By David Ion, Bristol SU Undergraduate Education Officer 2020-2021
Students in Bristol have raised over £8000 for asylum-seeking students to cover legal costs related to their asylum claim, standing up to the Hostile Environment.
The ‘Hostile Environment’ refers to a set of particularly harsh Home Office policies that make it extremely hard to stay in the UK if your immigration status is uncertain. It's also a term more widely used to describe the government’s approach to immigration in general, such as allowing the Home Office to operate though NHS, schools, and universities.
Students from Bristol SU’s Amnesty International and STAR (Student Action for Refugees) combined forces with Bristol Students’ Union to set up the Sanctuary Scholarship Legal Fund in response to the Home Office’s introduction of ‘Study Bans’, the power to stop student asylum seekers from studying.
Almost all bans are successfully appealed, but the legal costs can run into the thousands and the University of Bristol’s Sanctuary Scholarship for refugee students pushes them over the threshold for legal aid. This means that students issued with study bans, or those with other unexpected legal fees, are left to pay huge legal costs out of their student loan, with some being forced to choose between their degree and their asylum claim.
The Hostile Environment has been coupled with a set of policies which keep asylum seekers destitute. Scholarships given to asylum seekers to study at university disrupt this system by giving scholars financial autonomy and social capital. The ‘Study Bans’ attack these two areas, depriving scholars of their education and their access to scholarship money.
Students at the University have gathered around their classmates to provide the support and protection that is lacking. This year, the fund has supported three different sets of legal fees totalling nearly £5,500, with Student Action for Refugees and Amnesty societies working tirelessly to fundraise despite the difficult circumstances.
10 individual, student-led, fundraising events or campaigns have been coordinated: teaming up with Bristol artists and businesses to run a Christmas Raffle, starting up a Sanctuary Scholars online shop, running, walking and cycling nearly 5,000km and convincing 80 Bristol SU societies to donate or to collaborate. It has taken a truly monumental effort to raise thousands during a pandemic.
The impact of the fund is clear. One scholar who accessed the fund told us about their experience: ‘I am not eligible to get Legal Aid. The stress of not being able to pay towards the legal fees caused anxiety just before I started my course. The Legal Fund helped me to finance these fees which is has been such relief. I had no one to help me with this matter.’
The University of Bristol community welcomes refugees and asylum seekers. The effort and commitment shown by students to support their peers this year has gone a long way to prove that.
Featured Image: Bristol SU
To find out more about how can support the fund or get involved visit www.bristolsu.org.uk/sanctuaryscholars