Lizzy Thompson establishes University of Oxford Student Action for Refugees (STAR) Charity Group

8th January 2018

In Michaelmas term 2017 Pembroke undergraduate, Lizzy Thompson (Modern Languages, French & Italian, 2014) set up the University of Oxford student group for a charity called Student Action for Refugees (STAR). The Oxford group committee comprises 12 students from several different colleges and the group is open to all students across the University. In the following interview she reflects on what the group has achieved so far and shares their future plans.

What is STAR?

Set up in 1994, Student Action for Refugees (STAR) is a long-standing national charity, made up of over 40 groups at universities all over the UK and a national team that co-ordinate and support the groups. The charity is governed by STAR’s Board of Trustees, elected annually by the students themselves, and has close ties with many other refugee agencies such as the Refugee Council, Refugee Action and the UNHCR. 

Led by the 26,000 students involved, the general outline of STAR’s work includes:

  • Volunteering at local refugee projects
  • Campaigning to improve the lives of refugees
  • Educating people about refugees and asylum
  • Fundraising to welcome refugees

Why did you decide to start the group?

I made the decision to start the STAR Oxford group in September, after returning from my year abroad during which I spent the majority of my time working with migrants and refugees in Paris and Rome.

It was hard to come home to the UK where the reality of the ‘refugee crisis’ is either reduced to a TV screen or hidden in a way that is impossible in France or Italy. There is so much to learn and understand about migration and the current humanitarian crisis. The idea is to get people talking and aware rather than confused and lost in sensationalist media and political agendas.

 A student body is a strong and powerful force that, with the right direction and structure, can enforce and promote a huge positive influence both for individuals and on a much bigger scale. STAR is a great charity and it is very exciting to be part of a nationwide movement to make the UK a more welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers.

What has the University of Oxford group achieved so far?

In its first term (Michaelmas 2017) the STAR Oxford group gained a following of over 600 people, hosted multiple events in order to raise awareness amongst students - ranging from a popular pub quiz to an exclusive film screening, and raised over £300 thanks to a Syrian cookery session with a local refugee family and a bake sale outside the Radcliffe Camera.​

The group running a bake sale outside the Radcliffe Camera in Michaelmas Term 2017.

Perhaps most importantly, we have established great roots in the community. STAR Oxford has paired with local charity Jacari to introduce a new project pairing students with Syrian families resettled in Oxford, helped introduce an Arabic Language Cafe for Arabic speaking students to meet and talk with local refugees wanting to practise their English and supported the WEA’s ‘Learning Circles’ programme for new adult English learners. We’ve met with many of the local refugee and asylum seeker charities in Oxford who we plan to continue supporting and working with in the future.

Sounds like it has been a great success!

Although we started up and ran the group during term time, STAR Oxford began with great success and an overwhelmingly positive response from students, many of whom went on to get involved in our volunteering projects. We are a committee of 12 students at both undergraduate and graduate level from different colleges, though 4 from Pembroke, and we now have a large group of college representatives to help increase our outreach across the University! 

Lizzy and fellow student Nathalie getting sign-ups during Freshers’ week.

Now that STAR Oxford has been established, what does the future look like?  

Next term promises to be even bigger and more exciting both for students and the community. We are expanding our community work with the help of the University of Oxford Islamic Society to introduce a weekly football friendly and a twice-termly women’s night. We are also hosting panel discussion events with high profile speakers and local experts.

Aside from the raising awareness and community events, we have a campaigning team working on a long-term project: an Equal Access programme in aid of asylum seekers and refugees (asylum seekers cannot receive student funding).

Upcoming event: Film Screening of Ai Weiwei’s ‘Human Flow’, 15 January 7pm at the Magdalen Film Society.

Find out more about STAR on their website and support the STAR Oxford group by following their Facebook page. Email to find out more and get involved.