This video had a big impact on the way I think about refugees when I watched it about a year ago while studying post-colonial African history. It shows snap-shots of the lives and pasts of some of the 25,000 Darfurian refugees living in Chad as a result of the conflict in North and West Darfur in 2003/4, through interviews with individuals. It demonstrates the way in which those often worst affected by conflict are excluded from political life and in this case the faltering peace process.
While STAR:York are campaigning for equal access to higher education for asylum seekers it is interesting to refer to other campaigns that aim to open up opportunities for asylum seekers, helping them build their expertise, contribute to dynamic work environments and reach their potential.
Citizens for Sanctuary presented the situation of young Zimbabweans seeking refuge in the UK in 2008 as follows: “Many of the Zimbabweans who fled to the UK brought skills with them, but the [UK government’s] ban on working has left many of them deskilled and demoralised. Many of them want to return to Zimbabwe when it is safe to do so and help rebuild their country, but long periods of destitution and worklessness have made them less able to contribute to Zimbabwe’s eventual reconstruction than when they first arrived here.”
The Citizens for Sanctuary Strategic Internships for Zimbabweans initiative, was piloted in London in 2008 and helped young Zimbabweans seeking refuge in the UK find appropriate and strategic internship opportunities, monitored and evaluated by CitizensUK. To find out more go to: http://www.citizensforsanctuary.org.uk
Perhaps what makes this initiative particularly inspiring is its focus on the ways in which the UK can contribute towards international development goals and post-conflict reconstruction, through changing its attitudes towards asylum seekers. The scheme is also great for its recognition that asylum seekers are, once in the UK, as potentially powerful in contributing to local communities in positive ways as any other citizens of the UK. In fact bringing new and exciting points of view, and expertise and knowledge in differing areas, asylum seekers may be an extremely valuable asset to our local and national communities.
In a war-torn world what is the future going to look like if people seeking protection cannot learn the skills they need to build a future?
Students who are in the UK seeking asylum have often studied hard in difficult circumstances to meet the entry requirements and demonstrate great intellectual ability and determination. Don’t let York close its doors to them now.
- An asylum seeker is someone who has fled to the UK from their country for fear of persecution and is in the UK asking for protection as a refugee. They are in the UK legally, waiting for the Home Office to process their case and decide whether to grant them on-going protection or send them back to their country of origin. This process can take years. Children who are categorized as asylum seekers, even those born in the UK to parents still seeking asylum, are able to go to school but face being charged international fees for university. No matter how much potential they exhibit most asylum seekers are not able to manage these costs.
- A single adult asylum seeker receives £36.62 a week from the state in comparison with the absolute minimum £67.50 provided for single unemployed UK citizens per week. Asylum seekers do not have permission to work in the UK. They are therefore barred from earning taxable income which would contribute to the UK economy and from taking on work whether they are willing or not and most will certainly not be able to afford to go to university without the lower fees and other financial support provided for ‘home’ students.
Still here still talented; asylum seekers are granted leave to remain in the UK while their fate is decided. This process may take years, together let’s campaign to prevent those months and years being wasted!
Why should talents go uncultivated and why should UK universities give up their commitment to sourcing the most able and ambitious students available to them? If these students happen to be seeking asylum does this make them less worthy of consideration?
Currently, most UK universities charge international student fees for asylum seekers wishing to attend university. Charging international student fees for asylum seekers directly excludes many from university and may produce a deskilled, demoralised and disenfranchised group of young migrants in the UK. This harsh reality is especially reprehensible when we consider that each university in the UK has the power of discretion in the granting of ‘home’ and international fees and that asylum seekers count for a tiny percentage of net migration to the UK and would account for an even smaller percentage of university applicants.
Accepting university applications from asylum seekers who are legally residing in the UK on the same financial terms as others legally residing here would not detrimentally effect universities to a degree that could in any way rival the positive precedent set by the gesture. If it did it is unlikely that universities including Manchester, Leeds, Royal Holloway, and Salford would be welcoming applications from asylum seekers on the same basis as other UK citizens, don’t you think?
Why are asylum seekers different from international students? Because their primary reason for being in the UK is not that they chose to come to study, and they do not usually have the means to support such a choice. Rather, they have been forced to migrate for their safety, often fleeing real threats of persecution, violence or even death. They must prove they’re in danger of oppression in their home countries before gaining access to the UK as “asylum seekers”. Shall we now suggest that the doors we expect to be open, for our personal and career development, be closed to people who have often suffered fear incomprehensible to that same “us”? Universities are sites in which knowledge and expertise from around the world can be pooled, can interact, and produce exciting new approaches and solutions to the challenges we meet in our increasingly globalized world. The exclusion of asylum seekers, legally residing in the UK to shelter from fear and persecution, on an economic basis, is misplaced protectionism at its worst.
“Is it really OK to discriminate against people on the basis of where they were born?”
We are not asking that asylum seekers be privileged above UK citizens, but given their special circumstances recognised by the state, their legal leave to be here, and their past endeavours and future potential, it is embarrassing that York University does not express solidarity with asylum seekers. The UK is now their home.
We petition our university to join our Northern colleagues, the universities of Manchester and Leeds, to consider applications from asylum seekers on the grounds of merit and potential, not financial capacity, as they fairly consider those of other ‘home’ applicants.
Please sign this petition to show your support! http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/equal-accessyork/
This introduction to Sanctuary Pledge presented to politicians prior to the 2010 election is arguably as relevant today as it was then:
“Britain has a proud history of providing sanctuary to people fleeing from persecution and tyranny.
Our nation provided sanctuary to Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in 17th century France, Jews fleeing the Nazi regime in the 1930s, Ugandan Asians forced out by Idi Amin in the 1970s, Bosnians escaping ethnic cleansing in the 1990s and Zimbabweans seeking a safe haven today. Our tradition of providing sanctuary is part of what makes Britain great.
That tradition is under threat.
In recent years the rise of extremist politics, media scare stories, and high profile failings by the Home Office have led to this issue becoming a political football.
Yet over two-thirds of the public still think it is important that the UK provides sanctuary to people fleeing persecution. We agree. We believe that sanctuary should not just be part of the UK’s history. It should be part of our future too.”
We are currently supporting the national STAR Campaign for equal access to higher education for those seeking asylum in the UK (a process which can take years, during which time we believe young people shouldn’t be marginalised) , come to our meeting on Thursday at 6pm in P/L/005 to find out more or check out this information: http://www.star-network.org.uk/index.php/campaigns/equal_access
Due to poor management and organisation at the UK Border Agency, several asylum seekers are faced with the prospect of an uncertain future not knowing when they will receive news on the status of their application: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20436013
Why am I interested in helping refugees? When I tell anyone that I am a member of STAR this is often the first question they ask. My motivation for wanting to learn more about refugees spans back a few years when I first read ‘Do They Hear You When You Cry?’ by Fauziya Kassindja. This autobiography follows the story of a young girl growing up in Togo called Fauziya. She grew up in a loving home largely sheltered from the harsh practices taking place around her and was one of the fortunate few to have accessed education. The death of her father marked a bitter twist of events when her orthodox Muslim uncle took charge of the family exiling Fauziya’s mother to Nigeria and ending her education. The real trauma began when at the age of 17 Fauziya was told she was to marry a man thirty years her senior (who already had three wives) and undergo the practice of ‘Kakia’ also known as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). The story is a harrowing account of the trials and tribulations she faced. Most shocking is the appalling manner in which she was treated upon entering America seeking asylum.
Prior to reading the book I was unaware of the issues of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and FGC (Female Genital Cutting), something widely practiced in Fauziya’s culture and several other African countries. I won’t go into the specifics of what occurs but needless to say it is an extremely horrendous, horrifying and dangerous procedure that is a total violation of women’s rights! Due to the unsanitary conditions in which it takes place many women are at a high risk of death, severe illness and long term health issues. Women often have no say in the matter due to the highly patriarchal nature of these societies.
Fauziya was one of the lucky few to escape FGM and her story is ultimately one of success. Her case marked a pivotal change in American immigration laws whereby FGM was subsequently recognised as a form of gender based persecution. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Fauziya is a character of remarkable strength and a true inspiration.