Oxford Migrant Solidarity hung a banner of solidarity from the Bridge of Sighs on November 23, as an act to demand equal access to education for migrant students and end complicity in the Home Office’s Hostile Environment policy.

“We’re doing this direct action to call attention to the university’s discriminatory access policy towards students with unsettled status, so that includes people with temporary or limited leave to remain,” said Philomena Willis, chair of Oxford Migrant Solidarity.

Students with unsettled status or limited leave to remain face issues due to the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy, a measure first introduced in 2010 to make remaining in the UK as difficult as possible for migrants, which Wills says has been achieved through issues such as unsafe accommodation and a lack of job opportunities.  

The university recently announced a refugee scholarship, decided upon in the education committee’s October meeting, a move which follows the creation of a set of student-led initiative to pilot refugee scholarships in 2016. A university spokesperson earlier commented: “The university is now working with interested parties to create a longer-term sustainable scheme to support students who are forced migrants. We hope to launch this new scholarship later in the academic year,” adding that the pilot scheme would remain open until the new programme is launched. 

 Wills called the new scholarship “a great step in the right direction,” but said this was contradicted by the fact that “students with unsettled status are still charged international student fees and there’s just an overall lack of financial administrative support.” 

Wills added: “We’re calling on the university to change its policy because if it’s really dedicated to access it has to ensure that they include migrant students as people who are systemically discriminated and targeted by the Home Office and the Hostile Environment.” 

The group said they had spoken to student immigration authorities and were trying to set up a meeting with staff immigration authorities, especially given the impact Brexit might have on the future of migrant staff in Oxford.

The banner drop, which took place at 12 pm, was a coordinated event with other universities across the country, including York, Loughborough and Liverpool among others. However, after less than fifteen minutes the students removed the banner, following a request from the domestic bursar of Hertford College, which owns the Bridge of Sighs. 

In a list of demands, Oxford Migrant Solidarity said the university had to “classify students with unsettled status as home students for fees purposes,” as well as “provide a comprehensive advice page on its website for students seeking information about their immigration status,” and that it had to commit to “never invite Immigration Enforcement onto its premises.” 

The action followed a rally a week earlier, organised in collaboration with the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, the Oxford Living Wage Campaign and the student union Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) as well as the student union Disabilities Campaign. The event aimed to present the demands to the Vice-Chancellor, Louise Richardson, and to “rally for intersectional justice”.