As a university that promotes equal access to higher education, Newcastle is one of many universities failing refugees and asylum seekers.
When arriving in the UK, refugees will first be classed as asylum seekers – individuals who have applied for refugee status but are yet to be granted as such – and by law, cannot work until their application is successful and must live on £36.95 per week. For many, the asylum process can take years before refugee status is granted. An asylum speaker I spoke to earlier this week has been waiting seven years for her application to be successful.
Yet despite not being allowed to work and only being given an average of £5 a day to live on, asylum seekers are expected to pay international fees to attend university without funding. Of course, this is virtually impossible. If universities really want to be accessible to all those with the capability to study in higher education, they need to put pressure on the government to change their international fee policy for asylum seekers and ensure scholarships and funding are available to those seeking asylum.
"Newcastle is one of the many universities failing refugees and asylum seekers"
For those eventually granted refugee status, some universities provide funding for refugee students such as York University, which has promised £500,000 worth of scholarship funding for refugees. Newcastle University, however, has advertised no such funding. This lack of financial aid means that refugees are not given equal access to higher education here despite being academically capable.
In order to be allowed to charge £9000 tuition fees, Newcastle is required to create equal access opportunities for academically capable students whose income may otherwise prevent them from attending university, for example, the PARTNERS programme. There is no such opportunity for academically capable refugees at Newcastle and until there is, can it really be considered a university with equal opportunities for all?
The current government long ago gave up the idea of appealing to the student populace, and with the latest scrapping of maintenance grants they seem to have given up the pretence that they care at all. The general apathy towards politics amongst young people in this country is therefore hardly surprising. We feel like there is no higher power to appeal to when we desperately want to see our country take action.
We’ve seen such inertia in the response to the greatest humanitarian disaster in recent history: the refugee crisis. Make no mistake, rejecting 4,000 people a year from Iraq and Syria — which have seen a peak of 6,000 people a day fleeing chaos and destruction — is morally repugnant. There seems to be a complete lack of humanity when it comes to dealing with the millions living in disease ridden refugee camps. As a nation we seem unable to address their lack of civic and human rights.
“During the worst human tragedy in decades, we are forced to sit and watch”
Yet what as students can we do? Notwithstanding leaving our studies to help there seems to be no direct action: we have no money to donate and a seeming lack of political voice. It was only five years ago that around 50,000 students protested in London about tuition fees. It had zero effect.
“It was only five years ago that around 50,000 students protested in London. It had zero effect”
So while we sit back and learn more and more about the atrocities committed by whichever side, we are hopeless to help. It is a hopelessness that is symptomatic of student life: we are in a delightful bubble with loans, no tax and (if you’re lucky enough to do a humanities subject) around nine hours of work a week, but we have absolutely no ability to shape the world around us. So during the worst human tragedy in decades, we are forced to sit on the side-lines and watch.
Unless you were living as a hermit in Outer Mongolia over summer, it is impossible that you did not hear about the migrant crisis. It is equally impossible that you have not now seen the plethora of campaigns and student volunteers seeking to aid those fleeing conflict across the Middle East. At times however, those of us not involved in such campaigns have been made to feel uncaring.
“Will you sign this petition to show that you care?” “Don’t you agree that only a callous, heartless person wouldn’t want to allow more Syrians to come to Britain’?” These are the questions so commonly asked. But the question I ask back is why has this particular crisis received so much attention over others? What about the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar? Or ongoing wars in sub-Saharan Africa and all the atrocities that go with them?
“Why has this particular crisis received so much attention over all of the others?”
The unpalatable truth is that the (primarily) Syrian refugees actually have far more in common with us than we like to think. They have mobile phones, they use social media and they’re relatively wealthy (after all, how did they pay for the journey?) This is not to downplay the hardship these migrants face, nor the tragedy that has befallen their country, but there are millions of far poorer people across the world who are facing similar horrors yet cannot afford to travel to Europe.
Those people fundraising or volunteering for refugees are doing commendable work, but let’s not jump to oversimplified conclusions. There are deep-seated causes of crises like these and much of the world’s response amounts to little more than a sticking plaster. Indeed, the entire world faces serious structural challenges that must be confronted to create a safer, more prosperous future. There is very little we as students can do right now to solve these issues.
So how about we stop making others feel guilty for not donating? How about we do what students do and study the root causes of this and other crises? At least then we may be able to do something actually productive about it.
Another dead child. This time it was three year old Aylan Kurdi, lying on the beach after his body was washed ashore. He was a Syrian boy who drowned at sea along with his mother and five year old brother as they were fleeing conflict in Syria. How can anyone — student or otherwise — feel indifferent towards his plight or that of millions just like him?
Much of this death and destruction results from various governments worldwide actively aiding and abetting the oppression of entire nations. They fuel wars by proxy to further their own interests and simply exploit the resources of countries by propping up oppressive puppet dictatorships to keep them economically subservient to Western powers. We are now seeing the repercussions of this on a daily basis in Europe.
“Someone wise once said: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’”
As students, we are not detached from the rest of the world, nor can we afford to be if we want a better future for ourselves and others. On the contrary, throughout history, student movements and activism have been a spearhead in inducing change, whether we are referring back to the 1960s movements against the Vietnam War, the Tiananmen Square 1989 protests, or more recently and much closer to home, the 2010 Newcastle Occupation. The examples are endless.
Yet more importantly, can anyone’s conscience simply turn a blind eye to human suffering under whatever pretext? As students and conscientious citizens, it is our duty to put pressure on governments and not to simply address these issues as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ because this is part of the problem. We must actively tackle the root cause of this matter of which is the destructive role many states have played in the deterioration of developing countries. Someone wise once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Do something.