A first-year student at St Hilda’s College has been receiving donations from the crowd-funder platform GoFundMe because she is unable to access any student finance until her refugee status is successfully renewed by the Home Office.
Rama Rustom, whose family is Syrian but is legally stateless, applied for her student loan in April, unaware that her refugee status would lead to any problems.
In June, Rustom applied for a new Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) which was to expire on 31st July. As her application is still pending, Rustom is currently unable to access any student finance as she is unable to provide Student Finance England with an in-date BRP.
Applications for new BRPs should take up to six months, however Rustom states that she knows of others whose applications have only been responded to after this time frame. Having applied for a renewal in June, this mean that Rustom could be ineligible for any funding until January.
Rustom came to the UK in December 2013 from Saudi Arabia, where she was born and where her parents had been living after relocating from Syria.
During what was meant to be a short visit to her older sister who was living in London, the family were told that they would not be able to return to Saudi Arabia because their guarantor, a Saudi citizen who acts as a sponsor to foreign migrants and handles their visa and legal status, had cancelled their visas after a dispute with Rustom’s father. The family was forced to apply for refugee status in the UK and Rustom started school in East London in February 2014.
Rustom has not been able to get any financial support from her family since she became estranged from her father after coming out as gay earlier this year. After threatening to kick her out of the family home, Rustom was able to avoid homelessness after negotiating with her parents.
Furthermore, Rustom is ineligible for a St Hilda’s hardship fund because the college assess each application based on the information given to them by data entered into a student finance application, which is currently inaccessible.
The college has agreed to postpone her battels until the end of the term in the hope that Rustom will receive her student loan before this point.
On the advice of the college, Rustom has applied for a Crankstart Scholarship, but is yet to hear back about the status of her application.
However, Rustom expresses no frustration towards college or the University: “I’m not frustrated with Oxford because… they’ve done everything that they can to help me out. I’m just frustrated at the Home Office and even Student Finance because they know I’m a refugee… and they know that I can’t really provide for myself.”
Rustom started her GoFundMe page at the suggestion of a friend in second week and has raised over £100 in donations from friends. However, until the money is transferred from the platform to her bank account in the next few days, Rustom is living off the remaining £10 of the money that her mother gave her before term.
In Rustom’s opinion, this delay in the renewal of her refugee status is “really unfair”. She said: “It’s kind of justifiable on their part because they do need that information but for me on a personal level… it’s not really my fault. They can’t just tell me to hold off on my education”.
For Rustom, going to Oxford was the chance to set her family on a new path.
Rustom, whose first language is Arabic, did not begin to learn English until she was seven and said that she came to London still “unable to form coherent sentences”. An offer to read English Language and Literature at the University came as a particularly welcome surprise.
She said: “I didn’t know if I deserved it but… my family was really happy. I was the first one that was going to get a good degree from an amazing university in a place where women are able to work.”
“I’ve worked hard for this and I’ve tried my best… it’s the issue of the Home Office just taking their time.”
Rama Rustom’s GoFundMe can be found here.