How did the “Refugee Action St. Andrews” start?
It all started when a colleague of ours, Nora Labo, who was in France over the summer and wanted to start something as a community, reached out to other postgrads in St. Andrews who had been involved in activism. We got together as a group and decided to start an organization similar to those that had been set up in the rest of Scotland.
How do you communicate with umbrella organizations to find out which things are needed most?
Because St. Andrews is such a small community, we don’t have the facilities and logistics to send things directly to the rest of Europe. Therefore, we contacted organizations in Edinburgh and Dundee to get updated lists regarding what is needed, which changes quite frequently. Additionally, we decided to channel the collections through Dundee and Edinburgh, as they are established and have the capacities to ship to the rest of Europe.
Which locations are the donations sent to?
Different places in Europe have different needs. For example, in Calais, neither women nor children’s clothing is needed, whereas they need a lot of men’s clothing. We are sorting everything in categories and the final decision on where the donations go is made in Edinburgh.
Do you have any further actions planned?
This collection is the first step of a three-step strategy. The second step would be a more long-term sustainable financial relationship with some well-selected organisations. And finally, since we are a university town, we would like to turn this into an educational program. We hope to get a broader campaign running.
What is the situation of refugees in Fife and Scotland?
The UK government has agreed that it will take in 20,000 Syrian refugees directly from Syria over the next five years. The UK operates a dispersal system for asylum applications: when a person arrives in the UK and seeks asylum, they are dispersed in different areas around the UK. Scotland is one of those dispersal zones. Currently, Glasgow houses the largest number of asylum seekers in Scotland.
Fife Council has confirmed that they would take in 260 refugees from the UK programme. The Fife Council will be responsible for providing housing and minimal benefits. One would imagine that they will be housed in areas where housing is relatively cheap –probably not in St. Andrews. Although we do not know when they are arriving or where they will be staying, we are a well-connected town. Given these connections, I am optimistic that we could get a welcoming movement together.
As political activism is not very visible in St. Andrews, our university is often considered politically uninvolved. Why do you think that this crisis has reached us here and how has the student body reacted to your organization?
This collection is going extremely well. We’ve had a steady stream of people donating today and probably collected about 35-40 boxes full of food, toiletries, all sorts of things – and it’s only the first of two collection days! We are experiencing a great support from the town’s people, enthusiastic students and the Union.
Since we have such an international student body, many of us have experienced the refugee crisis in a personal way over the summer and have come back with the urge to help. I believe that we have a politically engaged student body, which is reflected by the multitude of political societies, although this political mindset is not necessarily visible on the street.
To find out more, visit their facebook page.