1) What does Durham for Refugees do to support refugees in Durham and elsewhere and inform the student community about the lived experiences of refugees?
Durham for Refugees supports refugees both globally and in Durham by raising awareness on the issues that they face. This often involves presentations and film showings about current refugee crises and occasionally, casual discussions surrounding the problems refugees face daily. We are keen as an organisation to make people look beyond the label ‘refugee’ which can be seen to dehumanise the real people behind these labels; they are families, brothers, sisters, parents, and friends, just like us. Last year we held ‘A Taste of Syria’, a community event with delicious Syrian food and lots of dancing! All profits went to charities supporting refugees and the Syrian families who prepared the food were paid fairly, too! We also promote other organisations like SolidariTee which also work to alleviate the poor conditions and issues that refugees often encounter.
2) Which are the most important issues that refugees face in Durham?
One problem refugees face is a shortage of basic things, such as toiletries and clothing. As more refugees arrive within County Durham, there has been a drive for extra donations to support organisations like Durham City of Sanctuary in helping refugees have access to these things. Another major problem is discrimination against refugees, whether this be through a lack of social support or racism, which can impact significantly on a refugee’s mental health. Many refugees have undergone traumatic experiences in their journey to escape the severe situations they faced at home, so to face discrimination in a place they thought would be (and should be) safe can negatively impact them further.
3) What could be done by the University and local authorities to solve those issues?
Durham University is certainly in a position where they could help refugees. They could provide financial donations to local organisations supporting refugees, and they could help to set up donation stalls for basic items. As a major part of the Durham community, it could be argued that the university has a responsibility to help local people, regardless of where they are from. In terms of the local council, it is a more difficult situation due to budgetary restraints and the political climate.
4) What do you think European countries can do differently to better support refugees?
Nearly 5.2 million refugees and migrants (some of which may be refugees without official recognition) migrated to Europe by the end of 2016, and the number has only increased since that time. Whilst European countries do at least host some refugees, there is a vast difference between countries within Europe in the number of refugees they hold. Germany accepts significantly more asylum seekers than the UK, for example. It would be good to see more European countries taking their fair share, especially when countries close to the origin of refugee crises typically accept a lot more. At the same time in 2016, Lebanon alone hosted 1.5 million refugees which is around 20% of the country’s entire population. Compare this to the UK with 0.26% of its population having refugee status. Increased budget allocation for refugee aid would be very helpful but educational awareness must also be implemented to ensure that refugees feel welcome.
5) What can one do, on an individual level, to find out about refugee experiences and help?
One of the best things an individual can do to find about refugee experiences and to help refugees, is to see if any local refugee organisations are hosting any forms of awareness-raising events such as talks or presentations, and to check if these organisations need any volunteers. There is a vast amount of information on the internet, particularly the UNHCR, and if there are not any local opportunities available to you, a simple donation, financial or otherwise, would certainly help any organisations supporting refugees. Durham City of Sanctuary is an excellent example of an organisation that helps refugees in the local community. Another simple way of helping refugees is to be welcoming and kind. Spreading this message of tolerance and respect may influence others to follow!
6) What can someone gain from getting involved at Durham for Refugees?
Durham for Refugees has an entirely new exec this year, so we’re currently in the process of planning future events. We recently hosted an open meeting where we discussed important issues facing refugees locally and globally. The meeting was open to everybody and provided new insights for all who attended. We have made group chats for those wanting to be involved in social media, or events, or volunteering, which you can find advertised on our Facebook page. A student group can only do so much, but helping refugees, in any way, big or small, can provide someone with a feeling of global citizenship, knowing that they are doing good in the world for refugees who have faced awful experiences and just want somewhere safe for themselves, their families, and their friends.
By Angelos Sofocleous, Interviews Editor