For the last two months the Justice4Sanaz campaign has been working with SOAS Students’ Union to bring about an event to discuss and create meaningful and sustainable discussion and action with other anti-racist, migrant rights grassroots campaigners and groups around the situation concerning non-EU international students, academics, and university workers within the neoliberal university system. Recently a study funded by Universities UK and other official higher education bodies claim that non-EU international students are happy with their learning experience in the UK. However, these studies are done not to help create better learning environments for non-EU international students. They are designed to prop up and support the neoliberal higher education system that exploits and treats non-EU international students as cash cows, while giving them very limited and/or no recourses to fight back against the growing injustices that we see both by the Conservative government currently in power and by universities.
From 2012 until now, there have been consistent attacks on non-EU international students by this present Conservative government- whether it be by taking away the post-study work visa option, which allowed non-EU graduates two years to stay and work in the UK, subjecting non-EU international students, especially those who are Black and PoC under humiliating and inhumane surveillance by both UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) and PREVENT, making non-EU migrants (students included) pay a NHS surcharge, and subjecting non-EU international students to further racism and discrimination by granting landlords the ability to check on the immigration status of their tenants. In addition, while activists and campaigners are addressing the woeful institutionalised racism inside British higher education, there is still very little discussed about how institutionalised racism and xenophobia affects Black and PoC who are non-EU international students and university workers.
#UnisResistBorderControls had their first meeting on Saturday 5th March at SOAS, University of London. We were joined by Save Kelechi campaign, The Campaign to Stop the Deportation of Luqman Onikosi, Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary, Fighting Against Casualisation in Education, and the SOAS Justice For Cleaners campaign.
A program from the #UnisResistBorderControls discussion and talks can be found below.
Some photos from the event.
Having various campaigners and groups coming together to specifically discuss the various issues surrounding non-EU international students, scholars and university workers was a crucial step into hopefully putting together some concrete action plans in the next couple of months. Bryony Poynor, an barrister at Garden Court Chambers in London, specializing in immigration law, who was a guest speaker at #UnisResistBorderControls meeting indicated that she would be interested in helping to put together a “know your legal rights” pamphlet for non-EU international students and university staff. We will be exploring this initiative and brainstorming other ideas in the next few weeks.
Post #UnisResistBorderControls meeting, we decided to put together a statement concerning the treatment of non-EU international students, scholars and university workers. This statement was published on Media Diversified and initially endorsed by 41 academics and activists, including members of Fighting Against Casualisation in Education, No Borders Leeds, and the Green Party of England & Wales. Since being published last Wednesday, many other academics and activists have since come to endorse the statement. We would like to acknowledge everyone who has signed the statement. Please find the statement and the full list of signatures below.
Statement by #UnisResistBorderControls Concerning the Treatment of Non-EU International Students, Scholars, and University Workers
On Saturday 5th March, the Justice4Sanaz campaign along with SOAS Students’ Union hosted, #UnisResistBorderControls, a day of discussions and workshops around the treatment of non-EU international students and precarious migrants within higher education. #UnisResistBorderControls came about due to the lack of discussion and action within mainstream student activism around the particular situations af
fecting non-EU international students and migrant workers, especially those who are Black, Muslim, and people of colour (PoC). The discussions and workshops looked to address the ways in which the intersection of UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) and now PREVENT surveillance is used to criminalise, restrict and oppress our bodies.
The racist and xenophobic border controls of Fortress Europe and Fortress Britain – which are responsible for the drowning deaths of countless numbers of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence, often because of or exacerbated by British, EU, and US foreign policy; as well as the imprisonment of migrants in detention centres like Yarl’s Wood or Harmondsworth, where they are inhumanly treated, denied medical care, and sexual violated – are also being used inside British universities, to the detriment of non-EU international students, scholars and university workers.
Since the Conservatives came to power, the punitive culture and policy of border controls targeting non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers is plainly and abundantly evident. In 2012, London Metropolitan University lost its visa sponsorship license, requiring non-EU international students to find another university to continue their studies within 60 days, or face imminent deportation. In the same year, the post-study work visa option, allowing recent non-EU international student graduates two years to work in the UK, was abolished to make way for the very marketised graduate entrepreneur visa, requiring a non-EU student to present ‘genuine and credible’ business ideas. In 2013, it was found that Ulster University and Sunderland University had imposed biometric fingerprinting on non-EU international students to gather attendance data that was sent to the Home Office. Now, most if not all British higher education institutions use an electronic register that is sent to the Home Office to monitor the enrolment of non-EU international students.
The criminalisation of non-EU international students is also evident in other more insidious ways. Academics are required to inform the Home Office if they have any suspicions that a non-EU international student is breaching the conditions of their leave to remain in the UK, or if the student is engaging in ‘suspicious behaviour.’ Putting academics on the front line as border and now thought police for UKVI and also PREVENT has detrimental effects on creating a space for learning and critical engagement, as recently echoed by an academic based at Birkbeck College who recently wrote anonymously, stating, “None of the government’s policies have been tested in this way.” A non-EU international student from the US summed it up best,
“The Home Office’s continued threats towards international students have created an Orwellian monitoring system that shreds the peace of mind and the sense of stability necessary for critical reflection and groundbreaking research. Such meddling undermines the mental wellbeing of young persons and mocks the vocation of people who came to this country to use its libraries and laboratories, and to learn.”
The Orwellian situation vis-a-vis non-EU international students is clearly seen in the case of Dr Paul Hamilton, a noted scholar of Shakespeare and a recent PhD graduate from the University of Birmingham, who spent ten days in a detention centre, and who condemned his treatment by the Home Office, as “completely brazen, cynical and unapologetic.”
We are seeing non-EU international students increasingly targeted by the Conservative government’s racist and xenophobic migration policy with British universities happily implementing these policies with very little opposition. Last week, Sussex University was occupied by student activists to oppose to how the university has colluded with UKVI to remove Luqman Onikosi, a disabled non-EU international student from Nigeria with a chronic liver condition, who would face death if removed from the UK; as Nigeria does not have the facilitates to care for his condition. Kelechi Chioba, another disabled non-EU international student from Nigeria, is currently battling with the Home Office to prevent her removal, where her family in Nigeria considers her “a curse and a source of shame” and people have previously tried to kill her. Even the newly elected National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland Asylum Seeker & Refugee officer, Lord Elias Mensah Apetsi, also a postgraduate student at Strathclyde University, is now facing deportation, having been detained by UKVI early in the morning on Saturday 19th March, and now currently in a detention centre. Thanks to enormous public pressure, Apetsi was spared being removed from the UK last night on a scheduled charter flight to Ghana. However, many other refugees, asylum seekers, and also non-EU international students are less lucky, finding themselves battling both the Home Office and UKVI with very little support or help from institutions that could very well make the difference. We fail to understand why Sussex University Union has failed to emphatically support Luqman Onikosi and the #DontDeportLuqman campaign, or why both the Leeds University Union and the NUS Black Students’ Campaign have failed to support the Justice4Sanaz campaign? As Ananya Rao-Middleton recently wrote in relation to the lack of institutional support for non-EU international students,
“If we fail to provide…support to those who need it most […] we are allowing SUs to become neoliberal service providers, rather than platforms for student voices and sites of solidarity.”
Universities also institutionalize xenophobic immigration rules in order to unfairly disenfranchise and marginalize non-EU international students, scholars and university workers who fight against victimization, unfair dismissals, and institutional racism, thereby preventing them from seeking recourse for the injustices that they have faced. Often times, this affects primarily Black and PoC non-EU international students. In 2009 SOAS management called in UKVI for a surprise raid on cleaners who were a part of the SOAS Justice For Cleaners campaign, with 9 activists consequently deported. As the Justice4Sanaz campaign has shown through e-mails acquired by a Freedom of Information request, her former PhD supervisor was happy that Sanaz was facing visa problems, directly as a result of the University of Leeds which took close to a year to make a decision concerning her internal academic appeal, stating that she hoped Sanaz “fails” at remaining lawfully in the UK to see her campaign through. Just recently, a crowdfunding link has been circulating around social media concerning the plight of Dr Debojyoti Das, an academic researcher who was formerly based at Birkbeck College. Dr Das was unfairly made redundant when his PI moved the project he was employed at to Harvard University. Although Dr Das challenged the decision by Birkbeck College, as a non-EU international scholar, there was no redress for his unfair dismissal. Dr Das not only lost “his job, students, pension contribution and the academic space in the university” but he is now fighting to remain lawfully in the UK as he is married to a British citizen.
#UnisResistBorderControls wants to see a fundamental end to UKVI and PREVENT surveillance and 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 both oppressed by Home Office violence and exploitation by their universities. End border controls and the culture of surveillance on our campuses!
- Luqman Temitayo Onikosi, University of Sussex
- Hayden Cooper, Exeter University – President of Exeter Socialist Students and Student Assembly Against Austerity National Committee Member
- Gwyneth Lonergan, University of Manchester
- Sanaz Raji, Campaigner and Independent Scholar, Justice4Sanaz campaign
- Dr Adi Kuntsman, Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University
- Ananya Rao-Middleton, M.Phil, University of Cambridge
- Daniel Renwick, writer and youth worker
- Caoimhe Mader McGuinness, PhD student QMUL
- Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Senior Lecture, Sheffield Hallam University
- Margaret Corvid, journalist and sex worker
- Kelechi Chioba, Disabled Rep, NUS Black Students’ Campaign
- Afroze Zaidi-Jivraj, Editor, Media Diversified
- Lisa Matthews, Right to Remain
- Joe Haslam Mark, Student Assembly Against Austerity representative at Lancaster & Morecambe College
- Verusca Calabria, Nottingham Trent University and Oral History Society.
- Roqayah Chamseddine, Associate Editor of Hate Hurts
- Carlus Hudson
- Marina Yusupova, PhD candidate, University of Manchester
- Dr Catherine Baker, Lecturer, University of Hull
- Rick Burgess, Disabled Human Rights Activist.
- Franziska Dahlmeier, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Chris Hilborne, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Leandros Savvides, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Marco Gottero, PhD candidate, De Montfort University
- Louis Goddard, PhD candidate, University of Sussex
- Manishta Sunnia, Green Party Equality & Diversity Coordinator.
- Sahra Taylor, Doctoral Researcher, City University
- Adie Mormech, Human Right’s Activist
- Tom Bolitho, Young Greens of England and Wales Co-Chair
- Hannah Clare, Young Greens of England and Wales Co-Chair
- Latefa Guemar, PhD candidate, University of East London
- Ruth Webber, PhD Students, University of Leicester
- Dr Fuad Ali, OtherAsias
- Members of No Borders Leeds
- Vanessa Vasic-Janekovic, Workers’ University, Tuzla/London
- Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE)
- Irina Cheresheva, PhD student, University of Leicester
- Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics
- Dr Damir Arsenijevic, Leverhulme Fellow, De Montfort University, Leicester
- Emma Carter, Green Party Finance Coordinator
- Doug Rouxel, Lecturer, Staffordshire University.
- Alessandra Mossa, Research Fellow, London School of Economics
- Sita Balani, PhD candidate, King’s College London
- Rachel Seoighe, Associate Lecturer, Middlesex University
- Mirjam Twigt, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Christos Kostopoulos, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Nicolas Vass, University of Leicester
- Alessandro Mancini, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Stephanie Gordon, Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Leicester
- Foteini Panagiotopoulou, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Joseph Leigh, PhD Candidate, London School of Economics
- Nerina Boursinou, PhD Candidate, University of Leicester
- Danilo Di Stefano, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Sara Thornton, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
- Deepa Kurup, Mphil student, University of Oxford
- Secki P. Jose, Dphil candidate, Leicester University
- Jennifer Edmunds
If you would like to get involved in the #UnisResistBordersControls campaign, please e-mail: justice4sanaz(at)gmail(dot)com and we will put you on a FB private group set up since the 5th March meeting.