Last week, the Student Action for Refugees (STAR) society campaigned for the UK to take more action on the ongoing refugee crisis and make a stand against any more unnecessary deaths in the Mediterranean.
Newcastle STAR, which currently numbers 23 members, started organising the campaign a week after the society was ratified in early February.
STAR’s activities include volunteering at local refugee projects, campaigning for improvement of refugees’ living conditions, educating people about refugees and asylum as well as fundraising for related causes and charities.
The series of talks, workshops and film screenings during the week were aimed at raising Newcastle students’ awareness of the problem itself as well as the difficulties refugees face while getting both into and across Europe.
Students were encouraged to take a stance on the issue and campaign for the conditions of the UK’s asylum system to be improved to offer more favourable conditions to the refugees.
For three days between Monday and Wednesday, STAR held a petition stall outside the Students’ Union to collect signatures urging the UK governement to support the creation of a safe passage to Europe for refugees, preventing them from falling prey to dangerous routes created in the Mediterranean by smugglers.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land, although the total figure might be put at more than 1,800,000 according to the EU’s external border force (Frontex) monitoring.
The IOM also reports that more than 3,770 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015.
STAR’s petition gathered around 100 student signatures and will be delivered to David Cameron at 10 Downing Street by STAR’s national team later this month.
The first event of campaign’s week featured a talk on refugees’ access to higher education, discussing how asylum-seekers and refugees are affected by sub-standard education in camp.
The talk also focused on the kind of education they can expect once they arrive in Britain and what Newcastle University can do to help.
Among UK universities, which announced their decision to offer scholarships for refugees, are University of East London, The University of Sussex, University of Warwick, University of York, and The University of Strathclyde.
At this stage, Newcastle University only offers a limited number of tuition fee reductions for asylum-seekers undertaking undergraduate degree programmes, making the tution fee equivalent to that as for home/EU students.
Tuesday evening presented a screening of the documentary ‘A Syrian Love Story’, telling the poignant story of a family torn apart by the Assad regime.
The Wednesday session was meant to draw public attention to the problem of Eritrea, which, due to indefinite forced conscription, continues to see people fleeing the country, becoming one of the ‘fastest emptying countries’ in the world.
According to Khadija, The President of Newcastle STAR Society on campus, the events were drawing an audience of around 15 people, with a definite highlight being students’ diligence in handicraft of paper boats – a peculiar symbol of the week, which the society would also aim to deliver to Downing Street along with the petition.
At the moment STAR are in the process of setting up a volunteer project with refugees in the local area, and are also planning a fundraising event for Doctors Without Borders, who work with refugees across the world.
A debate on the numbers of refugees the EU should take on, and whether this should be limited or not.
This debate was originally stated in the program of the week as a joint event with Politics Society but got cancelled due to lack of speakers. Therefore, it is likely to be postponed to the next term.
Earlier this year, STAR also teamed up with RenewCastle for Go Green Week, raising money through second hand clothes sale within one the events.
In response to why she thinks it is important to raise all-round awareness of the problem among the students on campus, Khadija said:
“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the asylum process in the UK and how difficult it is to actually get asylum here - some people are still asylum seekers after 7 years, meaning they have had to spend that time on less than £37 a week often without the right to work, and still haven’t been granted refugee status.“
According to the data from Eurostat, in 2015 the UK was receiving approximately 55 asylum applications per 100,000 local population, which was almost five time less than the EU’s average.
The highest number of new asylum applications – more than one third of all claims across the EU – was received by Germany, amounting to over 476,000 in 2015.
As reported by BBC, the UK has opted out of any plans for a quota system but, according to Home Office figures, 1,000 Syrian refugees were resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme in 2015.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said the UK will accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years.
“Raising awareness of this could get people motivated to campaign and get the system changed for the better“, concluded Khadija.