StARS Part 2: Now I can Dream

StARS Part 2: Now I can Dream

Whenever I go through the gates at St Andrew’s, there are always people there. Many are waiting – waiting to see a counselor or a lawyer, eager to get some advice.  Children are inevitably playing football, and it is always good to see the mixture of ages and nationalities. Football seems to unite.

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One little Syrian girl was content to swing on a tyre hanging by a rope from a tree, while her parents looked on, glad to find a moment’s peace, compared with the horrors they have doubtless experienced. All the people gathered at St Andrew’s have their own stories to tell, many of them heartbreaking. But at St Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) we offer them a safe space and assistance.

 

Education
StARS has several main areas in which it works. The first is education, and that is where it all began. The refugee communities have difficulty gaining access to the Egyptian school system, and the few who do often encounter discrimination, and so there are a number of private schools for refugee children. At StARS there is now:

  • A recently established Montessori Pre-School with 20 pupils between the ages of 2 and 6, mostly vulnerable children from the different refugee communities, and this is taught in English and Arabic.
  • A school (primary/ secondary) with 253 pupils, which follows the Sudanese curriculum, with lessons taught in English. The school is very well regarded, and indeed there are 30 applications for each place. Breakfast and a hot lunch are provided, and pupils are also helped with transport. Most importantly, children from different countries are able to sit together and play together at the break.

StARS also has a big Adult Education programme, with about 2,500 people involved. The courses are primarily English language courses, but there are also vocational courses such as hairdressing and IT. Other courses taught include interview skills and C.V. writing – very practical! Since last year there has also been an emphasis on Educational Access and Capacity Building. This is especially aimed at training teachers from the Syrian community, who often come from a non-teaching background. They are highly educated, but are unable to find jobs in their own areas and so become teachers – StARS steps in to help provide them with basic classroom skills.

Psycho-Social
Another area which is expanding is Psycho-Social, which works to improve the situation a client might find themselves in, encouraging within them a resilience to cope. In 2013 there were 8 people in this department, but now there are 60, mostly from the refugee community. It is within this department that you find one-to-one counselling over a whole range of issues, though housing features high, as it is often problematic to find decent housing, and refugees are often exploited by landlords and charged higher rents. Sexual violence is another big area that Psycho -Social deals with. It also organises various groups such as sport, music and self-defence, and peer-support groups. There is also a medical officer and a network of doctors and pharmacists offering low cost treatment to refugees.

Unaccompanied Children and Youth
Psycho-Social also deals with Unaccompanied Children and Youth (UYC). These are young people under the age of 18 who arrive in Egypt without parents and who are at great risk of exploitation. StARS have been able to support 580, though there are another 400 on the waiting list. Many of the unaccompanied youth come from countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea, and because they are not Arabic speakers, the risk of exploitation is even higher. However, StARS runs a super Bridging Programme for UYC, which runs for two semesters of 5 months and which teaches  subjects like English, Arabic, maths and IT, and life skills. 179 are enrolled in this programme, and in it they are allowed to be normal teenagers.

One of them said; ‘Before I didn’t have hope, but now I can dream’. This programme has recently been shortlisted for a big international prize, so watch this space…!

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StARS Part 1: Hope for Refugees

StARS Part 1: Hope for Refugees

I am so proud of the work that this little congregation does”, says Kirsten Fryer, the pastor of St Andrew’s. “Because we are here, thousands of refugees recognize St Andrew’s as a safe space, and hundreds worship within our walls. I truly believe that the work we do matters and is a reflection of our call to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”.

Kirsten is referring to StARS, the St Andrew’s Refugee Service, which has been in operation since 1979, when a group of members of the congregation saw a need to form a class to teach English to some refugees from Ethiopia. Since then the number of refugees in Egypt has rocketed, and StARS has grown from a handful of volunteers to an organization with 177 paid staff. Of the paid staff, 80% are from the refugee community. All staff, both international and refugee, are paid on the same scale, which is unusual.

It is estimated that there are 65.3 million refugees worldwide (November 2016), 40 million of which are internally displaced people. Over 50% of refugees come from three countries: Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan. Whilst Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Jordan host large numbers of refugees, the number of refugees in Egypt has also increased as it is surrounded by countries facing war or internal tension –such as Libya, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen.

Many refugees make their way towards the coast around Alexandria to attempt to cross the Mediterranean, and numbers registered in Egypt are around 190,000. At St Andrew’s over 10,300 displaced people were assisted in 2015, but this year it has already risen to 16,500. There are a growing number of unaccompanied minors to help, and an ever increasing number of refugees from Syria.

Most of the refugees coming to Egypt are looking to be resettled elsewhere and so have to register with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), who then interview families and, if approved, refer them to a country like Canada or the United States for resettlement. The United Kingdom is shamefully way behind other countries in the number of places it offers for resettlement.

In 2016 approximately 6,000 refugees in Egypt were resettled, but that is, of course, out of 190,000. In other countries, refugees can eventually become citizens of the country in which they settle. This is not the case in Egypt (except if they were to marry an Egyptian!), and so many refugees who have lived in Cairo for years are still deemed refugees and as such have to apply for a renewal of their permit to stay in the country every few months. Egypt does not allow refugees the right to work, and so refugees have to work illegally. They do not have any redress if anything goes wrong. Refugees do not have a feeling of security in Egypt and so are anxious to move on. The vast majority would prefer to go back to their home countries, but sadly that is not a feasible option in most cases.

Needless to say, this keeps the Legal Aid team at StARS very busy. It is made up of over 20 lawyers, often young lawyers from overseas who take a year out. They work closely with the UNHCR over resettlement, and review the cases of refugees whose applications for resettlement have been rejected by the UNHCR. Some cases are eligible to appeal, and in September alone there were 36 such appeals. The lawyers also work with those applying to be registered as refugees. Without refugee status, you are quite unprotected.  A number of Oromo from Ethiopia find themselves in this category; although they feel discriminated against within Ethiopia, their application to be considered as refugees is rejected.

StARS is an amazing organization, providing hope for so many people. The proceeds of the recent St Andrew’s Christmas Bazaar went to the Emergency Fund, which is used to help refugees in extreme need. As a member of St Andrew’s and one of the volunteers, I am honoured to be associated with it. To read more about it, visit the website.