Fundraiser launched for Sanctuary Scholar who is disqualified for legal aid by the Home Office

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By Teddy Coward, Co-Editor-in-Chief, and Emilie Robinson, Digital News Editor

The group of Bristol students are walking, running and cycling the 376km distance from the Wills Memorial Building to the UK Home Office and back for the fundraiser.

An emergency fundraiser has been launched for a Sanctuary Scholar at Bristol University who is currently facing over £3000 in legal fees for their ongoing asylum claims against the Home Office, as their scholarship disqualifies them from receiving legal aid.

Bristol University’s Sanctuary Scholarship Scheme provides students from asylum-seeking and refugee communities with funding to help them undertake a degree at the university.

The students are walking, running and cycling the 376km distance from the Wills Memorial Building to the UK Home Office and back | Bristol Star And Amnesty / Injury Map 

The scheme was created five years ago and has supported 44 students since its inception in 2016.

Yet one Bristol student has now been disqualified from receiving legal aid in the face of ongoing asylum claims, as the support from the scheme has taken them over the earning threshold.

David Ion, Bristol SU’s Undergraduate Education Officer who has helped organise the emergency fundraiser, has explained how this has put the student in ‘an impossible position’ because ‘they have to self-fund legal representation for their asylum claim, but they have to do that using money that has been given to them by the University to live.’

All of this has to be put in the context of the hostile environment – a government policy that makes it really difficult to be an asylum-seeker in the UK

In response, the fundraiser hopes to raise a total of £2,300 to help cover the costs of solicitors and court fees, among other things, with around £700 having already been secured from previous funding efforts.

So far, over £1,600 has already been raised.

Prior to the fund, some Sanctuary Scholars had previously had to drop out of Bristol University due to the legal costs.

Explaining the situation further, David told Epigram: ‘All of this has to be put in the context of the hostile environment, which is a government policy that makes it really difficult to be an asylum-seeker in the UK.

‘There’s so much legislation around asylum-seekers in the UK and how you can help asylum-seekers with their legal cases, that it’s not possible for the university to specifically fund people’s legal cases to claim asylum.

‘Just thinking about it makes you really angry because this is by design that it’s so difficult for an asylum-seeker to go to university, or to get a job in the UK. And that’s the government’s doing.’

The fundraiser, which launched last Monday (22 February) will run until 26 March and now involves students walking, running and cycling the 376km distance from the Wills Memorial Building to the UK Home Office and back.

Sophie Spitz, President of Bristol University’s Amnesty International Society who has worked alongside David and Freya Mutimer, President of Bristol STAR, to organise the fundraiser said: ‘It feels really powerful that we have been able to mobilise people even during the pandemic and people really identify with this cause.

It feels really powerful that we have been able to mobilise people during the pandemic who really identify with this cause

‘Just to know that people are willing to take time out of their days and run for the cause felt really positive. It felt like there was a community of student activists which is difficult to feel at the moment especially during Covid.’

David added that it has been ‘pretty overwhelming’ to see the ‘massive number of people’ who have donated so far, as well as ‘the range of people, from staff to students to parents’.

‘I think it’s so powerful to see the number of people who are recognising this as a massive injustice and are willing to give some money towards standing up to the hostile environment. That is what it is:  the university community coming together around a student whose problem embodies how the hostile environment is encroaching on a university campus.’

Two members of the fundraising committee are also planning to walk a marathon in a single day and an Instagram shop, @sanctuarysshop, has been set up to sell handmade and second-hand pieces to raise additional funds.

However, in the future, Sophie hopes the legal fund will have ‘a big pot of money which will be sustainable, so we won’t have to have emergency fundraisers.’

In December 2020, the government announced a review into the long-term sustainability of legal aid, which will report back at the end of 2021.

Climate Emergency Day of Action at Bristol Uni
The Buchabest intramural rugby team

Upon announcing the review, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP, said: ‘This independent review will be wide-ranging and ambitious, ensuring the criminal legal aid market remains effective and sustainable, while reflecting the diverse society it serves.’

It is yet unclear whether the issue around Sanctuary Scholars will be covered by the review.

Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O’Neill / Bristol Star And Amnesty


To visit the fundraiser and for more information, click here.

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