An international activist group has called on the UK to waive university fees or provide support for hundreds of Syrian students threatened with expulsion after Damascus stopped funding and sponsoring their education in the European country.
Some of the about 670 Syrians studying in United Kingdom have already been deported after expulsion, leaving them in very difficult situations.
Avaaz, the New York-based activist organisation, has launched a petition urging London to help Syrian students whose lives could be under threat if forced to return to their war-torn country, where the government has been blamed for major atrocities against civilian dissidents since pro-democracy protests began in 2011.
“The lives of these 670 Syrian students are threatened – those who would lose their UK visas would be forced to return to Syria. And if they are suspected of taking part in protests against Assad’s government, they could face detention, torture and even assassination at the hands of the Syrian regime,” Avaaz said.
The action against Syrian students came despite calls made earlier this year by senior UK officials for authorities to support Syrian students who could not pay university fees due to reasons related to the conflict.
The UK Business Secretary Vince Cable and the Universities Minister David Willetts said municipalities such as Edinburgh, Newcastle and Bath had launched campaigns to support Syrians trapped in Britain since the start of the war in Syria.
In a letter to Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, they also said that others should follow suit to enable almost 700 undergraduates and postgraduates to study without fear of deportation.
Cable and Willetts said that many universities were “making sure that warning letters regarding non-payment of fees that would normally be sent automatically are not being sent”.
“Instead, universities are proactively contacting Syrian students to offer advice and support,” they said.
Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, backed the intervention, which he claimed was being made in the face of increasingly tight visa restrictions on foreign students.