by Tola La, MA student at Essex University
There has been a stream of positive news about refugees and their human rights in Colchester recently! The University of Essex has decided to support refugees living locally, who wish to go into higher education by offering 3 scholarships worth £10,000 each. This is the result of an almost 2 year long student led campaign. Building on the work that was done the previous year by Adrian Chira, Selin Sivis and I brought the various elements together – Amnesty International, the Islamic Society, staff members and academics – to have a more focused campaign. Jess Twyman, Arts and Gallery Director on campus, suggested that we work with STAR (Student Actionfor Refugees) to come to Colchester and help us with our meetings with senior officials. STAR’s input was important, as through them we focused more on refugees living in the UK. This goal ended up being easier to support from the perspective of the University of Essex, especially as the University is developing its relationship with the local community. It is always worthwhile to remember that as we help refugees/people seeking asylum abroad, we have refugees in our own communities who need help or assistance. Each member of the campaign had an important role. As well as the general coordination, I connected us with our University of Essex Student Union (in particular Zoe Garshong (SU President) and Saffy Allayna (former VP International)). Selin connected us with the Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees (CTAR) whilst Nele Schuldt and Amez Sulaiman helped the campaign as representatives of the Amnesty International society on campus. A huge thank you should go to Carlos Gigoux, who gave us incredible support and also provided us with a lot of strategy. Another critical pillar of support was the local community. Members of the Refugee Action – Colchester, such as Maria Wilby helped the campaign connect to refugees living locally and the issues that they are still facing, but this also showed us the amazing work that the refugee support community continues to do. It is important to note that the scholarship is not all that students do to help with refugee integration, there are also other projects that deserve a mention. Nele Schuldt helped to run the refugee teaching programme, where students taught English to refugees in Colchester. There were also Syrian dinners on campus which was organised by the local refugee support community with the support of students.