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Monday 21st January 2013


40,000 people rally to stop 670 Syrian students being expulsion from their courses

Concerned students from universities around the UK have launched a campaign on the Avaaz petition site calling on the Foreign Minister William Hague to stop over 670 Syrian students from being thrown off their University courses which could see many of them being deported from Britain.  

Over 40,000 people have signed the Avaaz campaign urging the British Government to take action which can be seen here.  Already, some Syrian students have been asked for payment or face expulsion from Salford and Bolton Universities and many others are being asked to pay or leave their courses at Leeds, Essex, Liverpool and Brunel as their fees have not been paid by the Syrian Government. Edinburgh University has said to their Syrian students that they will not ask them to leave their courses given circumstances in the country.

Husam Helmi - an Economics post-graduate at Brunel University -- is from Derayya near Damascus in Syria. He lost his uncle and aunt and his family have been forced to flee their homes.  He said:  “This is a disaster. If we don’t complete our courses, we will have to pay double our entire fees when we return to our Syrian universities. The regime in Syria is collapsing and we are stuck in limbo, we desperately need the help of the UK Government to stop British universities kicking us off our courses.  If they helped the Libyan students, we hope they can find a way to help the 670 Syrian students.”  

Many of the Syrian students are facing a funding crisis as the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education has stopped funding their studies and the Syrian Embassy in Britain -- where financing and guarantees to UK universities were offered -- is now closed.  Private students are also struggling to pay their fees due to the collapse of the Syrian lira, the economic crisis at home and sanctions on Syrian banks which makes it very hard for money to be transferred.

Christine Gilmore of Leeds University who started the petition at Avaaz which in just days has `been signed by 1,500 people said:  “Two years ago, the British Government helped Libyan students unable to pay their fees -- why can’t they do it for Syrians?  If they are deported back to Syria - many face certain torture and persecution. Thousands of people are rallying to the support of these 670 academics in Britain -- this is a test of how committed Britain really is to helping the people of Syria affected by Assad’s brutal regime.”

The campaign argues that this smacks of double-standards with the UK Government helping Libyan students during the revolution but not prepared to help Syrians who if deported, face the prospect of torture and persecution back in Syria. The ask is for the Government to register the financial liability of the fees against the Syrian National Coalition which the UK Government now recognises as the legitimate opposition in Syria rather than expect the Universities to cover these costs.

Luis Morago, Campaign Director of Avaaz said: “This smacks of double-standards.  The UK beats the drum for action on Syria but is only now waking up to problems facing hundreds of Syrian students in Britain who face being thrown off their courses. The UK Government must intervene and ensure they can continue their studies in Britain and won’t face the threat of deportation.”

There is a precedent from the Libyan revolution where the Transitional Council guaranteed to pay the fees of the students caught in Britain during the uprising.  However the government appears so far unwilling to do that for Syria with the UK Universities Minister David Willetts, in private correspondence dated September 2012, saying the the UK govt cannot extend the same help to Syrian students as it did to Libyan students because there is no UN resolution and at the time, the Coalition was not recognised.

If Syrian students are expelled they lose their student visas and right to work and face deportation to Syria where they could be targeted unless they successfully apply for Asylum. Current UK government policy means it is very difficult for such students to prove they are eligible for asylum and many of the students would prefer to return to Syria once their studies have been completed.  

All Syrian students on government scholarships are being made personally liable for their fee debt instead of it being registered against the Syrian government. Syrian students on this scheme are technically able to access the British Council hardship fund to assist them with living expenses -- £2,000 per three months -- but due to administrative problems with their universities many eligible students are unable to access these funds. Moreover, students who have been blacklisted by the Syrian authorities cannot obtain this letter from their universities.


Note to editors:
For further information and access to interview please call Sam Barratt on 07909 836139 or email sam.barratt@avaaz.org

Total number of Syrian Students in UK: 670 of whom 90 are UG, 310 PGT (Masters) and 270 PGR (PhDs mainly).  Total number in England, Wales and NI: 605.  Total in Scotland: 65 of whom 5 are UG, 25 PGT and 35 PGR: Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency  10/01/12

See Hague’s speech here where he offered support to Libyan students.