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Nouse talks with Refugee Action York

Emily Hewat finds out how students can help refugees from Afghanistan

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Image Credit: John Englart Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The last few weeks have been incredibly turbulent for Afghanistan and its people, with significant UK news coverage on the thousands of people trying to flee the Taliban. While we may feel like there is nothing we can do to ease the situation, Nouse spoke to Refugee Action York to find out several ways students can help those from Afghanistan who are most in need.

Refugee Action York are currently unsure of the number of refugees that will require their help. Under the Syrian relocation scheme to help refugees from the Syrian civil war, York Council helped 81 refugees and Councillor Smally, Executive Member for Culture Leisure and Communities, made a statement last week expecting to help the resettlement scheme in the same way again. Refugee Action York pointed out to us that all refugees will get support from the Refugee Council first which introduces refugees to local customs and accessing healthcare and education as well as providing basic necessities.

What can students at the University of York do to help Refugee Action York?
“We are so grateful to everyone who has been in touch offering to help and we know how frustrating it is not to be able to do more right now. However, this is definitely going to be a marathon and not a sprint; there will be lots left to do once the current situation in Afghanistan has faded from the headlines.”
“Right now, like many small charities, we are not collecting donations as we just don't have the storage space. As soon as we know who is coming and when and what their needs are we will definitely be collecting. For now, most helpful to us, is if people follow our social media accounts and share the messages we are putting out. Small financial donations make a huge difference because there are some things that we just can’t get second hand (such as underwear) so if people can donate a pound or two then that really will make a difference when people start arriving in the City.”

Refugee Action York made it clear that there is currently no drop off site for donations near campus or in Heslington as they are currently not collecting. However, once they do start collecting, if any student wishes to set up a collection point, they are encouraged to get in touch via social media.

What can less affluent students who perhaps have nothing to donate but still want to get involved do to help Refugee Action York?
“Sharing the information we share on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts is really useful right now. We also encourage people to follow York City of Sanctuary to keep up to date with what is going on in York.”

“During September we are also hoping to get all our usual services for existing service users back up and running face-to-face (these have mainly been on-line during covid). If any students are interested in volunteering then we would love to hear from them via carole@refugeeactionyork.org. We have paused taking on new volunteers over the summer but have a list of interested people we will get in touch with as soon as we know when we can start our services up again fully.”

There are also many opportunities for students to help refugees nationally. Refugee Action York underlined the importance of the organisations on the ground in Afghanistan such as Afghanaid and Emergency Relief Afghanistan. Students could also get involved in campaigns around the Nationality and Borders Bill which will potentially criminalise refugees who enter the country via irregular routes.

Are you able to estimate how much money (in the form of donations and financial aid) you will need to spend per refugee?
It will be very difficult for Refugee Action York to predict what each individual refugee will need and therefore hard to accept physical donations. They stated that “Many of the costs during the first year will be met by the relocation scheme itself so beyond the initial donations of clothing etc the real costs for charities will be in running the services (such as childcare and English language assistance) that those who end up living here require and that will depend so much on who those people are.”
A request to landlords has been sent out to seek accommodation for the refugees. Landlords will not have to offer free accommodation as the relocation scheme would cover costs. Refugee Action York expects York landlords to get in touch as “they did provide accommodation under the Syrian relocation scheme so I am confident they will do the same in the coming days and weeks.”

The council are currently appealing for any landlords who think they can help to get in touch with them via refugeesupport@york.gov.uk.

Nouse also understands that YUSU are looking to support any current Afghan students and Afghan alumni. We spoke to YUSU president Patrick O’Donnell who informed us that whilst there are no Afghan refugees housed in York at the moment, there are currently 90 housed in Scarborough on a temporary basis.
Patrick O’Donnell stated that: "We have been incredibly saddened by the recent events in Afghanistan and have been working very closely with the University to ensure that both financial and logistical support is provided to our prospective and current Afghan students, wherever they are in the world. We understand that the University is also in touch with our Afghan alumni community.

"We are very keen to see how we can support Afghan refugees through fundraising, support, volunteering and more, and we've spoken with local refugee support groups such as York City of Sanctuary. We've also had early conversations with the City of York Council to explore whether we could create jobs for Afghan refugees on campus, and we hope to confirm further details soon."

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