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Guest blog: Student Action for Refugees

Posted on 28 Feb 2014

As the Volunteering Project Coordinator at Student Action for Refugees (STAR), I am lucky enough to work with hundreds of incredible student volunteers. On top of studying hard, they find the time to welcome refugees to their local communities by running loads of great volunteering projects.

STAR is a student led organisation that was started in 1994 at Nottingham University. We have grown massively since then and now have 12,000 members and groups at 34 universities across the UK.

Why did STAR get started?

Well the UK is not the most welcoming place for people who come here seeking safety from war, persecution, torture and oppression. Asylum seekers face a very complicated and often Kafkaesque asylum system, where they can wait for a long time to find out if they will be allowed to stay. While they are waiting for this decision they are not allowed to work, and have to survive off around £5 a day from the government. Those at the end of the process can find themselves forced to live on the streets with nothing at all, even though they may be unable to, or are simply too terrified to return home.

Students who get involved with STAR want to make things better. They do this by educating their peers about refugees and asylum, campaigning for policy change, fundraising, and of course, volunteering. Each year they take part in over 50 volunteering projects and recruit over 700 volunteers who get out into their communities and make a practical difference to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees. I never fail to be impressed by the time and energy that they put into their volunteering!

There are loads of different ways STAR groups lend a hand.

One of the really useful things they have to offer is their English language skills. Many refugees arrive here unable to speak English and with cuts to ESOL provision it can be difficult to access classes. In response to this, students have set up English Conversation Clubs in cities including Bradford, Leeds, Cardiff, London, Exeter, Nottingham and Stockport. These friendly, informal clubs are really popular – in Leeds around 50 refugees attend the club every week! They give refugees the chance to practice their English with native speakers, learn more about their local area, find out how things work in the UK and make friends.

“I love the club, it is like my home, my friends are here…it makes a big, big difference to the English of the people who come here.”

Our groups also link up with local schools and youth projects to provide volunteers for mentoring and homework clubs. Starting a new school in a new country and having to learn the language can be very challenging, having that extra bit of help can make all the difference. Bristol STAR recruit volunteers to help out at a local secondary school. Here’s what one of the pupils had to say about his mentor:

“It was very helpful and he was very good with maths, the things he helped me with came up in my exams so really helpful…it definitely made a difference to my exam results, he gave me lots of exam tips and techniques…It wasn’t just my subjects he helped me with, he mentored me in other ways too, I could ask him questions about university”

This just scratches the surface of what our STAR volunteers get up to and I am very proud of them all. Not a STAR? Well get involved and you won’t regret it!

“I’ve learnt so, so much since I joined STAR, it has really opened my eyes and made me realise you can make a difference. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time being part of STAR and am really grateful for all the experiences and opportunities it has given me. Plus I’ve met some amazing people! I would recommend getting involved with STAR to anyone.”

If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in we’d love to hear from you! We can tell you if there is a STAR group at your university and if there isn’t one we can help you to set one up. To find out more e-mail students@star-network.org.uk or visit our website

Emily Crowley

Emily is the Volunteering Project Co-ordinator for Student Action for Refugees (STAR)

Categories: Charities