Meet the Edinburgh students helping refugees

What do you do with your spare time?

Whilst you might be recovering from your last night out with a crippling hangover and making lousy excuses for missing your tutorials, these Edinburgh students really use their time to make a difference.

Student Action for Refugees (STAR) is a nationwide charity which aims to raise awareness for refugee related issues and provides a platform for students to get involved and be more proactive. We spoke to Celeste MacIlwaine, who’s involved with the Edinburgh branch, about STAR and their upcoming events.

What does STAR stand for?

Effectively STAR aim to help refugees already in the UK, they’re spread all across the country and do a variety events within their local communities such as the Cardiff branch even holding weekly language cafes for refugees to improve their English. The whole focus is local issues. Often this is the more neglected aspect as it’s easy to focus on the international sphere.

Many people are unaware of how poor the UK’s asylum system is, refugees are expected to live off £35 a week. Glasgow is classed as a hotspot due to its overwhelming figures of homelessness, many are forced just to stay on the streets and wait for their claim to be processed.

What are STAR Edinburgh aiming to do about it?

On the 2nd February, this Thursday STAR Edinburgh are launching their internet campaign #righttoreunite which is all about raising awareness for the number of underage minors being refused entry to the UK despite actually qualifying for asylum. With each photo that we encourage you to share of you with family members there will be the caption explaining the campaign – “Unaccompanied refugee minors here in the UK still don’t have the right for their families to join them. Let’s change this.”

This is in collaboration with Amnesty in which them and STAR will aim to do an action week from the 20-25th February. Furthermore STAR will be holding ‘A Night of Refugee Culture’ and a Slam Poetry night where a Glasgow based refugee group called ‘Seeds of Thought’ will be performing.

How did you and your peers get involved?

One of us had previously volunteered with STAR in Glasgow helping refugees with providing shelters. Then last year she realised that many of those involved in STAR were in their final year so we decided to take over and it has now just been approved as a EUSA official Society.

Did volunteering in France change any of your perspectives?

Obviously you don’t realise how bad these people’s situation is until you get there. Because we’re an island we’re quite far removed from the real situation. Even in Paris you can feel the tensions more so than here and this situation has only been exacerbated since the media has gone post the closing of Calais.

What is your opinion of the media and its influence, especially in the current political climate?

It’s easy for the media to show a picture of a dirty crying child and a rubbled Damascus but what people forget is that Syria was an advanced nation with a very western feeling. Many of the people who have had to flee lived middle class lifestyles with qualifications.

The most shocking problem is since Brexit and the Muslim Ban. People are becoming more and more openly racist, not only to refugees but also any foreigner as xenophobia is being given more channels for publicity.