Leicester — A global network of universities is helping to create positive change for the experiences of refugees and migrant families. On June 7, scholars and students travelled to the United Nations HQ in New York to share how they are supporting refugees - and how small actions can make a big difference.
Having run support projects for local Leicester refugees through our community engagement program #DMUlocal, De Montfort University was asked by the UN to coordinate a global network of universities committed to encouraging a positive attitude on migration, share strategies on supporting refugees on campuses and most importantly - take action.
We have taken the lead in the higher education sector as advocates of the UN's Together campaign, which aims to create a global support network for refugees worldwide. Our goal? To involve universities and encourage them to use their ample resources to support refugees in their local areas.
To launch the work, De Montfort University held a summit at the UN headquarters back in January with over 600 students and representatives from universities around the world. Here, we discussed the small-scale ways students and their universities could begin to support refugees in their own communities. Nine other universities from countries including Germany, China, America and Cyprus made the trip and shared their inspiring stories.
All universities involved in our campaign commit to working with refugee communities in their local regions to solve a particular issue that has been highlighted, such as access to legal advice and opportunities for work.
Their projects are then shared through the #JoinTogether network, resulting in successful ideas being replicated worldwide - a powerful demonstration of how higher education institutions can be a force for good, not only in their respective communities, but globally as well.
On June 7, Universities #JoinTogether held its first six-month progress meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York to share success stories and ideas - with leaders voting for the projects they want to bring to their campuses.
This conference focused on the campaign's evolution to champion the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with a specific emphasis on SDG 16 to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
We welcomed new universities and have now expanded to include 38 universities and a number of international university associations - creating a global conversation of more than 200 higher education institutions.
The conference voted to implement two programs: one conceived by The University of Pennsylvania promoting high-quality job opportunities for refugees at its institution and with partners, and another from Amsterdam University College, aiming to provide better access to education for refugees. Additional programs highlighted were:
- Universidad de Jaén (Spain): Here, academics and students have been able to support those who are vulnerable not only as refugees, but also because they belong to at-risk ethnic groups, or because of their sexual orientation or religion.
- Every Campus A Refuge at Guilford College (US): By welcoming refugees to their new homes, participating students learn about forced displacement, refugee resettlement and the lives of immigrants. They help organise housing, transport, translation services and meals for new arrivals.
- Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece): The university runs a programme of psychological support and help in accessing health and legal advice.
- The University of Massachusetts in Boston's Refugees Welcome: This non-profit organization focuses on bringing together refugee service providers. Its mission is to provide a platform for refugee organizations, advocate for the expansion of refugee services, and fill any financial gaps.
I am proud of the work accomplished so far and optimistic about the difference it will make in the days and years to come. Changing the narrative around those who have been displaced is a key part of our action charter and one campus, with its resources and brainpower, can make a big difference.
The #JoinTogether network has already grown considerably in a short span of time, but there is still much work to be done. Through organized efforts, higher education truly can make a difference to those who most need it.
*Mark Charlton is responsible for leading DMU's work with the community and has overseen the university's leadership of the #JoinTogether campaign.