From 20th – 24th of February 2017, the charity STAR (Student Action for Refugees) held the nationwide Refugee Action Week. STAR is an organisation led by students, consisting of groups at various universities across the UK including one here at Newcastle.
Action week at Newcastle involved workshops with the aim of raising awareness, a campaign to MPs on behalf of child refugees, an equal access petition and a collection point for resources in the SU.
This year, Refugee Action Week centred particularly around the experiences of child refugees, focusing on the fact that they are currently denied the right to sponsor family members to join them in the UK. As such, STAR is calling for the UK government to grant children this right, as it will improve their safety and wellbeing. The government will be discussing the support given to child refugees in the next few weeks, and therefore now is a perfect time to raise awareness of this issue. Many STAR groups across the country are coming together to collectively fight for this common goal, and this article Newcastle’s own STAR society were involved.
On Monday, the society held an informative, eye-opening workshop which focused on the experiences of unaccompanied child refugees in the UK. This involved an overview of the asylum process and the difficulties facing children during this process. For many children, it is a frightening and demeaning experience as they are often treated as adults and adequate pastoral support is not provided. Children who have gone through traumatic experiences, such as the loss of family members, now face living by themselves in the UK which can have a devastating impact on their welfare and mental health. STAR argues that this experience would be made a lot easier for children if they could sponsor family members to join them in the UK. As such, this is the primary issue that STAR is raising awareness for during action week.
In accordance with the aim of family reunion, STAR at Newcastle also held a creative campaigning workshop. This involved writing letters and postcards, and making posters and paperchains. These creatively expressed concerns regarding the issue of family reunion with the intention of sending them to local MPs alongside a petition. Ultimately, the aim was to draw attention to this issue on behalf of child refugees, and to prompt action from local MPS.
During Action Week, STAR have also supported a petition regarding equal access for refugee students into University. Several other Universities such as Manchester, Leeds and Royal Holloway have supported equal access already, and the aim is to persuade Newcastle University to join them. The STAR society at Newcastle, alongside support from the Student Union, are working to persuade Newcastle University to provide at least 2 scholarships for refugees. The right to an education is being denied to many refugees in Britain, and signing this petition will help in putting pressure on the University to act, and provide opportunities for students who otherwise would not have access to an education. For more information, flyers are being handed out outside the SU on the 1st of March.
In addition to raising awareness and campaigning for national action, STAR have also provided an opportunity to get involved in helping refugees locally. The society have set up a collection point on the second floor of the SU, in which students are invited to donate any unwanted resources, such as much-needed food items and toiletries (a full list of items needed is included in the picture). For any students who are interested in supporting local refugees this is an easy way to get involved, and any donations would be greatly appreciated.