Since mid-2014, Europe has been struck with an unprecedented migrant crisis, fueling bitter domestic debates and political campaigns about the fate of refugees. The issue has persisted, with pictures of dead children lying motionless on the Mediterranean coastline, sparking a rallying cry for people across the continent. Charities and aid agencies pressed European governments to find a concerted response to millions risking their lives escaping their war-torn homelands. But the EU's glaring failure to come to grips with this challenge begs the question: What are you doing to help?
A group of Oxford students, at least, know the answer. In September 2015, they founded the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign (OxSRC) to fund scholarships for refugee and asylum-seeking students.
"I thought I should also use my energy while at Oxford to drive change on an aspect of the refugee crisis that is often overlooked: education."
Among them was Chloe Touzet, a PhD candidate at Oxford and vice president of OxSRC who would wake up every morning with a notification on her phone about how many people perished that night trying to cross the Mediterranean. "I had just started my PhD, and at times it felt like an incredibly self-centered journey," she told VICE Impact. "So I thought I should also use my energy while at Oxford to drive change on an aspect of the refugee crisis that is often overlooked: education."
She then helped figure out a concrete way to mobilize students with a well-defined and transformative impact.
Fellow Oxford students launched a university-wide peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Any student who was forced to give up his or her education due to a political or humanitarian crisis would be eligible for a scholarship. By creating a student-led solidarity movement, they hoped Oxford would lead the charge in other refugee education scholarships that would continue to reverberate far and wide.
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"The campaign's long-term objective is to establish a durable system offering a solution to the unfortunately recurring issue of refugee education," Christopher Smart, an undergraduate history student and vice president of the campaign, told VICE Impact. He hoped it would become permanently funded through major donations.
"Having a permanent system in place would allow anticipating the needs of refugee students rather than answering to successive humanitarian crises," he continued.
As of now, the university has accepted 32 at-risk students who applied for a scholarship via the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign. But it's not as easy as just choosing a winner. Hosting a refugee at Oxford costs at least £30,000 if you take accommodation and visa and travel fees into account. To help, more than 12,000 current students have committed to a two-year monthly contribution of £1 to the scholarship fund.
Getting the word out there
Getting funding seemed to be the easy part. Getting exposure was even more difficult. Thaís Roque, the founder and president of OxSRC says that the hardest part was making sure refugees across the world knew about this opportunity.
"I come from Brazil, and I myself received a scholarship from Oxford, but I would have never known about it if I hadn't moved to Europe," she told VICE Impact. "Our outreach campaign was very effective. We worked with professors, NGO's and local people who helped spread the word. The toughest challenge was avoiding to promise too much because we knew we only had the funds to welcome a handful of applicants."
They set up a student-run mentoring scheme to help potential candidates file their applications and navigate the Oxford admissions process. OxSRC has worked with organizations in the field such as education association IIE Peer and partnered with the global platform for Syrian students' Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies.
An American twist
In January, this campaign took on a whole new meaning for Mia Tong, an American student and OxSRC's head of development. News emerged that refugee admissions to the US were supposedly put on hold and eventually halved to 50,000 (unlike the infamous travel ban, this component of the executive order is still enforced). Mia previously spent two years living in Turkey, a country that currently hosts the most refugees in the world, and was devastated to learn her country would break from a longstanding tradition of supporting asylum-seekers
"To hear that the nation with the most resources in the world somehow considered that it was welcoming too many refugees was dispiriting. It encouraged us to do something."
"I always saw my country as the country that historically resettled the highest number refugees in the world," she said. "To hear that the nation with the most resources in the world somehow considered that it was welcoming too many refugees was dispiriting. It encouraged us to do something." The activities of the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign was something concrete she could do to help refugees.
A Call to action on behalf of OxSRC
There are many ways VICE Impact's audience in the UK or abroad can help. The easiest thing to do is spread the word about what OxSRC does, and about refugee education in general. Way too many people believe in the misconception that refugees only need food and shelter and don't care about education, which is just plain wrong.
Students could also try to implement the scholarship at their schools. It's is a student-led campaign that could potentially be replicated in every university in the world. OxSRC is currently writing a book about their experience as a guide for others to set similar programs elsewhere.
Finally, donate! The OxSRC is currently running an emergency funding appeal because current funds collected at this stage are insufficient to support each refugee. OxSRC has a month to try and raise as much as possible to help the highest number of applicants pursue or resume their education. Spread the word or make a direct personal contribution here.