Oxford students gathered on Wednesday night to protest against the treatment of refugees in Britain.
Members of Student Action for Refugees scaled walls on Holywell Street, attaching banners to Hertford bridge and the scaffolding outside the History Faculty Library on Broad Street.
The signs displayed a picture of Great Britain with barbed wire across it and the word “Sanctuary?” The protest was specifically aimed at the new detention centre that has just been approved in Bicester, just outside Oxford.
The banner was designed to catch people’s attention as they walked past. Elle Mortimer, one of the protesters who planned the event, commented, “We’ve had a lot of people asking us about it as they’ve walked home, and talking to us about the issue.”
She added, “It’s something that grabs attention. Protesting in the street obviously makes a difference, but we really wanted to do something original to make people think about an issue they probably haven’t thought about much before.”
Edgar Gerrard Hughes, another protested, commented, “The issue doesn’t get much press.”
STAR have been involved in similar protests, including the gagging of the stone heads outside the Sheldonian theatre last term. The students involved in the group have faced criticism as well as interest about their protests.
Mortimer commented, “We’ve had a lot of people telling us that they should all be locked up, although the people that say this tend not to be students. Students seem to be more receptive.”
Britain’s immigrant det
ainees now add up to well over three thousand, and there are government plans to increase detention capacity by 60%. The planning permission to build a centre outside Bicester was recently approved. This will hold 800 men, making it the largest in Europe.
One STAR member commented, “The men there are young and ambitious. Having risked everything in leaving their homes, all they want to do is build a life here. Instead they find themselves forgotten in the system.”
The protest was part of a series of events taking place this term to raise awareness of the living conditions of refugees in the United Kingdom. Refugee Week is a national event taking place this year between the 15th and the 21st of June.
The week is being celebrated in Oxford with student groups such as Student Action for Refugees, Asylum Welcome, Amnesty and Liberty. Events include a special football match and a poetry event.
Mortimer explained that the week was important in raising awareness of an issue that she believed to be often misunderstood. “It’s about celebrating what refugees have brought to this country.”