Stop the Deportation of SOAS University's Cleaning Staff
- SOAS Management, ISS, the UK Border Agency, the Detention Centres & Police Stations Involved
- United Kingdom
Stop the Deportation of SOAS University Cleaners!
Nine cleaners from the School of Oriental and African Studies were taken into detention after a dawn raid by immigration police on Friday 12th June.
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.
The cleaners won the London Living Wage and trade union representation after a successful “Justice for Cleaners” campaign that united workers of all backgrounds and student activists.
Activists believe the raid is managers’ “revenge” for the campaign.
Immigration officers were called in by cleaning contractor ISS, even though it has employed many of the cleaners for years. Cleaning staff were told to attend an ‘emergency staff meeting’ at 6.30am on Friday (June 12).
This was used as a false pretext to lure the cleaners into a closed space from which the immigration officers were hiding to arrest them.
More than 40 officers were dressed in full riot gear and aggressively undertook interrogations and then escorted them to the detention centre. Neither legal representation nor union support were present due to the secrecy surrounding the action. Many were unable to communicate let alone fully understand what was taking place due to the denial of interpreters.
SOAS management were complicit in the immigration raid by enabling the officers to hide in the meeting room beforehand and giving no warning to them. The cleaners were interviewed one by one. They were allowed no legal or trade union representation, or even a translator (many are native Spanish speakers).
The cleaners are members of the Unison union at SOAS. They recently went out on strike (Thursday 28 May) to protest the sacking of cleaner and union activist Jose Stalin Bermudez.
Labour MP John McDonnell said:
"As living wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union organising.”
Graham Dyer, Lecturer in Economics of Developing Countries and SOAS UCU Chair said: “It is no co-incidence that there is an immigration raid at a time when the UCU, Unison and the NUS are fighting against the victimisation of a migrant worker who has been at the heart of a fight that has improved the pay and conditions of workers here at SOAS. It is also not coincidental that ISS had only just signed a union recognition agreement with UNISON last week. Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. Those managers are now lashing out. It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. This is their underhand revenge and we will do all we can to stop migrant workers paying the price.”
As the first day of refugee week celebrations commenced (an event SOAS has help sponsor & participated in for the past two years) 3 of SOAS’s staff had already been deported including 6 months pregnant Luzia.
By Monday students and allies of SOAS went into occupation of the university to hold the mangers accountable for their actions, the occupation came to an end after 3 days of demonstrations & negotiations.
Jean Lambert, London's Green Party MEP, said:
"The circumstances and aims of this raid are utterly deplorable. These cleaning staff have been treated like criminals, and the timing of the raid is particularly reprehensible - first thing in the morning at the end of the university term, with fewer people around to intervene. Luckily, the union has been on hand to help arrange legal assistance for those arrested, and it is also fortunate that the demonstration - ironically called to highlight existing concerns about the treatment of SOAS staff - meant that this raid was noticed and immediate steps could be taken."
Marina and Rosa are currently being held in Yarlswood detention centre (where this week a hunger strike continues against the deplorable medical care and conditions their children are suffering), and remain on fast track for deportation.
If you would like to assist beyond just signing this petition, you can also help by forwarding this letter to the English Home Sectary.
Rt Honourable Alan Johnson, MP
Secretary of State for the Home Office
3rd Floor, Peel Buildings
2 Marsham St, London
Fax: 020 8760 3132
To Rt Honourable Home sectary, Alan Johnson
We are writing to ask you to grant leave to remain, with the right to work, to the SOAS cleaners, Marina Silva, who has claimed asylum and Rosa de Perez who are currently being held in Yarlswood detention centre. We are deeply concerned that five of their colleagues were deported within 48 hours of the raids, without any chance to put their case for being granted the right to stay and in come cases breaking up family relationships.
Marina and Rosa are two of the nine cleaners who were arrested in a raid by around 40 officers of the Border Agency on Friday 12th June 2009, on campus at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). They are charged with overstaying visas—but both women have had good reasons to have entered the UK and an urgent need to work to support themselves and their families. Both have worked hard for ISS, a company which is notorious for exploiting migrant labour, for low wages.
Marina is sixty three years old. She is from Bolovia and her husband was killed in an honour killing after which she was threatened and harassed until she was forced to leave her home. She has been living in the UK for several years and has made a life here. She is ill and was due a hospital appointment on the day of the raid. She has now made an application to stay to be safe and to live in dignity in the UK. These women are not criminals, they are hard working people on low pay who have worked to pay their bills and support their family in the dirty and undignified job as a cleaner. We believe that they should not be treated as criminals.
While Rosa has not sought to resist removal, she will be returned to extreme poverty in Nicaragua and will be unable to support her family—having four children who in the economic crisis of her home country have no other means of support. She will be unemployed when returned. She is in urgent need of the compassion to allow her, now she is here, the ability to stay and to work to support her children and we would ask for a work permit to allow her to continue to work, but in dignity.
While we recognize that their overstay was unlawful, the manner of their detainment at SOAS was shockingly aggressive, disproportionate, deceiving and unnecessary. The cleaning company which employs the cleaners, ISS, had collaborated with the UK Border Agency to arrest the workers through the pretence of an “emergency staff meeting” at 6.30am on Friday 12th June. Once 40 officers, dressed in riot gear, were hidden around the meeting and managers barred exit during the first part of the meeting before the immigration officers pounced on workers. The SOAS campus was sealed off while workers were locked in a room, and then questioned one by one in an adjacent room. Union representatives trying to bring water and aid to their members—including a woman more than six months pregnant—were denied access and not allowed to provide any legal aid for their members, who should have had the right to a solicitor.
We are very concerned about these workers who were employed by ISS, a company which had just been forced to grant union recognition and to pay the London Living Wage to its cleaners working in SOAS. We are especially concerned that the raid took place on the very morning on which cleaners were to rally in support of their sacked UNISON trade union branch chair, who was also an ISS employee. Rosa and Maria are just two of the thousands of migrant workers, refugee and asylum seekers who make a valuable contribution to our society. Like so many who work unsocial hours for low pay, they are making a valuable contribution to society, and they should not be punished and hunted like criminals for this.
We are deeply concerned at what appears to be BIA officials being used to discipline workers in the process of unionising and appeal for permission to stay and work to be granted to the SOAS workers. All of these people are working and supporting themselves as well as paying taxes and national insurance contributions. You will be aware of the research which shows the greater than average economic contribution of working migrants who are single and without dependents in the UK.
We therefore urge you to:
--Release Marina and Rosa on bail immediately and give consideration to our appeal for a grant of leave to remain to these workers.
-- In Marina’s case to grant humanitarian protection. In Rosa’s case to grant a work visa.
--to allow those SOAS cleaners who have already been deported to renter the country for reasons of family reunion and to work.
--to make clear that no person should be raided and held in such a way in the future, without water, medicine or the right to be seen by representatives wishing to provide legal assistance.
We would welcome an urgent response as these workers have only hours before removal directions. We look forward to hearing from you on the matters we have raised above.
We are requesting the exceptional leave for the two currently detained to remain in the UK, in addition we request the immediate return of those who have been deported already and exceptional leave to remain for those forced into hiding by Friday's raid.