Profile: Bristol STAR

After attending the lecture ‘what is a refugee and what do we owe them?’ hosted by Bristol STAR, I realised how little I knew about the current refugee crisis. It’s something we see displayed in the media, but often the real facts about the situation are lost. I was impressed by the work Bristol STAR are doing to raise awareness of this, and to support those from refugee backgrounds in Bristol, so I asked Amy-Leigh Hatton (Homework club coordinator and community liaison officer for STAR) to answer a few questions about their work.

 

Firstly, can you tell me a bit about the organisation and what you do?

Student Action for Refugees is a national charity made up of 27,000 students across 42 universities. Alongside a national team based in London, we work to welcome, support and empower refugees across the UK through voluntary projects, campaigning, fundraising and educating others about refugees and asylum. 

Bristol is a city of Sanctuary (a welcoming place of safety that is proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution) and has several other brilliant organisations supporting refugees in the city, so there’s always lots going on here. We run three voluntary projects in the city, all of which involve working with children from refugee programmes and supporting their studies. We also hold regular events, from film nights to club nights- so watch out for these!

 

How, and more importantly why, did you get involved?

Over my gap year I decided that I couldn’t continue to sit back and see such a huge problem constantly being displayed in the media and not do anything to help. I realised that if I have the ability to make a difference, then I really should. I volunteered in Greece a couple of times last year, in a variety of settings- assisting with boat arrivals, teaching in a mobile school and working in distribution in camps. I spent a lot of time around refugees, and the severity of the crisis and the trauma that these people are STILL experiencing after fleeing conflict and persecution hit me incredibly hard. There are literally millions of people whose humanhood has been forgotten. They are suffering in unimaginable ways because other humans aren’t willing to welcome them. We may not be able to change government policy, but we can certainly do a lot otherwise which can make a positive impact on refugees’ lives.

When I came to university I was keen to continue contributing my time to this cause, so I was really excited when I spotted the STAR stand at the Freshers Fair! I got stuck in with STAR from the beginning of first term, volunteering at the homework club and attending a variety of events. I was really pleased to be part of a community of like-minded individuals who are so passionate about something close to my heart.

 

Tell me about any particularly memorable ongoing or past projects that you’ve been involved in?

We recently campaigned around campus for the UNHCR ‘I stand with refugees’ campaign. The number of people who got involved and readily came over to take a photo with our sign was really awe inspiring! It was fantastic to know that so many people at the university supported this campaign and are creating a welcoming space for refugees. A collection of photos from the day can be found on our Facebook page- it makes me grin every time I see it!

 

Tell me about any events you have coming up soon.

In the new year we have a big event coming up! We’re working with Amnesty, Oxfam and PEN to put on a Humanitarian Fundraiser at Attic Bar. It’s on the 1st of February, so come celebrate the end of exams with us! There will be spoken word from 8, then we’ve got a few fantastic jazzy/funky bands lined up before some disco music to end the night! 

 

How do you combat misconceptions about refugees among students and young people?

There are a lot of common misconceptions about refugees, and the media does a brilliant job of contributing to negative stereotypes. We definitely take it in our stride to challenge these, but always do so in a patient and calm way! It’s an opportunity to educate someone and help them realise the reality of the situation and doing it in a positive manner is the only way it should be done; we have enough division in society. We’ve put on a number of awareness events on campus to educate people about refugees and asylum and will definitely continue to do that. When we offer real facts and figures to people, it’s rare that they respond in the same way they did at the beginning of the conversation.

 

Here are some examples of facts that really shock people:

-The population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons make up just 0.24% of the population of the UK.

-Asylum seekers don’t have the right to work and live off just £5.28 a day.

-84% of refugees are hosted by developing countries.

 

Why do you feel that it’s particularly important for students to get involved in the cause?

We’re the voice of the future, right? Changing young people’s attitudes and behaviour is crucial in ensuring that we do the right thing. University is such a great way to reach thousands of people and change thousands of attitudes. Not just this, but young people are more likely to have the spare time and money to contribute to making a difference!

 

How can people get involved now?

Join our Facebook ‘Bristol STAR’ page to keep up to date with events and news!

We also have three volunteering projects that you can join! 

The homework club that I run is great for students because it’s low commitment. You can come as and when you want, and you basically just come along and support children from refugee backgrounds with their homework. It’s really important that these children receive support from elsewhere, as often their parents don’t speak very good English so they don’t receive it at home. 

The other two projects are a mentoring scheme and a reading club! These are higher commitment as you get paired up with one student and visit them weekly. It’s super rewarding for the student and the volunteer and makes a massive impact.

If you’re interested in getting involved with any of these then give me and email [email protected] .

 

Bristol STAR Facebook!