Camden Cares: How students from SOAS are supporting inbound Syrian refugees

In January 2016, the SOAS ‘ParliaMentors’ team is launching its ‘Camden Cares’ project, aiming to help accommodate Syrian refugees coming into the UK, and specifically, 20 families the government has approved to stay in the Borough of Camden.

ParliaMentors is a UN award-winning programme, created by the 3 Faiths Forum (3FF). It aims to encourage diversity and tolerance within the political sphere, and to give students a taste of working in politics. Teams are tasked to create and carry out a social action project near their campus.

Raphael Gregorian, Mounir Haddad, Emmanuel Etuh, Nazgol Kafai and Ramie Farag created Camden Cares with the aim of becoming part of the integration support network of the Camden Council, helping to settle incoming refugee families from Syria. The project has three specific goals; firstly, they want to provide sports sessions for refugee children and their families. They have already secured a partnership with the Arsenal Foundation, though third year LLM undergrad Haddad stresses they won’t just be focusing on football, but a range of sports. Secondly, they hope to arrange cultural events such as visits to famous landmarks, and educational field trips to London Zoo and the Houses of Parliament.

Their third and most ambitious aim is to assemble Arabic-speaking volunteers to help with homework and provide translation services. For this, they believe their institution plays a vital role. “The resources at SOAS are unlimited because so many people are studying Arabic as part of their degrees”, said second year LLM undergrad Etuh. Haddad continued, “there is no other institution in the UK that houses this many Arabic speaking/learning students so we wanted to take advantage of this”.

It’s no surprise that they would choose to create a social-impact project focusing on refugees; not only one of the most pressing issues in the world today, but one with which the team feel particular empathy. “Our team comprises of people who have migrated into the UK; we’re all international students and we’ve all faced the struggle of having to leave home and adjust in a new environment. In a way, we all have a personal and emotional connection to this cause”, explains Etuh. Additionally, they hope to help break the stereotypes surrounding Syrian refugees, particularly the belief that refugees are harmful to British society and will try to steal jobs.

Although the project has yet to officially launch, it has received massive support from several sources. Startup-funding has come from O2 Think Big, the 3 Faiths Forum and the SOAS students’ union. As well as the cooperation of Camden Council and the Arsenal Foundation, the team was also privileged enough to receive public support from Ed Miliband, during his speech at the 2015 MP of the Year Awards.

The team has high hopes for the project, and intend that work will carry on even after the expected end date in April. “We want to create a point of sustainability whereby students continue to help these people”, explains Haddad. If the team can generate strong support when it launches, then they may be able to attract funding from other outlets, potentially allowing them to extend the reach and timespan of the project. They are also looking to expand it to other London and UK universities, and gain attention from MPs who could push the project elsewhere.

In a world of increasing discrimination and violence, having students actively working to make a positive change should act as a source of inspiration and hope.

Right now the team is working to increase awareness, and to attract volunteers and backing. You can find them on Twitter @camdencares and on Tumblr. You can also email Haddad at 593797@soas.ac.uk and Etuh at 596339@soas.ac.uk.


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