8 December 2022

Last week, STAR’s Fighting the UK’s Anti-Refugee Laws panel brought together a diverse range of speakers to discuss how current government policy is affecting the lives of people seeking asylum in the UK – and how we can bring about change.

In recent months, the UK government has continued to promote harmful immigration policies. This government has recommitted to deporting people seeking asylum to Rwanda, called desperate people crossing the channel an “invasion” the day after a far-right firebomb attack on an asylum centre, and held thousands of people in overcrowded and horrific conditions at Manston detention centre. 

On 29th November, students, STAR leaders and supporters came together to find out more about the anti-refugee laws, and what we can all do to fight them. In the current climate, we know that it’s more important than ever for students across the country to connect and learn about the injustices that refugees and people seeking asylum face in the UK.

Shehany, panel Chair, Equal Access Activist and Plymouth STAR leader, kicked off the panel by detailing the reasons why she decided to start a STAR group in Plymouth. STAR Plymouth is one of our newest groups and has done exceptionally well in raising awareness in their local community. 

This paved the way for Maria Stephens from Refugee Action to talk about the detrimental impact of the anti-refugee laws.

“The government needs to move away from its rhetoric of hostility. We need those really strong calls for compassion and to push back against the Nationality and Borders Act”
Maria Stephens,
Refugee Action

Compassion is what is lacking from the government – but not from the wider public. Polls conducted by Refugee Action show that three in five voters say all refugees who come to the UK to seek safety should be treated the same regardless of how they arrived. 

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the legal definition of a refugee is: ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.’  However, the government has made it difficult for people to seek sanctuary, as Magdaline Moyo from These Walls Must Fall explained: “There is no safe entry for anyone who is running in fear of persecution.”

“People should be given the opportunity to share their stories without being judged. When you are seeking asylum you are guilty until proven innocent. It's supposed to be the other way around”
Magdaline Moyo
These Walls Must Fall

Magdaline believes that one of the ways we can change the negative narrative around refugees in the UK is by holding events like the STAR panel to educate people. Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of Refugee Council, echoed Maggy’s plea by stating that “It’s important for all of you, as students campaigning, to educate about the reality.” 

“Bring real stories and the examples of people who have lived experience. There are many people who would like to do something but are not educated enough,” said Ali Ghaderi, founder of Babylon Project, when asked about how students can help secure change. 

Last year, there were 294 STAR student leaders and 2260 student members. STAR groups supported 1580 refugees and people seeking asylum through 46 community projects. 

STAR groups have also supported national campaigns such as the Lift the Ban campaign. The ban on working while seeking asylum “forces people to live in poverty, wasting their skills and not allowing them to join the labour market,” explained Maria Stephens.  

Every action you take matters, whether it’s learning about the campaigns or spreading the word by reposting an Instagram story in support of refugees and people seeking asylum. As Enver Solomon put it:

“Don’t underestimate the power of conversations with people. People will have specific views, and talking through and challenging them - those conversations, wherever you are, can really make a difference.”
Enver Solomon
Refugee Council

Going forward, the fight for a more inclusive society does not stop when you’re no longer a student. We must continue to be the flag bearers of this just cause.

Take action

There’s a lot you can do to spread the word, such as signing the pledge to fight the anti-refugee laws, joining your local City of Sanctuary group, and signing up to STAR’s mailing list to stay up to date with sector news and opportunities to advocate for refugee rights.

If you’re at university, find your local STAR group or start your own to join one of the largest student movements in the UK, and help build a welcoming society for refugees! 

You can find more information about the organisations and campaigns our panel are involved in here: Babylon Project, These Walls Must Fall, Lift the Ban.

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