Hundreds of Sheffield residents packed a public meeting this morning to discuss the international refugee crisis and find out how they can help.
More than 300 people attended the Sheffield Refugees Welcome meeting held at the University of Sheffield’s Firth Court as a range of speakers informed those gathered how the city is responding to the crisis in and around Syria.
It comes after Sheffield Council announced the city will immediately welcome about 50 Syrian refugees in addition to 130 refugees it has already agreed to rehome under the national Government Gateway Protection Programme this year.
Representatives from various refugee help groups and charities attended the meeting including Northern Refugee Centre, Assist and Voluntary Action Sheffield.
Abdi Sulieman, an engagement officer at the University of Sheffield, said: “The idea of the meeting is to see what we can do to help as a city and what we can do better.
“And what better place to have it than at the University of Sheffield, which is the university of sanctuary, in Sheffield, the city of sanctuary.
“Not only was the room full of people, but they were staying, busy signing up to do things to help out over the next few weeks, months and years.
“We have to make sure that as a city we continue to express our empathy and the sense that even though things might be difficult in this city, we can still do good things for those from outside.”
The issue of refugees being welcomed to Sheffield has proved divisive among some readers.
Suzie Robinson said on Facebook: “Why does The Star think most people in Sheffield want them here. Clearly not the case. But you only want to promote that people do want them here just to make the do-gooders look good.”
Simon Bell added: “We don’t want them. End of discussion.”
Mr Sulieman argued that those opposed to refugees have been affected by ‘years’ of scaremongering.
He added: “Lots of people have made quite problematic arguments over several years; they have desperately tried to convince people that we should be scared of each other, that we should fear each other, but in reality the benefits that come from new people coming are incredible.
“To take one single example, a Nobel prize winner at this university was a refugee from Germany. Had he not been taken in, this university and this city would have one less Nobel prize winner to be proud of.
“Our city comes from a tradition of people sacrificing themselves by going off to war.
“Our city has memorials of peace, a history of trade unionism, a history of people who actually sacrifice a lot of their time and energy towards creating the politics of a city where people actually care about each other and aren’t just in it for themselves.
“That’s an incredibly powerful message that Sheffield gets to send, not only to each other but out of the city as well.
“The more we send that positive message, the more we are able to take even greater pride in our city.”
Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Sheffield, said: “As we approach a new academic year, we do so aware of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
“Members of University staff, students and alumni are increasingly concerned by the desperate situation facing refugees and many have asked how they can help.
“As an international community, we also have direct and personal connections to the areas affected, and our university family includes those who are alive today because this country welcomed them or their families when they were fleeing conflict or tyranny. We include amongst our number many examples of how today’s refugee can and does become tomorrow’s teacher or doctor, musician or scientist.
The university and Students’ Union are committed to doing our part to help welcome refugees and are ready in particular to assist our city as required. This has been our tradition since this institution was founded. University staff and student societies already work with refugees in Sheffield in numerous ways. Many have lobbied government to offer humanitarian support. Our university is a university of sanctuary.
“As an international community deeply committed to the values of education we are committed to doing our part to build a more just and humane society.
“We want to do our part to support those who need this commitment more than ever.”
Last week, The Star reported that a charity helping refugees in Sheffield, Northern Refugee Centre, is facing closure unless it can raise £100,000 to keep its services running.