UCC STAR society is the very first Irish branch affiliated with the UK based charity ‘Student Action for Refugees’. STAR is a student run organisation, which is comprised of approximately 27,000 members stemming from student societies across 42 universities and colleges in the UK and Ireland. This vast network of students is utilised by the organisation as their energy, dedication and commitment can be focused towards the empowerment and support for the welcome of refugees into the local community. The STAR charity has a number of fundamental goals which they feel must be accomplished in order to improve the lives of current refugees and asylum seekers; including campaigning for refugee and asylum seeker rights, educating fellow students and the wider community on the ongoing humanitarian crisis, organising fundraising events and volunteering in any capacity at a wide range of local refugee projects.
We are extremely proud and delighted to have been working alongside all those who were part of the devoted campaign to have UCC recognised as a University of Sanctuary, which was awarded to UCC in January of this year. A University of Sanctuary is a University which has been recognised as a place that engenders a culture of welcome, acceptance and accessibility towards asylum seekers and refugees. From September 2018, seven full scholarships will be awarded annually to asylum seekers and refugees; in addition to a number of bursaries which will cover costs and expenses, i.e. travel.
Being awarded this title by Places of Sanctuary Ireland affirms both the past and present positive work that UCC is known for, through the ongoing efforts of its staff, students and alumni who already partake in projects with refugees and those asylum seekers living in Direct Provision. These projects include the annual Christmas Dinner run by Mike Fitzgibbon and Jacqui O’ Riordan – which we happily got to attend this year – and the weekly creative art projects run by the Glucksman Art Gallery for children living in Direct Provision.
We at STAR society worked very hard throughout our first semester in order to gather as much support for the campaign as possible, particularly our chairperson Isaac McNamara, who took on a leading role as our representative throughout the process in the University of Sanctuary working group comprised of UCC staff. A large chunk of our support was derived from the student body itself, with over 25 societies supporting the campaign; as well the Vice President of the Students’ Union, Seán Ó’Riabhaigh also pledging his personal support to our campaign. We also had immense support from the Glucksman Art Gallery, who are incredibly involved in projects with those living in Direct Provision in Cork.
Over the course of the year we undertook a plethora of activities involving volunteering, fundraising, educating and campaigning in order to raise awareness around campus for the humanitarian issue itself, in addition to the University of Sanctuary campaign. Over the course of a number of weekends in October/ November the society, in addition to members from the volunteer group on Facebook, volunteered their time at the Glucksman Art Gallery for their wonderful creative art project, ‘Blueprints’, which involved working with children living in Direct Provision across Co. Cork. Following on from this we also volunteered at a Filming Workshop for teenagers living in Direct Provision, which was hosted by the Glucksman Art Gallery in collaboration with the Cork Young Filmmakers. We tried our very best to make our presence on campus felt; hosting a Pub Quiz, a Halloween Bake Sale, and a Christmas Donation Drive all of which were very successful, and the proceeds were donated to the Direct Provision centres around Cork. From an educational standpoint we collaborated with UCC Law Society in early November on bringing the Minister of State for Justice, David Stanton, to UCC to give a talk on his opinions surrounding Direct Provision, in addition to answering a number of our questions. Our chairperson Isaac also represented the society by providing a talk at the International Development showcase held in UCC on November 8th. Therefore it is evident that our aim as a society is to do whatever we can as students to help refugees and asylum seekers, be it by petitioning the government to fulfill their obligations or providing practical outlets for people living in Direct Provision.
We intend to volunteer, fundraise, campaign and educate further throughout the course of Second Semester. A definitive highlight of which will be hosting Refugee Week, which is currently ongoing, and which would not have been such a success without the support of the Students’ Union and all the collaborations we have organised with various UCC societies, that will range from pub quizzes to speakers to live events on campus. We are very proud to be hosting some renowned speakers ourselves, including Alison Phipps – the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow – who will be delivering the inaugural University of Sanctuary lecture which will be an annual occurrence; Sam Taylor – the Director of MSF, as well as various speakers who have first-hand experience living in Direct Provision. In addition to this, the Glucksman Art Gallery will be hosting a range of events including the ‘Blueprints’ exhibition which was launched today, and will run continuously for all of this week.
From then on, our hopes for the rest of the semester we will be to continue our attempts at setting up initiatives with other societies to give people living in direct provision more opportunities to integrate and to remove the ‘us and them’ mentality often seen.
We are a brand-new society and would love people to get involved in the campaign or the society as a whole! Anybody who is interested can contact us via our email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook – ‘UCC STAR Society’. Anybody wanting to join up can join our Volunteering group, which is the pinned post at the top of our Facebook page.