On Friday 21st of June 2024, the Refugee Rights Hub hosted an fashion event to celebrate Refugee Week. The purpose was to showcase the work of displaced people and the organisations that support them in Sheffield. Every aspect of the event was by and for these groups. The catering was supplied by Open Kitchen Social Club, a 10-year old Sheffield institution that gives work and work experience to refugees and people seeking asylum, and offers free meals to at the City of Sanctuary and Victoria Hall twice a week. A local arts collective called Khula Arts performed dancing and drumming at the event, and we worked with a sewing group run by a local charity, whose service users showcased garments they had made and modelled them on the runway.

The event also crossed Hallam departments. It was made possible through a huge volunteering effort that brought together student volunteers and staff, from administrators to lecturers, events to estates, and many more in between. The fashion department generously offered advice in the planning process and loaned mannequins and clothes rails for the event. Also contributing were the film department, who throughout the week ran a summer school for refugees and people seeking asylum to learn filmmaking skills and tell their own stories. We showed these short films at the event, and the summer school participants were there to film the fashion show too. We’ll be able to share this footage soon.

We also used the opportunity to raise funds for the Refugee Rights Hub so that it can continue its important and innovative legal work with refugees. In 2012, refugee family reunion was removed from legal aid in England and Wales (it is still accessible through legal aid in Scotland and Northern Ireland). This, in effect, meant that the right to a family life, enshrined in international law, became accessible only to those who could afford it because immigration solicitors and caseworkers could no longer be reimbursed for this work. Since 2018, Sheffield Hallam University’s Refugee Rights Hub has been committed to giving access to this fundamental human right by offering clients in Yorkshire and Humberside advice and support with refugee family reunion on a pro-bono basis. This gives access to the “safe and legal routes” one hears of in the news. In reality, while we facilitate legal routes, they are often far from “safe”. Our clients have included people rendered effectively stateless like Uyghur people from China and Bidoon people from Kuwait; Ukrainian people fleeing the Russian invasion; Syrian and Sudanese people fleeing their respective country’s civil wars; Afghan people fleeing The Taliban; and currently Palestinians fleeing Gaza. Many of the clients we work with are people in Yorkshire whose families are caught up in conflicts, and by working with students we are exposing the next generation of solicitors, caseworkers, and policy makers to how the headlines impact both their neighbours and people across the globe.

We are immensely proud that Sheffield Hallam University provides a space to do this work and that it supports the people working in the hub to give refugees access to the rights to which they are entitled. The hub has helped more than 1000 family members be reunited with their loved ones: wives with husbands, parents with children and adopted children, girlfriends and boyfriends with girlfriends and boyfriends, uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews, grandparents with grandchildren – we turn so few people away because we know that there is nowhere else they can turn to. We need to pay for translations of documents, DNA tests, psychiatric reports, social work reports, and other disbursements to give our clients the best chance of having their applications granted. This aspect of our work is currently supported by the Hallam Fund, and you can support our work here. Staff and students can be proud that Sheffield Hallam University is a University of Sanctuary that supports refugees and people seeking asylum through the Sanctuary Scholarships, through access to its libraries, and through SHU Progress. This work is also made possible through the Hallam Fund, which you can support here.

If you would like to raise money for The Refugee Rights Hub through your own events, please contact hkcrefugeerights@shu.ac.uk

Photo credit: @jacob_flannery_