Niamh Walsh introduces “SolidariTee”- a student- led charity dedicated to raising awareness of the refugee crisis.
In 2015 the world stood still as a photo of a three-year-old Syrian boy who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea made global headlines. Alan Kurdi and his family were Syrian refugees were attempting to flee to Canada before their untimely deaths. This was, and still is, the reality for millions of refugees. In the summer of 2015, Europe experienced the highest influx of refugees since the Second World War due to the increasing unrest in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. Roughly 5.6 million Syrians are refugees, and another 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria, making it the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time.
“The reason the world reacted so viscerally to that image of Alan lying dead on the beach is because instinctively, we all knew his blood was on our hands.”
This began in 2011, after a horrific, multi-sided civil war broke out amidst the Arab Spring between the Syrian people and the Ba’athist Syrian Arab Republic led by Bashar al-Assad. Since then, families have unfairly suffered under the brutal conflict that has killed thousands of people, caused major political unrest, and severely reduced the standard of living. Hospitals, schools, utilities and water and sanitation systems have been critically damaged or destroyed, and many communities have been reduced to rubble.
More than half the people affected by the Syrian refugee crisis are children, and for many of them all they have ever known is war. Their bleak circumstances have had dire effects on their mental, physical and social health, threatening the future of the children who will one day help to rebuild Syria. 95 per cent of Syrian refugees who fled the country have been placed or are seeking asylum in Syrian refugee camps established in Turkey (3.6 million), Lebanon (929,624), Jordan (662,010) and Egypt (131,433). These countries have been stretched incredibly thin by this crisis (Jordan’s population is now 25 per cent refugees) and most camps are majorly underfunded because the UN does not have enough money to correctly support the large number of refugees entering these camps. Because a lot of these countries do not legally allow refugees to work and make a living, even though the majority of Syrian refugees are well-educated or skilled, thousands have attempted to flee to Europe in hopes of a better life for them and their families.
Unfortunately, Europe has not responded positively nor effectively to the refugee crisis. Labelling it a ‘migrant crisis’, even though migrants voluntarily choose to leave their homes in search of a new one, rather than a refugee who is forced to flee their home due to armed conflict or persecution, European governments have made it difficult for refugees to get to Europe. The 1951 Refugee Convention granted refugees multiple rights, including non-refoulement (a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom), and so the 149 states that signed the treaty are expected to cooperate in ensuring the rights of refugees are respected and protected, whilst also providing other benefits such as education, free access to courts and the provision of identity papers to refugees. Since the journey to Europe is incredibly dangerous as it usually involves being smuggled onto a boat, it reduces the number of refugees who attempt to make it, benefiting European countries who then don’t have to provide aid, as a relatively large number of refugees will most likely drown on the journey. But this is not just Syrian refugees, people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and many other war-torn countries also attempt this dangerous journey, as they have no other choice. Asylum processes in Europe are complex, and almost impossible to navigate properly without external legal aid, which – although a fundamental human right – is drastically underfunded and often incredibly difficult to access.
So, how can you help?
SolidariTee is an entirely student-led charity, with over 450 student volunteers operating in more than 40 universities globally. The charity invests time and effort into raising awareness of the refugee crisis by bringing people from all across the world together with one main focus: to support international refugees and asylum seekers who are currently living in inhumane conditions, and uncertain of when they will be able to migrate to a safer place to live. Accessing legal support helps refugees to escape the dangerous and insanitary conditions that thousands are currently exposed to. However, the legal aid necessary to support those who require help is incredibly underfunded, making the right to claim asylum a complex and involute process that often results in unjust treatment. Therefore, SolidariTee has been working to inspire the next generation of policy makers and advocates of the refugee crisis. The charity runs parallel with the mantra that “knowledge is the first step towards meaningful change”, and therefore has a strong focus on creating awareness and educating communities about the ongoing global issue, and ultimately the best actions to combat it.
The ‘SolidariTee’ was created in 2017 to raise funds for NGOs that provide legal aid, and since then it has evolved into nine different designs that each represent solidarity with refugees, including a 2020 organic collection. Volunteers at SolidariTee have organised a ‘2021 Week of Action’ commencing the week of 1 February, to bring together all members of the community in support of refugee rights. Additionally, during the Week of Action, there will also be a variety of events to take part in, including live cooking classes and pub quizzes, talks and panel discussions, and sponsored runs- all held online or remotely.
As of 2020, there are 26 million refugees in Europe and 45.7 million internally displaced persons. We are writing history right now. How do we want to be remembered? As xenophobic, rich cowards behind fences? We have to realise that these people fleeing death and destruction are no different from us. We are one species, sharing one profoundly interconnected world. Three-year-old Alan Kurdi would be alive today if he had been welcomed by the European Union, or Canada or any other western country. The reason the world reacted so viscerally to that image of Alan lying dead on the beach is because instinctively, we all knew his blood was on our hands. By getting involved in our charity, we can and will bring about change. Let’s do this right.
“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”