Scott Mehan and Emma Tveit deliver a presentation on helping refugees Charlie Fraser

The Cambridge University Save the Children Society welcomed representatives from the charity Refugee Utility Project for an event in Clare College on Thursday.

The Refugee Utility Project is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that is working to alleviate the suffering caused by the Syrian refugee crisis, especially focusing on refugees currently in Jordan. It has been operational for nine months and was set up in order to better deal with the difficulties that bigger NGOs face.

The event comprised a presentation from Scott Mehan and Emma Tveit on the issues the charity is trying to combat, the current work that is being done and plans for the future, and finally a Q&A session.

Mehan and Tveit, the Director of Overseas Operations and Head of Communications and Research respectively, spoke first about the problems in Jordan. Currently, there are about 655,000 registered refugees in the country as a result of the danger and disruption caused by the Syrian Civil War.

One of the more important issues which Mehan raised was the fact that around 80 per cent of refugees are living outside of officially recognised camps. He pointed out that this “makes it very hard to track numbers” and determine what exactly is going on.

Those who live outside recognised camps must either take up residence in cities, as so called ‘urban refugees’, or in what are known as ‘Informal Tented Settlements’ (ITSs). This causes a number of problems, including a lack of rights, particularly when trying to get work. Tveit warned that “if refugees are caught working illegally then they can get deported back Syria”.

The charity’s approach, according to the pair, is embodied in the maxim, “locate, assess and assist”. It is currently focusing on certain specific projects, including finding work for refugees, especially for those who would normally find it more difficult to get a job. There is also a strong focus on education: they are providing informal education for children in ITSs who have no way to get to a school, and are working with Action for Change Jordan to set up a much better school in the Rukban refugee camp, which is situated on the Jordan-Syrian border.

Sneha Barai, one of the individuals responsible for organising the event, said she “thought the event was a success” and that “it was the perfect opportunity to raise some awareness and discuss the issues refugees face”.

The University’s Save the Children Society exists to raise awareness of the suffering of children across the world, especially as a result of poverty, poor education and conflicts, and to raise money to help alleviate these problems. This was its first ever speaker event. It comes at a time of increasing student support for the plight of refugees in the University, with one student setting up a website to express refugee solidarity. Another has recently produced “Love Trumps Hate” T-shirts to raise money for refugees.

“Since we are supporting the Syrian Crisis Appeal this year, we were really grateful that Scott and Emma could fly in from Jordan to speak about their work”, Barai said. “There’s been so much media coverage about the refugee crisis recently that it’s hard to know the truth, so it was really interesting to hear from people who have seen what the situation on the ground is really like.”

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