber OBE as speakers.

Questions included a comparison between the UK’s and other European countries’ asylum policies, the question of legal aid for asylum seekers, the “Detained Fast Track” system, as well as future prospects for asylum seekers in the UK.

After lunch, during which delegates had the chance to get to know one another and share ideas with other STAR groups, delegates had an opportunity to attend several workshops.

Workshops

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1. Detention of Asylum Seekers (Sarah Campbell, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID))

Sarah talked about the thousands of asylum seekers who are detained each year. Many of them have never committed a crime, but unlike in the criminal justice system, they are locked up indefinitely and without automatic judicial oversight.

2. Refugee and Asylum Seeking children: Rights and Entitlements (Karmena Dorling, Children’s Legal Centre)

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Karmena gave a detailed overview of the difficulties refugee children often face in accessing essential services, including the problem of proving their age in some cases. It also discussed the social and emotional experiences of refugee children, including feelings of not belonging and language barriers.

3. Rights vs. Reality: Assisting Asylum Seekers and Refugees to Access Health Care (Lucinda Hardwick, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture)

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Lucinda introduced students to the complex area of access to health care for refugees. Many people who flee persecution have significant health problems, and this workshop explored the practical difficulties they encounter when attempting to access health services, particularly with regard to mental health care.

4. ABC of Asylum (Carys Davis, Refugee Action)

Carys took students through the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of the asylum process, as well as examining some of the reasons why refugees come to the UK. She also discussed the entitlements of asylum seekers in the UK.

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5. Human Rights Abuses (Paul Dillane, Amnesty International)

Paul’s workshop focused on some of the human rights abuses that force people to take drastic action in search of safety, some of the complexities surrounding the definition of refugees, and the experiences of asylum seekers during the determination process. He further presented a number of statistics that correct common misperceptions about refugees (such as where most refugees flee to).

Simple Act

Here is another Simple Act from STAR: ‘Take a picture of you and your pro-refugee banner’!

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To finish off the first conference day, students headed over to the People Show Studios for dinner, music from all over the world and an assortment of quizzes, which included marshmallows, spaghetti, singing out of tune and a lot of running around.

Sunday

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The second day of the STAR National Conference began with an update on the Equal Access Campaign, during which Leeds STAR members provided an example of how to build support in the university in collaboration with the “City of Sanctuary” movement.

STAR launched the ‘Equal Access Pledge’ for Vice-Chancellors to sign as a commitment to ensuring universities are equally accessibly to refugees and asylum seekers.

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Two inspiring speakers from Zimbabwe, Gamu Sadomba and Robert Muza, shared their experiences as asylum seekers, their fight to get into university, and how many asylum seekers have been prevented from pursuing their dreams.

This was followed by STAR Cairo (yes, there is a STAR group in Egypt!) who presented a snapshot of their brilliant work with refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt.

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The STAR Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held by the Trustees and Emma Williams, and Sophie Cottrell presented her findings about the impact that STAR members have on the lives of the people they support in the communities. STAR members were encouraged to fundraise as much as they can due to the changing financial climate to help keep STAR alive and running smoothly.

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After lunch, delegates could attend one of four workshops…

Workshops

1. Volunteering with Refugees (Emily Crowley, STAR National)

Emily’s workshop focused on thinking about the different ways in which volunteers can help refugees in their community and how to make sure that projects are most effective. It also examined some tricky situations that volunteers may face and how to deal with them appropriately.

2. Campaigning Skills (Anna Musgrave, Refugee Council)

Anna and Philippa gave a taster of campaigning, from taking e-actions, meeting your MP, to organising publicity stunts on campus. Students learned how to get their messages heard by those who need to hear them.

3. Promoting positive images of refugees (James Fisher, STAR National)

James’s group thought hard about how to change attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers, how to reach new audiences through public events, and practised handling those tricky one-to-one debates.

4. Organising Events and Fundraising (Emma Williams and Kevin Dunbar, STAR National)

Kevin and Emma asked their group to practice organising two events, a ‘Sleepout’ for Action Week (21-27 Feb) and a ‘Speed-dating’ fundraiser!

After the workshops, Emma Williams reminded students of the huge difference they make to the lives of refugees and to continue their hard work!

And don’t forget: everybody loves STAR!


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Posted by STAR team on 09/12/2010 at 02:19 PM