More than a hundred Goldsmiths students swapped lectures and laptops for candles and camaraderie at a UK-wide walkout on Tuesday, hoping to curb the “growing culture of paranoia and fear” against migrants.
“In the wake of the attacks in Paris, there’s been a rise in Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia all over the UK. We’ve seen it on campuses, on social media and on our streets”, said Mostafa Rajaai, 25, National Union of Students international officer. “This is a moment where we must all come together and say ‘not in our name’”.
Goldsmiths was just one of the many campuses around the UK which united under the banner of Students 4 Migrants. Students came out to show their support for refugees, migrants of choice, migrants of circumstance and international students and to tackle the government’s “intolerable anti-immigrant policies”.
Alex Etches, 25, Goldsmiths’ Student Union campaign activities officer said that this kind of solidarity “means everything…I’m sure local migrants, knowing that there’s hundreds of students that want to support them, really appreciate it.”
Daniel Nasr, education officer of Goldsmiths Student Union and organiser of the campus walkout said he wants to stop migrants “being scapegoated”. Nasr, from Lebanon, has personal experience of xenophobia and believes that coming together under mass mobilisation and mass solidarity is the first step towards breaking “the culture of fear”.
Nasr believes foreign students are under “constant attack” and find themselves at the intersection of “two internal wars” – being both migrants and students. Ahead of the walkout, Nasr met several students who wanted to join in but “were worried about how it might affect their visa applications”.
During the walkout the chants turned to “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Theresa May has got to go” chiding the Home Secretary, for her “divisive policies on immigration and student visas”. A recent NUS survey revealed that over half of non-EU students think that the UK Government is either “not welcoming” or “not at all welcoming” towards international students.
Nasr thinks that the latest changes to Tier 4 student visas, preventing students at publicly-funded further education colleges from working is one of the many government policies contributing to actual and “psychological barriers” between national and international students.
The Home Office has said: “The changes will help reduce immigration abuse ensuring the UK maintains a competitive offer”. An immigration service official at one central London office said that: “Half of our entire work involves student visa abuse, something needed to be done.”
Nasr hopes that yesterday’s walkout will be the first step. He is planning to create international student forums on campus to “change the narrative”. This means helping students discuss their rights, make them more empowered and finally break the culture of fear.
EastLondonLines spoke to some of the students at the event to discover what motivated them to walk out:
Dave Jones, 36, studying design, Deptford
It seemed like a really worthy thing to do, just to stand together and show solidarity as a college. It’s just a show of support at the moment, but this is step one of the process as far as I’m concerned. In fact I think this is the first thing I’ve done that has physically showed support, apart from talk about it on Facebook. We’re trying to understand what migrants are going through.
Katelyn Haber, 19, studying media and communications, New Cross, from the United States
I remember over the summer hearing about Theresa May and it scared me – I almost thought about not coming. I’m an international student so it affects me, but migrants deserve to live here as much as anyone else. I haven’t been running away from a dangerous situation so I can’t really speak on their behalf, but I think it’s always a good thing to live somewhere else and broaden your horizons.
Suheda Top, 18, studying economics politics and public policy, Wood Green
People should remember that Syrians are running away from the people who are responsible for the Paris attacks. We’re here in solidarity with all these refugees, and my heart goes out to not only the people who suffered in Paris, but also to the Syrians as well. Even if we’re not making a huge statement nationally we’re raising awareness amongst ourselves. We’re teaching other students about the issues.
Goldsmiths is observing Refugee Awareness Month throughout November.
By Amalia Illgner and Annie Gouk
Follow Amalia on Twitter @amaliaillgner
Follow Annie on Twitter @anniegouk