Campaigners are calling for teachers, students and others in education to support a national declaration against the deportation of children and young people in schools and colleges.
The last year has seen a wave of spontaneous protests by school students against deportations.
At Mayfield school, Portsmouth, students led a campaign in support of Lorin Sulaiman, 15, her mother, Amina Ibrahim, 51, and sister Eva, 16, who were eventually granted permission to stay in Britain for two years by the Home Office after the campaign graced the front pages of national newspapers.
Within a day of his detention at Dover Removal Centre, the entire sixth form at Canterbury high school mobilised to get fellow student Amin Buratee released. Along with staff, they held vigils outside the centre, wrote press releases, gave newspaper interviews, appeared on local radio and television and lobbied their MP. The campaign led to Amin being allowed to return to school and he now has permission to stay until he finishes his exams in June 2005.
And hundreds of pupils at Drumchapel High, in Glasgow, signed a petition opposing the detention of the Murselaj family, including Agnesa, 15, Gentian, 12, and nine-year-old Leonard, eventually winning their release.
Now campaigners are hoping that teachers, students and others linked to schools and colleges will build on these campaigns by registering support for a national declaration against deportations of school students. The declaration states that the best interests of a child or young person studying in a school or college in the UK should come first and that these are best served by allowing her or him to remain in the UK. Supporters can sign up to the declaration at a new website launched this week, called Schools Against Deportations.
The aim of the declaration, which has been drafted by a network of teachers, activists and trade-unionists concerned about deportations, is to send a strong message to government from the education sector that children should not be removed from their schools in the name of enforcing immigration controls. Campaigners hope that with enough people signing up to the declaration, concerns about the rising rate of young people being deported, and the violence that accompanies deportation, will be highlighted.
The declaration also draws attention to the damaging impact that the threat of deportation or actual deportation can have on children and young people studying in schools and colleges. ‘Deportation affects a child’s educational progress, health and well-being’, reads the declaration. ‘We are also deeply concerned about the detrimental effect on the wider school or college community when personal relationships are disrupted and friends are separated.’ In addition to signing up to the declaration online, users of the schools against deportation website can also access a range of resources for teachers, such as guidelines for organising an anti-deportation campaign in a school and a directory of resources on refugee issues.
Education without borders
The initiative comes amidst growing activism on the issue of schools and deportations. At a conference held in Canterbury in February this year, students and teachers from a number of schools came together to talk about their work campaigning against deportations. A friend of Amin Buratee, at Canterbury High School, spoke of how he was disturbed when Amin was snatched away at seven in the morning and taken to a detention centre. ‘I was really, really shocked for two hours. Then I received a phone-call saying that some people from school were coming together to help him. This was a miracle. It was just amazing.’ One result of the activism in Kent schools is that head teachers have been instructed by the County Council not to allow immigration officials to remove the children of asylum seekers from their schools.
The Canterbury conference also heard from Sharon Thomas, Lorin Sulaiman’s friend at Mayfield school in Portsmouth. ‘When I found out Lorin had been detained, I was so outraged. I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t believe that a few days before, she was happy and now she was in a detention centre which is like a prison. I was so glad that we, as teenagers, could do something to help. And we finally got Lorin out of the detention centre.’
The National Union of Students has also recently passed a conference resolution declaring its support for students facing deportation and resolving to lobby the government on behalf of any student facing deportation or detention.
Elsewhere in Europe, teachers have also taken a central role in the growing opposition to deportations of young people. In Ireland, the National Teachers’ Organisation president Austin Corcoran said at the union’s annual congress in March 2005 that deportations were ‘terrorising pupils’. He stated: ‘Our schools should be given the status of embassies. Parents should have an assurance that when their children are placed in a school, they will not be abducted from their place of learning by the state.’ His stand came after public outcry against the deportation of Nigerian student Olunkunle Elunkanlo from Palmerstown College, Dublin. In France and Belgium, the campaign group ‘education without borders’ has similar objectives.
The schools against deportations website can be accessed at: www.schoolsagainstdeportations.org