Students and staff from the University of Northampton are helping to plug the gaps in the town’s refugee and asylum seeker support system.
Dismayed by the limited support available for those fleeing their homelands for a new life in Northampton, students and staff have launched an initiative to be recognised as a University of Sanctuary, commited to welcoming and supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
A University of Sanctuary is an institution that ‘offers good practice in welcoming asylum seekers and refugees into the university community and fostering a culture of welcome and inclusion for all’.
Practically, it means welcoming asylum seekers and refugees onto University courses, and providing incentives and routes for them to get involved.
International Development undergraduate, Kelsey Clarke, is one of the students involved in the initiative, and has seen first-hand how little provision there is for refugees and asylum seekers to assimilate into Northampton life.
Kelsey, who is part of the Northampton STAR (Student Action for Refugees) group, said: “Northampton seems to be lagging behind other towns and cities when it comes to supporting refugees and asylum seekers. In Coventry, for example, there’s a dedicated refugee and migrant centre where people can access support, advice and services.
“Here, there’s no official place to go to for support, and as Northampton is one of the largest towns in the country, that’s pretty terrible.
“In Northampton, it seems like it’s down to people in the community to help refugees and asylum seekers. Students are part of the community and we want to do something to help.”
Together with fellow students Lara Hamer, Antonia Obrvan and Arte Artemiou, Kelsey volunteers at a refugee drop-in evening held at a youth club every Friday.
“They just have a chance to relax in a friendly place, see friendly faces, watch a film, play table tennis and enjoy tea and biscuits,” said Kelsey. “It doesn’t sound like much, but for a refugee or asylum seeker it is incredibly important.
“I cannot imagine what it is like for them, knowing what they have run away from and now struggling to assimilate to UK life. They tend to only interact with their own group and have little contact with other people, so Friday nights help them to mix with local people who are friendly and welcoming.”
While refugees wait for their cases for asylum to be heard, the University of Sanctuary initiative feels more could be done to help them to become useful members of society.
She said: “International human rights law states everyone should have a right to access education and rights to have a family life.
“Do refugees in our country have access to education or a family life? For the majority the answer is ‘no’ – there are so many rights violations.
“Integration can be problematic for refugees and asylum seekers, and access to education is surely something that would help them to assimilate, better themselves and the town.
“We hope the University will gain official University of Sanctuary status, which would hopefully lead to the uni providing scholarships and assisting with accommodation.”
“These people are humans, we need to show our humanity.”
The latest University of Sanctuary/STAR group/Economics Society event staged by students was a panel discussion held in October for students, staff and the public to explore the economic and social impact of refugees, and to debunk some common myths around their impact.
The panel comprised Northampton Borough councillor, Danielle Stone, and University lecturers Federico Farini, Ron Mendel, Shawky Arif and Kevin Deane. Watch the video below:
The Northampton STAR group has also established a drop-off point at the University where people can donate warm clothes, shoes, non-perishable food, blankets and tents for refugees and asylum seekers in Europe refugee camps.
The drop off point is located in the Student Centre at Park Campus.