Students have staged a protest at the Radcliffe Camera to show solidarity to the growing numbers of homeless asylum seekers in the UK.
Around 40 members of Amnesty International and Student Action for Refugees (STAR) slept rough on the lawn of the Rad Cam on Saturday.
This was part of an action week organized by a wider campaign, Still Human Still Here, which is a coalition of over 50 organisations who campaign to improve the treatment of asylum seekers, and have a nationwide action week in February each year.
Organizer of the Amnesty/STAR sleepout Joe Shields explained, “Our main aim is for the government to allow asylum seekers to get a job if their case has not been resolved after six months.”
Other objectives of the Still Human Still Here group include providing the right degree of protection for asylum seekers as well as free healthcare. Shields continued, “Even when the UK grants asylum seekers refugee status they are refused the right to work and have to survive on £5 a day. Some are not given refugee status even though it is judged that it is unsafe for them to return home. With no other option these refused asylum seekers have to live on the streets with no support.”
In light of this, some students have taken their solidarity movement further and attempted to live on £5 a day.
Sarah Pine, a protester at the Rad Cam, said, “Refugees are treated as criminals. They are given no right to work, no certainty to remain and no chance of a future. It is no surprise that such high numbers of asylum seekers end up on the streets.”
Tilly Hill, a second year at St. Anne’s who also protested at the Rad Cam, said, “Media coverage of the issues surrounding asylum is largely negative; little attention is paid to the adversity and hardships experienced by asylum seekers. I think it’s really important to speak out on behalf of those whose voices are not often heard, draw attention to the problems and push for these changes.”
Brasenose college student Emma Plews commented, “The Rad Cam was a great location and lots of people stopped by to ask why we were there so hopefully we’ve spread the message a bit further.”
The protests come in the wake of studies revealing that the number of homeless people in the UK has risen by over a fifth and, of this number, over half are non-UK nationals.
Campsfield House, an Immigration Removal Centre 6 miles out of Oxford city centre, has been the target of an 18 year long campaign, called ‘Close Campsfield.’
There are 216 inmates at Campsfield House. Asylum seekers, or those seeking this status, are held there without charge and without proper access to legal representation for an indefinite period of time. According to Amnesty International, this is a serious breach of internationally recognized human rights.
‘Close Campsfield’ describes Campsfield House as a “prison.” Its closure has also been called by local trade unions, the Oxford & District Trades Union Council, student, faith and human rights organisations.
According to the Close Campsfield website, in 1998 the Oxford Mail said that “Campsfield is an abomination to human rights in that it presumes guilt from the outset.”
Bill Mackeith, spokesperson for Close Campsfield, said, “In 2002, the Home Secretary announced that he would close Campsfield because it was ‘not fit for the 21st century’. He reversed that announcement after the 14 February 2002 fire at Yarl’s Wood created an unplanned reduction in detention places.”
Members of STAR have been going to these protests by bike and bus for the last few months and, according to STAR member Rebecca Sparrow, “hopefully will continue to do so.”