Standing in SolidariTee: Changes in the Refugee Crisis and Student Activism

Madeleine Hancock, the SolidariTee Secretary, looks at present and future issues facing the refugee crisis and the campaigns that seek to resolve it.  

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our fantastic team, York-based students have probably heard of SolidariTee around campus by now. For those who haven’t, SolidariTee is an entirely student-led charity that offers grants to NGOs and students working in legal aid for refugees. These grants are enabled by the sales of our wonderful t-shirts, supported by a highly visible, successful social media campaign that also serves to raise awareness about the refugee crisis.

SolidariTee works to promote social justice and equality, fundraising to improve the lives of those who need it most. The charity promotes this ethos in everything it does, including the manufacturing of our shirts. Solidaritees are produced in WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) and OEKO-TEX credited factories.

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The current t-shirt design

This means that not only are they free from any harmful chemicals or colourants, they also promote a fair workplace environment that is subject to numerous International Labor Organization (ILO) conditions. Ethically produced fashion that helps refugees and does not damage the environment, what more could you want?

SolidariTee associates with environmental issues in other ways too. Underpinning any discussion of migration is the knowledge that it is inherently multi-faceted and in recent years, we have found ourselves facing the issue of climate migration. Climate migration is a phenomenon that is quite difficult to identify since the impacts of climate change may not be the only reason people flee an area or nation.

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York based Solidaritee team

Let’s take the example of the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, where low lying areas face the danger of rising sea levels and salinity intrusion. By 2050, it is predicted that at least a 30cm rise in sea levels will result in the acceleration of salinity intrusion and damage to structures. Only continuing to worsen in the following years, forcing people to flee. However, similarly low-lying areas of the Netherlands, for example, are much better protected by defences and dams and therefore displacement and migration of people is less likely.

So, when people flee the Mekong Delta, can we say the cause is the impacts of climate change or the lack of infrastructure necessary to protect the land? The answer is both. Hence why climate migration, and migration in general, calls for the consideration of so many different factors. Even with this ambiguity surrounding the definition of an ‘environmental migrant’, the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) predicts that 200 million people across the world will be displaced or forced to migrate for environmental reasons by 2050.

It is therefore crucial to consider the ever-evolving nature of the refugee crisis. As we look to the current ‘crisis’ as we know it, and attempt to resolve it, we must also recognise its multi-faceted nature that is only set to increase in complexity in the future and, therefore, approaches to aid will need to start reflecting such complexities.

The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, social groups, or political opinion”. This statement does not include natural disaster or the impacts of climate change in its definition of a refugee.

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The most recent photo shoot in Bristol

It is evident that the refugee crisis is continuously being reshaped according to the times; we do not even have the correct legislation to help the people who need it. What would you say makes someone a refugee? A definition in the most basic sense would be someone who flees their home because they feel they are at risk if they remain. If this is the case, surely climate migrants should be included and receive the same aid and treatment as any other refugee. However, to make the changes in legislation that we need to see in coming years, we need more than just lawyers and experts in the ‘current’ refugee crisis.

We will have to acknowledge the need for new experts, such as scientists and ecologists, and include their opinion to make effective change. The cooperation of movements, both refugee and climate campaigns, is essential. These campaigns must recognise the need to stand and work together, acknowledging the fact that these problems are intrinsically linked.

Migration is a global phenomenon and climate migration has borne this out to an even greater degree and that is why campaigns, such as SolidariTee, that have a global footprint and a global outlook, are what we need to solve this problem. SolidariTee consistently works to promote the quality that gives it its name. Not only does the charity endorse standing in solidarity with refugees through providing legal aid and raising awareness, it also brings students together across the country and, now, the world too.

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The two different designs for this year’s campaign

SolidariTee has three teams based in the US, as well as the thirty across the UK, and works with language students on their year abroad who sell t-shirts and promote the campaign internationally. So far, in just two years, the organisation has amassed £48,000 of donations and is rapidly expanding. Therefore, in part by ensuring the ethical, and environmentally safe manufacturing of its t-shirts, SolidariTee promotes and contributes to a much wider ethos which is represented internationally and thus makes a substantial difference in the lives of people around the world. It recognises the need to show solidarity for not just one cause, but many. And with over 500 students involved in five countries, what better place to start?

About the Author: Maddie Hancock is the secretary for SolidariTee, a charity started by students back in 2017 raising money through the selling of unique t-shirts to fund legal aid for refugees in Greece.

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