Third-level’s airwaves were taken up by a dishearteningly familiar conversation this week when yet another student – Hamza Khan, a University of Sanctuary scholar in University College Cork – looked down the barrel of a deportation order against him and his family.
This time, the government backtracked quite quickly, with Tánaiste Simon Coveney informing the family that the government would review their case.
In this case, the Khans were arguably among the luckier ones, in that they had the support of their school and college – a petition launched by University College Cork Students’ Union quickly gathered 7,000 signatures. The attention the incident gained shamed the government into giving the case a second look.
But not all asylum seekers have communities willing to bat for them, and Khan’s case should not obscure the broader issue when it comes to third-level: students studying on a recognised scholarship programme simply should not be lifted from their studies.
Lorna Fitzpatrick, the president of the Union of Students in Ireland, summed up the weary frustration that many students will have felt when she wrote in an open letter to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: “It is with deep regret that once again, I write to you to ask for you to stop the intended removal from the state of another Sanctuary Scholar.”
“Once again” is the instructive phrase. Having to write an open letter condemning the deportation of a student is not new to Fitzpatrick – just last October, she had to send a similar one calling for a deportation order against Dublin City University student Mehwish Saqib to be rescinded.
By not even attempting to move towards recognising the University of Sanctuary scheme, the government has created a situation where asylum seekers in higher education rely on the protests of students’ unions and local communities to make sure their education isn’t cut short.
This ad hoc style of protecting asylum seekers is not a sustainable way of dealing with deportation orders, and means that when the minister for justice comes knocking, only some asylum seekers are saved. Unless something drastic changes, it seems students and staff will need to continue the fight against self-defeating and outdated government legislation.