STAR and Amnesty International take lead on student response to burgeoning refugee crisis


Image: Diego Delson

On 5 and 6 NOVEMBER, Amnesty International UK organised its annual Student Conference at the Human Rights Centre, in Shoreditch, London.

There were two main campaigns presented. ‘Against Hate’, concerned the rise of hate crimes in the UK. They identified five categories in which the crimes were most prevalent: gender, sex, race, religion and disabilities.

The second campaign being ‘I welcome’, which aims to take action on the global refugee crisis. Sophie Candler, chair of the University of York Amnesty International (UYAI) commented on the conference as being “a major source for our inspiration and drive to have an impact in our community.

“We were informed in greater detail about these two campaigns, meeting with like-minded people from all over the UK who shared our sentiments and were desperate to see positive change.”

The priority campaign for Amnesty is “I Welcome”. Presented in the first plenary during the conference by Steve Symonds and Tom Davies, Amnesty’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director and Campaign manager.

It will run from 2016 to 2018, and was launched with the ‘Refugees Welcome Here’ march last September. The response to the refugee crisis will be a defining feature of our generation. From 2013 to 2014, the total refugee population grew by three million. By the end of 2015, 2.5 million people had gone to Turkey and 1.6 million to Pakistan, making them the two major hosts of refugees.

Their combined total exceeds that of the entirety of the EU. The  list of top ten hosting countries, enumerates countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Chad and Uganda. Strikingly, there is not one European country.

The UK resettled less than 2000 refugees while receiving 38 000 asylum claims and it granted visas to less than 5000 family members.


Amnesty also found that the UK favours the use of detention as a primary solution. There is no time limit on how long a person can be detained under immigration powers. Therefore, the ‘I welcome’ campaign will act on different strands.

There are also hopes for an international response in light of strengthened global responsibility. The solution proposed is to increase the number of resettlement places; open more safe and legal routes for refugees; develop a mechanism to share responsibility; guarantee full, flexible and predictable funding for refugee protection and meaningful financial support to countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

In York, on this campaign, UYAI will work closely with Student Action for Refugees (STAR) as Candler said, “STAR and Amnesty have similar objectives – to ensure the continual support and aid for those affected by the overwhelming global ‘refugee crisis’ that is leaving thousands displaced, discouraged and abandoned.”

STAR is still relatively new at York, a national charity of 26 000 students across the country they recently attended a conference in London which brought together students, refugees, human rights practitioners and refugee agencies for a thought provoking day of talks and discussions. They plan to launch their letter writing campaign on 22 November.

The ‘Against Hate’ campaign was launched on the Friday after the EU referendum vote. By the end of June 2016, reported incidents of hate crimes were up 57 per cent – 3000 a week.  In the successive months, the incidents stabilised with an average of 41 per cent rise with regard to those before the referendum.

Laura Trevelyan, Campaign Manager for this campaign and  ‘Save the Human Rights’, admitted the connection between this data and three main factors in the UK’s political scenario: the London mayoral election, the EU referendum and the tenor of debate around the refugee crisis. Although, she underlined, those cannot be the only variables to consider.

Amnesty commissioned the Hate Crimes Unit at Leicester University to carry out original research into the state’s response to hate crimes. The objectives for the first stage of this campaign are to induce political leaders to show leadership on this issue by publicly condemning hate crimes, racism and xenophobia, and to avoid the use of racist or xenophobic speech in public discourse.

Candler remarked: “The ‘Against Hate’ campaign also inspired us to think universally, broadening out our focus beyond the UK and to other areas of the world, such as hate crimes in the refugee crisis, in Brexit, and most recently in the US following the Presidential Election.

She continued, “fear and alarm is paramount; we will work with societies such as STAR, RAG volunteering, the Centre of Applied Human Rights and many more to ensure that our student body is heard and that we will welcome all, and stand against hate.”

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