Maddie Goodfellow assess the way the University of Bristol treats refugees in light of the recent Stand up to Racism march.
Protest in Bristol is not uncommon. As such a dynamic and diverse city, its residents are used to letting their opinions be heard. This was reflected in the march held in late October, in which around 80 people took to the streets to show their distain for government plans to restrict access for lone child migrants coming into the UK.
Similar events were held in a number of university cities across the UK this weekend, including Glasgow and Oxford. Those who attended the Stand Up to Racism march, many of whom were Bristol University students, could be heard chanting “let them in” and “say it loud say it clear, refugees are welcome here”.
The protest follows a similar event in March on national anti-racism day, and the huge march through Bristol in June against the Brexit vote.
— Ruth Myers (@Locallearning2) 12 November 2016
Those taking part commented that they were there to put pressure on the government, as the only reason the government has given any leeway so far on the issue of immigration is due to campaigning and public pressure.
With far right anti-immigration rhetoric becoming increasingly commonplace in Politics throughout Britain and mainland Europe, it is easy for students to think that any contribution they make is meaningless. Government measures are becoming increasingly invasive; very recently, compulsory dental checks on child migrants in order to check they are not lying about their age have been suggested by one Tory MP.
With immigration being a key focus of the Brexit debate and the increasing success of right wing parties like Front Nationale in France and the ADF in Germany, divisive, scapegoat politics could be seen to be becoming the norm. But this should never be the case.
Students have had to set up their own groups to hold the university to account.
And the university itself is not free from guilt. Although small steps have been taken to increase access to higher education for people from refugee and asylum seeking communities, including offering five full or partial scholarships through the Bristol University Sanctuary Scholarship Scheme, it is not enough.
Students have had to set up their own groups to hold the university to account. STAR (Student Action for Refugees) have been applying pressure to the university to change the application status of students who come to the UK as asylum seekers from international students to home students.
If asylum seekers have no right to work and are expected to live off just 5 pounds a day given by the government, then the idea that they could then afford the fees for overseas students is ridiculous. The application process is discriminatory and makes the idea of university education impossible for asylum seekers.
One member of the organisation commented that “although Bristol’s measures are an excellent step towards becoming more inclusive and accepting as a community, it is a limited gesture, and so much more could be done to help.”
Bristol is part of the ‘City of Sanctuary’ network, and promises to create a place of safety and security for refugees and asylum seekers. It is crucial, now more than ever, that we as a city follow through on these promises. With France threatening to close down the “jungle” in Calais within a matter of weeks, it is more important than ever that students take a stand and apply pressure to universities to do more.
As Friday’s protesters said, it is only through public action that changes take place, and this is Bristol’s chance to lead the way.
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