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New RSO advocates for rights of refugees

The Student Advocates for Forced Migrants has only existed since January, but the registered student organization is already making an impact.

The idea for the RSO came from a class executive board members took last semester, said SAFM president and freshman Kaci Clayton. The class was led by Prakash Adhikari, a professor in the department of political science and public administration. The class learned about armed conflict and forced migration.

During the class, the students were given the opportunity to meet refugees at Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Clayton said.

“When we put faces (to the people), we were learning about, it brought some life into the issue,” Clayton said. “They are worthy of our help and their lives really do depend on it.”

The students’ desire to advocate for refugees didn’t end when the class finished. The students began planning the creation of an RSO around winter break with Adhikari as the advisor. After much planning, their first general meeting was a in January.

The organization has three goals in mind, said freshman Julia Dobija, secretary of SAFM. The three pillars are education, advocacy and philanthropy.

The group wants to educate people on campus and in surrounding communities about refugees, Dobija said. A big piece of this requires advocacy, Dobija added. The group’s goal is to advocate and have others advocate for a change in government policy. The group also plans to collect donations for organizations, such as Bethany and Freedom House in Detroit that assist refugees and help them financially in whatever other ways are possible.

Every week, the group’s meetings begin with a “refugee rundown,” which is an opportunity to learn about the current refugee crisis in Syria.

“I actually didn’t know a lot about the refugee crisis before, and then I learned more about it from this group,” freshman Allison Casey said. “Now it’s one of my biggest issues to fight for.”

SAFM has some plans for hosting big events around campus this semester, Clayton said. The group is planning for a panel discussion, tentatively during the first week of April. The RSO’s goal is to educate the campus and community through this discussion. In addition, SAFM hopes to screen movie showings and documentaries.

The group comprises roughly 25 members, Dobija said, but hope to grow in numbers.

“We are very welcoming and want to get many people involved,” Dobija said. “We have a lot of great work we want to do.”

Those interested in joining SAFM can attend the group's general meetings at 8 p.m. Thursdays in Anspach Hall Room 164. The group's Facebook page is Student Advocates for Forced Migrants – SAFM.