*This is a transcript of a speech given at today’s rally to oppose the mistreatment, exclusion and exploitation of international students and all migrants and refugees. WFFE rallied to support migrants, and other activists did the same across the country for the NUS’s International Students’ Day of Solidarity*
My name is Arianna, I am a PhD student here at Warwick. As an EU student myself, over the years I have often found my intentions questioned, whenever I campaigned for issues to do with the treatment of international students within the university and beyond. And the question has often been the same – ‘Oh but you are an EU student, why should you care? This does not concern you, YOU are not affected.’ Well, that’s exactly the point. And that’s exactly why I think it’s so important that we are here today.
When I came to the UK back in 2008, as an EU undergraduate student, my experience was incredibly easier and smoother than that of my fellow students from outside the EU. Nothing made us different, except I did not have to have my bank account and personal background scrutinised by the UK Borders’ Agency before even being allowed to step foot into the country; I did not have my biometric details taken; I did not have to queue for hours to register my details with the police when I arrived; I did not have to worry about missing a class with the fear that UKBA would be notified my attendance and that I could potentially lose my visa if I missed a certain number of classes, or I worked one hour more than what I was allowed to.
And all this was only because of the passport that I happen to carry; a pure accident of birth, that made such a difference to the way in which the British state and the university system have treated me throughout my time here.
And that’s exactly what is so absurd, and inherently unfair, about the border regime that operates within the UK higher education system, and throughout our society more broadly. Opportunities such as the ability to move freely, study, work, live and exist safely in a country come to be increasingly attached to the passports that individuals carry. And our universities reproduce these artificial and grossly unfair divisions by charging students from outside the EU double or triple the amount of tuition fees, just because they can, and because international students come to be seen – and be treated – as easy cash cows to milk to prop up our under-funded and marketised education system.
This is just plain wrong. For years now, things for international students from outside the EU coming to the UK to study have got worse and worse. They have been at the forefront of a string of attacks on the part of governments which have limited their right to access education, to remain here to work and live after completion of their studies, to bring their families over with them. Requirements to get a visa in the first place have become so restrictive that for each international student that makes it here to study, there are probably ten less lucky ones, who have not been able to make it. And things threaten to get worse and worse, with continuously new restrictions being proposed by the government that attempt to make the experience of studying here more and more a privilege for the few that can afford to buy their way through border control, rather than a right which is accessible to all.
And that’s what we have to stand up against. We must recognise that the attacks that our fellow international students face are the result of a regressive, xenophobic immigration agenda which seeks to close down borders, restrict freedom of movement and create essentially racist divisions within our society. Now, I believe that for too long, when protesting the mistreatment of international students at the hands of the UK government, we have fallen victim of the same divisive rhetoric that is at the root of the government’s xenophobic agenda in first place. University leaders are keen to emphasize the value that international students bring with them in terms of their economic contribution to British universities, and to the British economy; and they are keen to emphasise that international students are not really migrants, and for this reason should be treated more leniently.
Now, we must see this for what it is: a fundamentally dangerous, pernicious and divisive rhetoric, which seeks to create a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, desirable and undesirable migrants. This is a logic that we must resist, and reject. And that’s why the fight for better rights for international students need to go hand in hand – indeed, needs to be one and the same – with the fight against all border regimes, against all immigration controls, against all xenophobia and racism that operate within our society. The immigration policies of the UK government are nothing short of horrendous: migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are humiliated, locked up in detention centres, stripped of their human rights, of their right to work and exist safely; they are victimised, blamed for an economic crisis they did not cause, then exploited by that very same economic system, often left in deprivation and threatened with deportation or detention. They suffer at the hands of state violence, cast away from the public sight either left to suffer outside the UK borders, or locked inside detention centres where they are deprived of virtually all freedoms.
And this is because of the deliberate strategies of the powerful, which we see operating time and time again throughout history at times of crisis: an attempt to create divisions between the insiders and the outsiders, between us and them, between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ migrants, in an attempt to blame those who are weak for a crisis that they didn’t cause, to use fear as a mechanism of control. This is a mechanism that we must recognise whenever we see it in operation, and fight. And that’s why it’s so important that today we are here, in unity and in solidarity with all migrants who suffer at the hands of the British state, and for which things are about to get worse and worse as xenophobia and Islamophobia rise in the wake of the Paris attacks. This is the time to resist against all divisions, to fight against all racism, and to resist all borders, whenever we see them in operation – inside and outside the university. This small action today is hopefully the beginning of a much bigger wave of mobilisations. The fight is on!