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23rd February 2016

Refugees & The Homeless: Real Stories

Manchester Global Health Society’s first event of 2016 was an evening dedicated to raising awareness for the homeless and refugees, through real life stories

A ‘Refugees and the Homeless – Real Life Stories’ event was organised by the student-run Manchester Global Health Society, who aim to educate students and the public on the importance of health care and public health through the use of workshops, events, and blogs.

The society believes that the solution to many global health issues must be sustainable in order to provide the most effective help, and that we should adopt a ‘think globally, but act locally’ attitude when tackling such issues. As a society they have already received a number of prestigious awards, such as Best New Society and an award for services to health and wellbeing at the International Festival for Public Health.

Both the refugee crisis and homelessness issues, such as the newly-constructed camps in Manchester city centre by homeless protesters, have received immense coverage in the media recently. The sold out event consisted of talks from two guest speakers, Gulwali Passarlay and Haider Khokhar, and a ‘People’s Panel’ discussion.

The People’s Panel consisted of Victoria Fowler, a dental student at the university who recently undertook voluntary work at the refugee camp in Calais; Ryan Khurana, a soup kitchen facilitator and president of a student-led homeless charity, Saint Vincent de Paul Society; Josh Strange, a third year medical student involved in Ancoats Urban Village Health Outreach Project; and Dr Pip Fisher, a GP with an interest in the homeless, refugees, and the marginalised.

The event began with Gulwali Passarlay, author of The Lightless Sky, TEDx speaker, and student at The University of Manchester. At the age of twelve, he embarked on a year long journey from his war-torn home in Afghanistan to Britain. It took five years for him to be granted refugee status and a further five years to be granted citizenship.

Gulwali recently returned to the refugee camp in Calais, which has now been branded by the media as the “Jungle”. He described the situation as inhumane, and spoke of his frustration that situations reflective of his own experiences are still very much apparent in the 21st century. He ended his talk with a simple but powerful question: “What will you do if your homes become war zones?”

Gulwali’s heartfelt story highlighted the true extent of the crisis. When asked what more could be done to help refugees, Gulwali explained the importance of engaging with society and showing compassion. He spoke of welcoming refugees with both respect and dignity and providing more opportunities, such as scholarships for universities to allow refugees to achieve their aspirations.

Haider Khokhar, a University of Manchester graduate and social entrepreneur, focused his talk on homelessness. In February 2013 Haider decided to use the money he won in a competition to help kick start a window cleaning company for a homeless man known as Glaswegian George. Anonymous donations and support from local businesses allowed George to develop skills and gain an income. However, the story took a dramatic turn when George was evicted from a property and was found to be using illegal substances. Haider explained how at first he believed that the solution to this problem was money, however he now believes that sustainability, patience, and persistence play a more fundamental role in tackling the issue of homelessness.

When asked what advice could be given to students that wished to get involved with helping both refugees and the homeless, the People’s Panel pointed to a variety of charities and organisations that specialise in this field. Such organisations included the St Vincent de Paul Society, Barnabus, Cornerstones, Refugee Action Manchester, Manchester Central Food Bank, and the Students’ Union Outreach project. The group also encouraged people to speak to homeless individuals, as this may often be the only conversation they have had that day.

The People’s Panel pointed out that a lot of work has been and is currently being done to help both refugees and the homeless. This includes providing the homeless with food packages and rough sleeper information packs that highlight places offering help and emergency accommodation. Voluntary work and donations at the refugee camps in Calais have helped to provide emergency health care and shelter.

If you are keen to become a part of the Manchester Global Health Society, or would like more information on global health issues, please visit their website at or alternatively you can follow them on Twitter @GlobalHealthMCR.

Read The Mancunion’s interview with Gulwali Passarlay here.

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