“This doesn’t start and stop with this one man,” Bouattia said at an NUS summit on Brexit and Trump in London March 12, underlining the negative impact it could have for international students studying on UK campuses.
Speaking with The PIE News, Bouattia described a previous split in perception of good and bad migrants across the UK. “A good migrant was the international student, a bad migrant was the cleaner, was the asylum seeker, was the refugee. And now they’re all bad migrants. They’ve all essentially been put into one big pile and you start to see the trends between the US rhetoric and our very own practices.”
“All migrants have essentially been put into one big pile and you start to see the trends between the US rhetoric and our very own practices”
Referring to Trump’s travel ban of six majority Muslim countries, Bouattia argued similar restrictions are also enforced in the UK. “Theresa May is championing an agenda ensuring that Muslims are silenced, they become suspects, they’re interrogated, and at times even deported. She’s attempting to ban them from all aspects of society and demonise them to non-existence.”
Both EU and non-EU international students could be met with the same hardline treatment refugee and asylum seekers are facing in the UK, she argued. “While we recognise and must understand the intersections and complexities of a Syrian refugee in comparison to an EU student, and the privileges that come with that as well at times, we need to see the fight as collective.
“You might have it slightly better than others within the migrant collective now, but what’s to come is going to be worse because if any section of our migrant communities faces the brunt of something it will follow and will seep down to the rest.”
“The task now is to intensify on our campuses anti-deportation campaigns and international student support”
In his address, Mostafa Rajaai, the NUS’s international students officer, agreed that international students are privileged among migrants. “But that doesn’t mean our rights haven’t been taken away,” he argued, citing the abolishment of post-study work rights, the accusations of fraud of almost 50,000 international students in the TOEIC scandal, no work rights for internationals studying at FE colleges and strict attendance monitoring.
“The treatment is far from welcoming,” he said. “We need to educate people on our campuses so they learn what international students struggle with.”
He suggested three ways institutions could make it easier for their international students: become a guarantor if students are renting in the local area; make sure mental health services are nuanced and accessible and end attendance monitoring systems that “treat students as if they’ve committed a crime”.
The NUS is rallying support for international students as the country prepares for its exit from the EU. “The task now is to intensify on our campuses anti-deportation campaigns and international student support,” Bouattia told student members.
These campaigns are raising awareness of what’s at risk if EU migrants are forced to leave, she said. “People are slowly recognising that when we’re talking about migrants we’re talking about a huge section of our society and our society cannot exist and cannot function or run without them.”