Edinburgh Global

Students making a difference for refugees and asylum seekers through STAR Edinburgh

STAR (Student Action for Refugees) is a UK-wide network of student societies volunteering and campaigning for and with refugees. Edinburgh's President, Max Altara, shares what the society has been up to over the past year.

Video: About STAR (Student Action for Refugees)
A video about STAR for Refugee Week 2024.

Working with local organisations to fight poverty among asylum seekers

One of STAR Edinburgh’s main aims is to support existing charities and organisations in the city that work with refugees and asylum seekers. 

Given the amount of support networks and organisations that are already active and well-established in the city, STAR focuses on liaising with these organisations and directing their student members to them, rather than creating something from scratch. As Max explains, “What we didn’t want to do was duplicate something that already existed. Instead, we want to contribute to organisations that are already there, like the Scottish Refugee Council and the Welcoming and React and these organisations that have the structures in place and that we can just come into, instead of reinventing structures”. 

In particular, STAR has been working particularly closely with the Welcoming and React, as well as with the Edinburgh City Mission, to provide asylum seekers with basic goods and everyday household items. Asylum seeker poverty is a serious problem across the UK, as the government provision of £49.18 per week is not enough to cover even the most basic needs.

STAR organises regular collection drives for food, kitchenware, bedding and toiletries, which are distributed to asylum seekers in the city. Through this work, STAR has supported around one hundred families over the past year. Max points out that the goods they collect are not simply donated to asylum seekers at random. Rather, they compile tailor-made boxes based on what individual asylum seekers and families have requested, thus ensuring that no goods are wasted. It has been rewarding for Max and his team to see asylum seekers return and to receive positive feedback from them. In the coming academic year, they are planning to collaborate with the London School of Economics’ STAR group, who send goods to the refugee camp in Calais.  

Profile image of Max Altara
Max Altara, President for Edinburgh's STAR (Student Action for Refugees)

Tackling loneliness at the conversation cafe

As they learnt more about the challenges asylum seekers in Edinburgh face, the STAR committee became aware that besides poverty, loneliness is another widespread problem among asylum seekers.

As part of the UK government’s dispersal policy, asylum seekers are frequently moved across the country, and as a result, struggle to establish social networks locally. To help tackle this, STAR decided to attend the Welcoming’s conversation cafe, a regular meet-up at which asylum seekers, refugees and members from the wider Edinburgh community come together to chat, play games and have tea or coffee.

Taking part in these meet-ups has become one of STAR’s main activities. Through them, STAR student volunteers have helped asylum seekers and refugees develop their English skills and the confidence to express themselves, while the volunteers themselves have had the opportunity to make friends in the wider Edinburgh community.  

Campaigning and fundraising projects

In addition to their volunteering projects, STAR Edinburgh also has a dedicated campaigning team.

In the past academic year, they have been involved in the national campaign to lift the ban on asylum seekers’ right to work, as part of which they collected signatures from local businesses opposing the ban and pledging to employ asylum seekers. They have also organised a number of fundraising events, including an open mic night and a ceilidh, and have raised £4500 for the Welcoming, as well as raising funds for Medical Aid for Palestinians. 

Fighting for a more welcoming environment

Personally, Max had already been involved in charity work supporting refugees before arriving in Edinburgh.

Having a refugee lawyer in the family made him aware of the challenges that people who have experienced forced migration face, as did his Jewish family background.

Knowing about the persecution his ancestors experienced, and seeing a concerning continuity between how refugees were treated in the past and present, prompted Max to act. “There’s a Daily Mail article from the 1930s which uses the same language about refugees as about asylum seekers now", Max explains, “Even though the group that is targeted has changed the language is the same.” 

Looking ahead to the next year

For the coming academic year, STAR already have a number of events and activities lined up. As always, they will have a stall at the EUSA Welcome Week Societies Fair and are planning a welcome picnic and a pub quiz in the first week of term for anyone interested in becoming part of STAR to meet the committee, learn more about the society and socialise.

The first volunteering session of the term will involve packing goods to be shipped to Calais, and they are also planning to join in the Welcoming’s conversation cafe again. They are keen for new members to get involved and to lead new projects and campaigns.  

Get involved

If you are a student and interested in joining STAR Edinburgh, you can follow them on Instagram (@star.edinburgh), or come along to their EUSA Welcome Week stall.

Follow STAR on Instagram