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A look at STAR: The Fiver Challenge and a Week Dedicated to Student Action for Refugees

This week students up and down the country will attempt to understand the horrendous difficulties of living as an asylum seeker in the UK. I spoke to George Shaw, the University of Nottingham’s Vice President of the Student Action for Refugees society (STAR), who is going to be attempting to live on the amount of money that the government grants UK asylum seekers per day: £5.

“How hard could it be?” I here you ask. Well, the £5 must be split between lots of essentials, including food, necessities, transport, phone bills, heating, electricity, and whatever’s left can be spent on luxuries. So unfortunately for George, this will mean that he will have to dedicate most of his budget to food.

He won’t be able to turn the heating on in his house, use the Internet, make any phone calls or use public transport if he wants to be able to afford to eat. Because asylum seekers are not allowed to work legally in the UK until they are granted asylum, any money he earns during the week may not be used.

George and the rest of the team are attempting the ‘Fiver Challenge’ in order to raise money to give a few asylum seekers the opportunity to attempt the International English Language Test system (IELTs). Non-native English speakers must take IELTs if they wish to attend university or any place of higher education. These tests cost upwards of £150 and, incredibly, at the time of writing, enough money had already been raised for 3 people to attempt the test.

Student Action for Refugees also runs weekly English conversation classes to help the “clients” or “service-users” with the IELTs. These classes take place every Tuesday at 7pm in St Andrew’s Church in Nottingham city centre, but the organisation is non-religious.

“The comparison between the refugee crises of WWII and our modern day is hard to avoid”

As students, it often feels like we’re constantly too skint to be able to contribute to the levels of good in the world by donating to charity, making these Tuesday night classes a really rewarding opportunity for students to donate your time and energy – instead of just money – to have a genuine and personal impact on helping improve someone’s future.

Back in 1940, George’s grandparents fled Krakow in Poland because of persecution by the Nazis for their Jewish faith. Krakow would become infamous as the nearest city to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was responsible for the murder of 1.1 million Jewish people, persecuted minorities and political opponents of Nazism. Although George was modest enough to admit that this was not the only reason for his involvement in STAR, the comparison between the refugee crises of WWII and our modern day is hard to avoid.

“What’s so comforting about George’s actions and the other members involved with Student Action for Refugees is that they prove you don’t have to be a politician or millionaire to aid what sounds like an insurmountable task”

We are in the midst of the biggest refugee crisis since WWII. These people have escaped totalitarianism in Eritrea, religious extremism in Afghanistan, sectarian violence in Somalia, and civil war in Syria that has overwhelmed parts of Iraq. These people are resilient, but they are ordinary people. Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters – just like you and me.

The Sudanese love to sing, Eritreans and Syrians are great dancers and the Iraqi people always want to share their cuisine. And what’s so comforting about George’s actions and those of the other members involved in Student Action for Refugees is that they prove you don’t have to be a politician or millionaire to aid what sounds like an insurmountable task.

Caspar Barnes

Featured and Embedded Images: George Shaw

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