Print and Features Editor Alex Boscott speaks to Head Rep of the University of Birmingham (UoB) SolidariTee team Olivia Carroll about the charity, its work and what it means for those in need

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As the UK continues to see swathes of refugees, many of which fleeing from conflict and extreme poverty, questions have been raised in both society and parliament surrounding the fate of those who arrive on Britain’s shores.

For the year ending June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that the UK received 32,423 asylum applications. However, other countries such as Greece (81,465 applications) and Spain (128,520) recorded significantly higher numbers. 

The UNHCR also reports that over 25 million people are currently classed as refugees in the world. 

Founded in 2017 by then-first year University of Cambridge student Tiara Shar Ataii, SolidariTee was formed in order to raise funds for, and awareness of, the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. In its 3 year existence, SolidariTee has expanded significantly and now has volunteers from 36 universities across 6 countries – establishing its UoB branch in 2019. 

SolidariTee was formed in order to raise funds for, and awareness of, the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe

Redbrick spoke to the Head Rep of the University of Birmingham SolidariTee branch Olivia Carroll about the charity and her experiences as a volunteer. 

What inspired you to join SolidariTee?

I’ve personally always found volunteering and helping others very fulfilling and rewarding. Particularly regarding the refugee crisis, I often watched the news and felt powerless as I had this desire to do something about it but was unsure of how to approach it. I love the fact that the Tees are designed by refugee and asylum-seeking artists, as it gives them a voice rather than us as privileged individuals just imposing our ideas on their experiences.

What does it mean to you? What do you hope comes from your fundraising?

SolidariTee is far more than just selling generic t-shirts that are unrelated to the cause. When I wear my SolidariTee, I’m making a statement that I stand in solidarity with refugees. It’s a visual denunciation of the UK government’s policy of creating a hostile environment for people who genuinely just want to live their lives in safety. Not only does the money raised go directly towards NGOs, predominantly providing legal aid for refugees in Greece, but it also raises awareness of the refugee crisis and encourages productive conversations about the issue.

From fundraising, I hope to allow people in vulnerable situations to flee to safety without being obstructed by complex asylum processes. Legal Aid underpins the crucial rights to shelter, citizenship, education and healthcare. Without the cultural capital or specific legal knowledge, people with genuine claims to asylum may be refused. The provision of legal assistance gives these people the necessary support to navigate the system in a way that ensures they receive the rights they are entitled to. Legal Aid is a sustainable form of aid.

Aside from providing legal aid, what do you hope SolidariTee can do as a symbol?

SolidariTee is expanding, with teams across more than 50 universities globally. Both on a local level in Brum and on an international scale, I’d love to really establish SolidariTee’s name in the student psyche so everyone knows who we are and what we stand for. I want SolidariTee to empower and encourage people to have those often difficult conversations about the refugee crisis. It’s vital that we all know how to stand up for what is important and keep the momentum going when the mainstream media often falls silent.

In your view, how can universities themselves help SolidariTee or the refugee legal aid effort?

This may sound obvious, but education and awareness! I’m unsure whether this is specific to the course I study, but I personally was unaware of the complexity of the asylum seeking process and the unfairness. For instance, lawyers in Greece are very oversubscribed which means unfortunately people may have to navigate their interviews without support. I believe the student population are very receptive to global issues and more would be willing to help to tackle the refugee crisis and ill-treatment of refugees. This is why education and awareness come in, which is obviously what SolidariTee are trying to provide!

Do you have any plans for future fundraising at UoB?

Yes! We are organising both fundraising and awareness-raising events per term. In early December, we will be holding a Panel Discussion on the history of the refugee crisis; whether and how the experiences of being a refugee have changed over the decades. We have some very knowledgeable panellists lined up, so regardless of how much you know about the refugee crisis, it’s a great chance to learn some more about it and ask any questions you may have.

You can keep in the loop with our events and what the team is getting up to on our Facebook group.

How can students get involved?

SolidariTee is entirely student-run, which means it’s the perfect organisation for university students to get involved with!

  • Buy a T-shirt! There are 34 reps at UOB, each with a variety of designs, sizes and colours of SolidariTees to sell! They are ethically and sustainably made and incredibly comfortable (which I can definitely vouch for!) Anyone who is wanting to buy one can get in touch with me (Olivia Carroll) personally, or drop us an email on birmingham@solidaritee.org.uk. More than £7.50 from each of the £10 t-shirts, and £8.10 of the £12 organic t-shirts, goes straight to NGOs working to provide legal aid and other crucial services.
  • Attend our events- we will be holding a range of fun and informative fundraising and awareness-raising events, with all proceeds going to a very worthy cause.
  • Write a letter to your local MP to pressure the government to re-evaluate their harsh, restrictive response to asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean. So many deaths can be prevented. Click here for a template.
  • Find out more information on SolidariTee’s website. There are lots of accessible and informative graphics, providing plenty of background on the various regions and policies which are integral to the Refugee Crisis.

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