By Hamzah Nurgat
We have all witnessed the harrowing images of people fleeing terror in conflict areas like Syria and Iraq, people huddled in poorly conditioned refugee camps, children drowning at sea attempting to reach the safety of Europe, and the dehumanisation of refugees in the lands they seek refuge. Rather than responding to the humanitarian crisis by sharing the responsibility of housing refugees, government responses have been plagued by xenophobic, right-wing pressures. The call to welcome refugees have been met by tightened borders, tear gas, and vilification through grotesque Nazi-style propaganda in some sections of the media – such as the British tabloid ‘The Daily Mail’.
Despite this apathy shown by certain segments of society, many people have expressed a heart-warming outpour of support for refugees and asylum seekers. One such example of this is a grassroots initiative here in Swansea, with the creation of a group called S.H.A.R.P (Swansea Humanitarian Aid Response Project). The group consists of local volunteers who have been working tirelessly in recent months collecting masses of clothes, medication, toys and more, to be delivered to Syrian refugees. In 2010 Swansea became the UK’s second official City of Sanctuary, committing itself to building a culture of hospitality and welcome for asylum seekers and refugees.
People seeking refugee protection, having been forced to escape war, torture and persecution, should not be faced with barriers in exercising their human rights, including the universal right to education. Unfortunately, asylum seekers who currently wish to apply to study at Swansea University are classed as international students, therefore eligible to pay the international rate of tuition fee. Most asylum seekers are not allowed to work, or apply for student loans, and must live on state support of just £5 a day plus accommodation. This makes it near impossible for asylum seekers to gain a university education due to the financial barriers in place. The ‘Equal Access’ campaign currently running in Swansea University aims to change this.
The campaign calls on the university to:
Offer all asylum seekers who are granted a place to study at Swansea University the ‘Home/EU’ rate of tuition fee
Award a number of asylum seekers a non-repayable complete tuition fee waiver (that covers the £9000 tuition fee in full) plus maintenance support.
Equivalent campaigns have been successful across the country, including Cardiff University where the equal access policy for asylum seeker applicants has now been implemented. The campaign is a fantastic initiative to ensure the most vulnerable in society with an abundance of potential are not blocked from achieving their goals and aspirations. Last week we took our campaign to Fulton House, and we were met with overwhelming support from both students and staff. We managed to gain over 200 signatures on our petition, and capture enough photographs to create a wonderful campaign collage.
I believe this is a cause which is close to the hearts of most students, academics and staff within our university, and one which will see success. Please do contact me if you would like to get involved in the campaign, as together we can make a difference. #EqualAccess #RefugeesWelcome
Swansea SU Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Officer