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Students demonstrate support for the plight of refugees

Monday 21-09-2015 - 17:35

This is a blog written by Shelly Asquith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education). 

From organising collections to campaigning on social media, students are leading the way with their response to the refugee crisis.

As millions across Europe put pressure on governments to respond to the current refugee crisis, students around the UK are campaigning on campuses. 

From taking collections, to marching through towns and cities, a surge of community activism is putting pressure on politicians, both locally and nationally, to welcome refugees – and it is students leading the charge. 

So what are students doing – and how can you get involved?


Collections

Encourage your student union to become a collection centre for aid. Many student unions have already done this, including SoasStrathclyde, the University of the West of England and University Campus Suffolk.

Gary Paterson, student president of Strathclyde, says students have been left with no choice but to take the initiative, as the government is failing to act sufficiently. 

The student union in Strathclyde has been inundated with donations, he says. “I have been stunned by the generosity of people in Glasgow. They have given so much that we have had to move the collection to an annex building.”

At the University of Leeds, union officers dropped a banner from their offices to urge students to take part in donation efforts. 

Welfare officer Freya Govus says: “Loads of students have been getting in touch to see how they can help refugees. We’re opening up our free shop, which we normally use to provide international students with second hand goods left over by previous students, to refugees. We’re accepting our responsibility as part of the wider Leeds community.”

Social media and technology

Elsewhere, students have used social media and technology to campaign. Some have used the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome to directly lobby MPs and council leaders, others have shared photos with “Refugees Welcome” signs on Facebook. 

Others have come up with innovative ways to draw attention to the cause. At Middlesex student union, officers have created an online pledge people can use to offer practical support to refugees once they arrive, as well as a #RefugeesWelcome twibbon for students to use on Twitter.

In Sheffield, students have created a video series with a recent graduate refugee. The videos aims to help people understand the implications of being a refugee and the need for UK institutions to be welcoming.


Working with the community

Students can work with local communities on campaigns. In Middlesex, students have been working in coalition with local mosques, synagogues and churches, as well as Citizens UK, for several months. They are calling for Barnet Council to agree to the re-settlement of fifty refugees.

Sayed Alkadiri, vice president of the students’ union at Middlesex, says the campaign is particularly relevant to the area. “Barnet has historically been a sanctuary for so many people fleeing persecution,” she says. 

Alkadiri says the union will now be making this their flagship campaign for freshers. “We will be organising hundreds of students to lobby local and national government to dramatically increase its resettlement offer into the tens of thousands.” 


Marches and protest

Set up or attend marches and demonstrations. Last weekend, thousands of students joined marches and rallies in UK cities across the UK.

Liam McCafferty from the University of East Anglia was at a vigil in Norwich. He says: “Hundreds gathered to support refugees, chanting and holding up signs. It was great to see such a strong turnout. I hope our council will take notice and agree to take in refugees.”

Hassun El Zafar, studying at Sheffield Hallam University, joined the London demonstration. “It was an incredible atmosphere,” he says. “People came out from all walks of life to produce one of the largest and most diverse demonstrations I’d seen on the streets of London. The people have spoken: we have said it loud and clear: refugees are welcome here.”

You can join another demonstration in October, when student groups will be heading to Dover, in a protest that will co-incide with French activists marching in Calais, demanding the respective governments open their borders to more refugees. 

Mostafa Rajaai, NUS international students’ officer, says: “The anti-migrant sentiment in the UK is affecting all types of people – including those of us who come here to study.” Rajaai believes that students’ support for refugees is part of a wider campaign “to pressure out government to be more welcoming and tolerant”.


STAR

Student Action for Refugees, a student led charity with 13,000 students who volunteer with and campaign for refugees.  Students can get involved in on of over 50 refugee projects directly assisting refugees across the UK


Taking in refugees

Students and staff are also encouraging institutions to take in refugees themselves. German institutions are leading the way, as more than 60 universities pledged to provide support, and it looks as though the UK is slowly following suit. 

Glasgow University has announced it will offer four new scholarships to refugees, one at each of its colleges. Citizen UK has called on UK universities to provide places for refugees, and started a petition asking universities to offer 10 scholarships each. The University of East London is also now offering scholarships to Syrian refugees, with all fees paid for. 

Adrian Patsalos, president of the UEL students’ union, says: “The university has made us all proud.”

The University of Sussex Students’ Union have negotiated with their university to offer 50 scholarships to migrants while Warwick Students’ Union have agreed with their institution to offer 20 new scholarships.

The student movement, in its passionate and determined response to this crisis, is doing the UK proud, too.

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