Students and academics of University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have protested against the brutal arrest of nine members of their cleaning staff for working in the UK without valid permits. Below is the summary of events posted on Facebook:
At 6.30am on Friday the 12th June, ISS (the company who contracts the SOAS cleaning staff) called a meeting for all cleaners.
Within minutes the meeting was raided by approximately 45-50 Immigration and Border police, who entered through the fire doors and the main entrance to the room and detained all the cleaning staff; the officers were in riot gear.
Following the raid the cleaners were locked in the room. One by one the workers were led into another SOAS classroom, where their immigration status was checked. During this process the staff were allowed no representation and provided with no translator (many staff are native Spanish speakers). A trade union representative at the scene was refused access to the staff members.
It is known that the contractor ISS had requested the police action. Two members of SOAS management were present during the raid, liaising with the police. This suggests that the school had prior knowledge of the raid.
ISS have informed UNISON that those cleaners detained may be fast-tracked out of the country, thus they may be deported within 72 hours.
Those detained have been working at SOAS for many years; they have settled in London. Deportation will be devastating not only for the individuals involved but also the families. They are also our friends and fellow colleagues in the SOAS community.
It is not a coincidence that SOAS cleaners were one of the first university cleaners to fight for Union representation and a decent wage. The events on Friday appear to be aimed at sending a clear message to other agency workers in London not to fight for union representation, such levels of intimidation cannot be tolerated.
We believe the heavy-handed treatment which the cleaners received was grossly over the top and ISS/SOAS are complicit in this.
We believe that these appalling events are proof once again that SOAS cleaning staff need to be brought in-house and that companies like ISS which exploit and intimidate workers have no place at SOAS.
Update: Five have already been deported, and the others could face deportation within days. One has had a suspected heart attack and was denied access to medical assistance and even water. One was over 6 months pregnant. Many have families who have no idea of their whereabouts.
This is a public revolt against what being “illegal” means and puts into perspective the privileges of “belonging” and situations we often take for granted. One commenter on the Facebook group says:
The term “illegal” migrant is a complete misnomer. The freedom to move is an international human right-it is not illegal to cross a national border. Undocumented workers make this city work; doing the jobs others wont do, for the lowest pay, working such long hours, often in terrible conditions, just to get by. Paying emergency tax (stuck with temporary NI number), entitled to no health care provision or protection from the police etc. Unable to marry, have families & live the “normal” life that the rest of us take for granted. People live in fear of raids & deportation when all they are trying to do is live. What exactly is it that they are doing that is unlawful? Please people, think critically about the concept of “illegal migrant”. Just because there is a law against something doesnt mean it is wrong. SOAS used to be a place to critically reflect and question the system.