SolidariTee, and the necessity of social justice at university

The UNHCR has estimated that, as of mid-2023, there are over 110 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced; they have had to leave their homes because of conflict, persecution, climate crises or human rights violations. 36.4 million of this group are people classed as refugees, meaning they have had to leave their country of origin, and require international protection. 

These numbers should be startling, shocking; and yet, it feels like we have become immune to them. We live under a government proposing increasingly stringent policies with increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, and are surrounded more widely by constant, often juxtaposing, streams of media and information. It can become easy to forget that real people exist behind the numbers, the propaganda, the headlines. Even university – as our name would suggest – can feel sometimes like a bubble, separated from the rest of life, where problems often boil down to whether Jimmy’s will be busy or not. 

Student activism, therefore, is the perfect foil to this; you can engage with issues that are global, holistic and important, but in a way that facilitates the unique and quite intense life of a student. And SolidariTee is one charity that does exactly that.

SolidariTee is an international charity, with teams across the UK and beyond; we are entirely student-led, and aim to educate and raise awareness around the injustices faced by refugees and asylum seekers across the world. We also fundraise, to offer financial grants to grassroots NGOs working on the ground in Greek refugee camps, to provide holistic legal aid to those seeking asylum.

Seeking asylum is a complex legal process, and many people face unjust rejections because they cannot access information about their rights and obligations in the asylum process. Holistic legal aid makes the asylum process more accessible, providing translation and interpretation services, medical and psychological care, and support in preparing for interviews. In the words of SolidariTee’s CEO, Alexa Netty, “legal aid is the clothes peg upon which all other rights and liberties precariously hang, and furthering its provision is the best way of upholding these we know”.

Being able to claim asylum is a universal human right; but, sadly, it still is not always accessible, and SolidariTee wants to change this.

As our name suggests, SolidariTee is known mostly for its T-Shirts – designed by artists who have been personally affected by forced migration – which it sells as one of its main forms of fundraising. The idea is to create a unified community of people, all supporting the cause; and, during our upcoming Week of Action – which began today – we are encouraging everyone with a shirt to wear it, and showcase their solidari-tee in all senses! 

The Week of Action, beginning with Monday 19th as International Day of SolidariTee, will also feature a bake sale, a distance challenge – 36.4km to reflect the global population of 36.4 million refugees – as well as upcoming panel discussions and pub quizzes. Combined with all the other university branches across the country, it is a concerted effort to raise awareness about an incredibly important global issue.

But, this issue does also link directly to us, as Durham students. 

Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre is located 20 minutes away from here, in Consett, and until recently, was run by the same group – Mitie – who also oversaw security and cleaning for the university. 

Immigration Removal Centres are privately-run – for profit – and are places where immigrants are detained whilst their status is resolved/clarified. They aren’t marketed as prisons or punishments – they are merely known as ‘administrative detention’ – but conditions within them can be incredibly inhumane. Vulnerable people are locked away in cells for several hours of the day, with limited access to healthcare, legal support or even their friends and family. And, unlike any other European country, there is no time limit imposed; people could be in there for years without getting out.

This is a place right on the doorstep of a leading university; so, even here, in our little Hill-and-Bailey circle, we are still part of the wider dialogue; and student activism and awareness, therefore, remains just so important.

So, if you can, please come to our bake sale, or a pub quiz, or buy a T-shirt, or even just begin to get curious about social justice and the fight for human rights; everyone deserves to live in safety, and if we come together, we can begin to achieve that.

Featured image: taken by Rebekah Hook

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