A LOCAL charity is looking for students to join the appeal to make the University of Stirling become a “university of sanctuary” for refugees.
Dr Savi Maharaj, a Computing Science lecturer at the university, is one of many volunteers at Forth Valley Welcome, a local charity that is committed to helping refugees integrate into life in Stirling and Clackmannanshire.
Originally formed in in 2015 as Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary, a group of friends in the Stirling and Dunblane area petitioned to Stirling Council to sign up to the government’s Syrian vulnerable person’s resettlement scheme.
Around September 2015, on the day that the tragic photo of toddler Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the beach near Bodum, Turkey, went viral, the Stirling Baptist Church was packed with locals coming to find out more about the cause.
Savi said: “I think that photograph caused a sea of change in the whole attitude towards refugee resettlement in the UK.”
As a result, all councils areas in Scotland, as far north as Shetland and as far south as the Borders, signed up to the scheme. The UK increased the size of the scheme to 20,000 refugees.
Forth Valley Welcome met the first Syrian refugees in February 2016. When refugees arrive in Scotland, they are treated the same as homeless people; they are given a house and basic furniture with a limited amount of supplies.
Fast forward to the present day, and the charity is now operating across Stirling and Clackmannanshire Council areas. They support more than 140 refugees from Syria and Sudan.
Most of the refugees are families, with more than half of them under the age of 12.
The charity is now on the lookout for student the volunteers to help provide the three main services that Forth Valley Welcome offers.
They provide a home visiting service, where volunteers visit refugees to find out how they are getting on, and provide links to help them integrate into their local communities.
They also cater for material needs. Savi told us that Forth Valley Welcome has a storage facility in Dunblane.
She said: “We have a team of people who collect things like toys and clothes. Homes visitors take families to the store, and help them buy things at charity shops and the Salvation Army.”
And finally, they have monthly meetings in Alloa in a church hall. Volunteers and families come together and do crafts, and play activities for children.
Savi said: “We have between 70 and 80 active volunteers at the moment.”
“I’ve heard stories of refugees walking into the house and people bursting into tears, which is very rewarding for all our volunteers to hear.
“When we are told a new family is coming in, the council ask us to help set up the home for the family.”
The union’s Co-Curricular Officer Svea Horn began volunteering with Forth Valley Welcome two years ago.
She said: “I wanted to make a difference and help people fleeing from the violence in Syria, especially after reading and seeing so much about it on the news.
“Forth Valley Welcome has been a great opportunity to meet new people from a completely different culture and help them settle in and feel welcome in Scotland.
“I have met people who I would never have had the chance to interact with otherwise and was able to enjoy some of the amazing Syrian treats and hospitality of the families I have visited over the past two years.”
The university is also aiming to become a university of sanctuary, following in the footsteps of the University of Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews.
City of Sanctuary is a charity which commits to providing a welcoming environment for refugees.
Becoming a university of sanctuary would involve providing scholarships designed to meet the needs of asyulum seekers.
Savi said: “We have active encouragement from the university. Refugees will have specific needs that need to be met.
“Scholarships would help refugees move on in their lives rather than living in limbo.”
“We want to create a network with staff and students working together to help Stirling stake its claim in becoming a university of sanctuary.”
Students are being encouraged to set up a branch of STAR (Student Action for Refugees) in the university.
Anyone interested in setting up an affiliated STAR branch at the university should contact Dr Savi Maharaj at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about Forth Valley Welcome volunteering opportunities, visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ForthValleyWelcome
There is a volunteer induction event on tomorrow, Sept 26. You can sign up on eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/forth-valley-welcome-new-volunteer-induction-training-tickets-65036451778.
Featured image credit: HuffPost