Niall Devlin, Contributor
Hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from across the Middle East and North Africa have undertaken the monumental and perilous journey of fleeing war torn countries, in search of a better life.
The QUB Students Union has been doing its part to aid the refugee crisis. Belfast Refugee Solidarity, a community group set up at the beginning of September, aimed at organising aid drop-offs all over Belfast, in order to provide basic supplies to refugees and asylum seekers in the French coastal town of Calais. The first collection at Queens started on Saturday 5th September – in the Enterprise suite in the SU building – and carried on through to the following two Saturdays (12th and 19th September).
On the first Saturday, an event was organised and was broadcast on social media asking people to donate, and also to come down and help with the collection which took place from 9am – 12 noon.
Politics Professor John Barry, who has helped direct the project, said that over the first two Saturdays around 70 people volunteered to help with the effort. He described the response from QUBSU staff and officers as “fantastic” and that they “could not have been more accommodating and helpful.” He went on to describe the response by students as “brilliant.”
“[It involved] taking in donations from cars, vans, sorting the donations, packing and labelling them and delivering them to storage.
“For the first collection on Saturday 5th September we had to extend the time to 1pm due to the volume of donations received,” he said.
Items collected included clothes for men, woman and children (many of them brand new), tents, sleeping bags, torches, lamps, food, money, even bicycles and much more.
Lush Cosmetics, located in Belfast City Centre, sent a box full of soaps and other sanitary products, and the Clements Coffee in the SU also donated tea and coffee to the volunteers.
Vice President for Campaigns and Communications Seán Fearon, who has helped orchestrate the collections and who has been pioneered this campaign, described it as “very organic” and “overwhelmingly successful.”
“So many people had already said they would help and volunteer, it was just a matter of harnessing that support.
“We tried to keep people focused specifically for Calais where it’s almost entirely men, and less woman and children clothes were needed, but because people were so generous and compassionate, you don’t want to turn it away,” he said.
“Many of the donations that we have gotten have to gone NICRAS, (Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers) because there are actually 300 refugees here at the moment, who are destitute. So we said just take what you need from them, and in that sense we have immediately helped refugees here.”
The Students’ Union was just one of many drop-off points across the city set up to collect food, money and supplies. Other such drop-offs included the Cultúrlann in West Belfast and the Dock Bar in Titanic Quarter.