Three months ago, the Justice4Sanaz campaign launched the #UnisResistBorderControls campaign at SOAS. This urgent campaign brings together grassroots activists and campaigners to oppose widespread abuses against non-EU international students and staff within the British higher education system.
The neoliberal higher education system in the UK is guilty of marginalising non-EU international scholars and students. Universities use non-EU international students, especially those who are Black and people of colour (POC), as “cash cows” to prop up a neoliberal university system that exploits non-EU, EU and British students for their tuition fees. Meanwhile, VCs enjoy pay-rises and inflated six figure salaries. In addition, as Fighting Against Casualisation in Education has consistently shown, the neoliberal higher education system marginalizes lecturers and university workers on casual contracts, contracts which disproportionately affect women, Black people, and POC.
The university also works hand in hand with the Home Office and UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) to effectively act as border control on campus. Non-EU international students, academics, lecturers and university workers routinely are met with state and institutional violence because of their immigration status. As a result, these groups often feel isolated and marginalised within the Ivory Tower. Both universities and the Home Office use this isolation to further abuse and treat with contempt non-EU international university students and workers. This year, a report showed that Home Office Secretary Theresa May wrongfully deported almost 50,000 non-EU international students. Similarly, reports continue to emerge of non-EU international students and researchers being detained by UKVI and placed into detention centres; see, for example, the case of Dr Paul Hamilton, who was arrested and detained for 10 days at the Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre with no warning while his application to stay in the UK was in the midst of being processed. Kate Blagojevic from the campaign Detention Action explained in this Guardian piece about Morton Hall,
“People are held without time limit in high-security immigration detention centres such as Morton Hall. Their mental and physical health deteriorates rapidly and they often find it hard to access legal representation. People can be held for months or even years but ultimately don’t know how long they will be locked up for.”
In 2014, the Justice4Sanaz campaign chronicled the exploitation of non-EU students and lecturers alike in a statement published in Ceasefire Magazine. In that statement, which was endorsed by over 100 academics and activists, we implored the UK “to speak out and take the lead as professionals and intellectuals against turning the country’s higher education institutions into a racist money making endeavour, destroying the spirit and integrity of the very idea of knowledge and learning.”
Also in 2014, the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Black Students Campaign (BSC) passed motion 102, entitled, “Black International Students.” In this motion, the NUS and the BSC resolved to support Black international students by creating a “know your legal rights” workshop and to campaign to “eliminate discrimination from any attendance monitoring practices.” However, in the past two years, the NUS and BSC have failed to act on this motion, or to work with grassroots groups to challenge racist and xenophobic policies within higher education institutions and the Home Office.
This brief history shows that while student activists and the public are aware that the current immigration controls affect refugees, asylum seekers and those languishing inside detention centres, very few consider how immigration policy affects non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers. There has been very little done by student and community activists to counter the exploitative surveillance regime instituted by the Home Office. Urgent solidarity and action is needed to protect not only asylum seekers and refugees, but also non-EU international students, scholars, and staff.
In response to this need, on the 5th of March, #UnisResistBorderControls had our first meeting. We were joined by representatives from Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, SOAS Justice for Cleaners, Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE), #DontDeportLuqman campaign, and the Save Kelechi campaign along with a barrister specialising in immigration law from Garden Court Chambers, Ms Bryony Poynor, who discussed at length about the changing landscape of immigration laws and policy.
A write up of the meeting can be accessed here.
Three weeks after our meeting, we wrote a statement that was published on Media Diversified and endorsed by over 40 academics and activists, stating:
“#UnisResistBorderControls wants to see a fundamental end to UKVI and PREVENT surveillance and the intimidation of non-EU international students, scholars and university workers. We want to see universities and unions take a strong stand against such policies and to cease using these racist and xenophobic measures to disenfranchise and marginalize non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers. We want to see provisions in place for non-EU internationals to be able to seek recourse against their higher education institutions without it affecting their visa-status and/or having their precarious immigration status repeatedly threatened. We call on British students, lecturers and university workers to not collude or be complicit with the border controls culture on university campuses. #UnisResistBorderControls stands in solidarity with Luqman Onikosi (#DontDeportLuqman), Kelechi Chioba (#SaveKelechi), Lord Elias Mensah Apetsi (#SaveLord), Sanaz Raji (#Justice4Sanaz) and the many other non-EU international students, scholars and university workers who are not publicly known, but are oppressed by both Home Office violence and exploitation by their universities. End border controls and the culture of surveillance on our campuses!”
As the next step in our campaign, #UnisResistBorderControls will assemble a zine in which non-EU international students, academics and university workers outline their experiences within higher education and with the Home Office. The zine will also include a “know your legal rights” section.
With the support of FACE, we are collecting testimonies, stories and art work from non-EU international students, lecturers, and university workers who have face institutional and state violence to include in this zine. We plan to publish the zine in the 2016-2017 academic year.
Topics for discussion in this zine include:
– Racism and xenophobia on and off campus
– Being denied the right to rent because of your visa status and/or having difficulties in finding a place to rent because you are non-EU international (especially Black and POC)
– Home Office & UK Visa and Immigration
– Sexism & Sexuality
– Disability discrimination
– Employment discrimination
– Lack of academic and pastoral support
– Mental health issues
– Bullying and mobbing in higher education
Please send your testimonies, stories, and artwork that might relate to any of the topics outlined above. Please indicate in your message if you would like to have your name cited with your contribution, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous. Finally, please include the university at which the incident occurred, along with your course (BA/BS, MA/MS or PhD). Send all materials to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: UK Border, Terminal 4, London Heathrow by David McKelvey