Stop the Deportation of SOAS University Cleaners!

I find it unfathomable that a modern employer could behave like this towards any of its staff, but as usual the weakest and most vulnerable are targeted in retaliation merely for trying to gain a living wage:

Students who occupied their university for three days to save its cleaners from being deported claimed victory today.

Up to 60 students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London took over the principal’s office on Monday.

Their siege was in response to a raid by immigration officials on Friday that led to six cleaners, alleged to be illegal workers, being deported and two being held in custody.

The cleaners, from South America, were part of a campaign to raise wages so that others like them could survive in London – the London Living Wage campaign.

Some students claim the university tipped off immigration officials. But the university denies this. Paul Webley, principal of Soas, said: “Contrary to some of the erroneous allegations being made, Friday’s visit was not arranged or influenced by any member of staff at Soas.”

The students’ occupation ended this afternoon after the university agreed to write to the home secretary to request the cleaners be granted “exceptional leave” to stay in the UK.

You might say ‘fair enough’, but the connection between the campaign and the sudden appearance of the UK Border Agency can’t possibly be a coincidence. Here’s a video of the student occupation:

For those of you who point out that the two remaining cleaners Marina Silva and Rosa de Perez were in the country illegally, read this:

Marina, who is 63 and has applied for asylum, following het brutal honour killing of her husband and threats to her own life, and Rosa, who has four children to support in Nicaragua, remain in detention following the raid. Their colleagues, including six months pregnant Luzia, were deported within 48 hours of the raid.

and this:

The cleaning company, which employs the cleaners, ISS, had collaborated with the UK Border Agency to arrest the workers through the pretence of an “emergency staff meeting” at 6.30am on Friday 12th June. Once 40 officers, dressed in riot gear, were hidden around the meeting and managers barred exit during the first part of the meeting before the immigration officers pounced on workers. The SOAS campus was sealed off while workers were locked in a room, and then questioned one by one in an adjacent room. Union representatives trying to bring water and aid to their members—including a woman more than six months pregnant—were denied access and not allowed to provide any legal aid for their members, who should have had the right to a solicitor.

The SOAS Students’ Union should be congratulated for what they’ve achieved so far, but Marina Silva & Rosa de Perez are still at risk of deportation. They must be freed immediately. There is a protest today – you should go on it to show Alan Johnson the strength of feeling about this, and to prove to companies like ISS that they can’t use deportation as a weapon against staff who want merely to be able to afford to live in the city which they work in.

Alarmingly however it’s also clear that university managers were at least complicit in allowing the UK Border Agency thugs into the building – a step towards the future the government is pushing for, where universities become de facto extensions of the Home Office. That mustn’t be allowed to take hold at any higher education institution. Remember kids, this attack on the education system and on vulnerable workers’ rights are the results of a Labour government.


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