Refugee Week – Nurturing Compassion and Critical Thinking

Around 20 people seated around three round tables, talking, with pens and flipchart paper.

On 21 June, as the first part of a year-long programme beginning in Refugee Week, we held a round table event with a small invited group of people whose experience of working with young people fed in to a discussion about cultivating compassion and critical thinking in young people around the issues of refugeeism. The focus of the discussion was on how to work with young people who may not have had the right opportunities to explore refugeeism or who may hold ambivalent or anti-refugee feelings. We will use this discussion to inform our work around refugeeism throughout the year, including the production of a guidance document which we will share with educators.

The following report of the event was written by Durian Malhotra, a member of UoM library student team and currently studying Environmental Science

During Refugee Week 2023 the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre in Manchester Central Library held a roundtable discussion to address a pressing question: How can we nurture compassion towards refugees and critical thinking about refugeeism among young people? The aim was to look at how educators and others working with young people can ensure that the 0.5% refugee population in the UK (as highlighted by Refugee Action) receives the response it deserves, particularly from future voters.  

The diverse group of accomplished individuals engaged in thought-provoking discussions, exploring the meaning of compassion and critical thinking and sharing successful event examples. As a library student member from UoM, I was enraptured by the stimulating conversations being held. 

Many questions were asked ranging from what compassion and critical thinking looked like to past events participants held that worked. A major insight was the topic of safe spaces. We asked participants, “How do we create safe spaces, where changes can happen?”. Answers centred on local spaces in the community as they were familiar and accessible. Solidarity and trust were key.  

Education emerged as a vital tool. With the large number of educators in the room, whether they were school-teachers, university professors, lecturers, or library staff, it was agreed education was a powerful delivery method.  By including refugee-related issues into school curricula, educators can help students develop empathy and compassion through understanding the causes of displacement, the difficulties experienced, and the refugee experience.  

Personal stories were also emphasized as a powerful means to nurture compassion. Inviting refugees to share their narratives establishes human connections and provides invaluable insights into their realities, fostering empathy and understanding. 

Media literacy plays a crucial role. Teaching young people to critically analyze information about refugees, discern reliable sources, and recognize bias helps form a nuanced understanding of refugee issues. Additionally, partnerships with refugee organizations provide practical opportunities for engagement, empowering young people to contribute to the well-being and rights of refugees, nurturing compassion and critical thinking. 

Using the RACE Centre resources was also a vital part of the discussion. With its plethora of archives, a beautiful picture of our history can be used to paint awareness for refugees. One question that was asked was, “How could we use the RACE Centre’s archive and library collections in curriculum-based teaching?”. Many ideas were raised such as using the oral histories collections as a framework for learning about refugees.  

As a student and young person, it was great to see so many fascinating ideas and events that we could embody to create an inclusive future for our peers. As the future voters, I believe the power we hold is immeasurable and invaluable that should use to cultivate compassion.  
Overall, refugees deserve more than a week of awareness. If we need to look forward, we need to look beyond a hashtag on Twitter, and into a future with compassion and critical thinking. Into a future where labels aren’t the only parts of our identity, and discussions are the first step, not the last.