As thousands of Exeter students arrived at their new homes on Saturday, 600 community members and students gathered outside Exeter’s iconic cathedral to express their solidarity with the world’s refugees and to make it clear to the government that we need to do more to support them.
The event involved some fantastic speakers, including a trustee from the charity Refugee Support Devon, who spoke (to resounding applause) about how much refugees may contribute, socially and economically, to our local economy. A fellow Exeter student, Baraa Ehssan Kouja, spoke about his own experiences working with refugees. He summed up the paradox of trying to live as a refugee in a Western country as “if they work they are accused of stealing jobs, if they don’t work, they are lazy, if they stay where they came from, they will die.” Sadly, this is increasingly true.
The plight of refugees has become, with good cause, well publicized in recent weeks, particularly after the harrowing image was taken of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian boy. But in reality there has been a refugee crisis for much longer than our recent interest in it would suggest. The conflict in Syria has been going on for four years now, four years in which many, many other people have suffered. Nor is the refugee crisis confined to Syria: the world over, people are facing the same plight.
The University of Exeter’s Amnesty International Society will start the 2015-16 year with a campaign to support the world’s refugees. Join our society (if you haven’t already) to help make a difference at this crucial time. You can sign up to the society online or at the Activities Fair on Saturday, and you can come to get to know the committee tomorrow, from 6-8 in Queen’s LT1 for a film screening, and on Friday from 7.30 in John Gandy’s for our social. We look forward to welcoming all of our new students (and returners), and making sure this year is one in which we really are able to make a difference. Towards the end of Baraa’s speech, he told the story of when he was questioned about his working with refugees and in charity work. In response to “Can I ask you why you’re doing this?” he responded, “Because I’m human.”