Friday, February 11, 2011

Education has always been my Dream - Lamine’s Story

Lamine Konate, STAR President and student at the London Metropolitan University, has had a long struggle to obtain asylum and to receive access to education. In this article he tells his story.

Education has always been my dream. Whatever my immigration status, financial circumstances, or age, my right to learn, read and write should be considered as my human right. No one should, regardless of who the person is, be denied the right to know. “Everyone has the right to education… and higher education shall be equally accessible to all…” Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 26(1)

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The refusal and its impact on my studies

When I started at college, my admission was straightforward, unlike other asylum seekers who experience difficulties and barriers, sometimes even being denied a place. However, after a year, things started to go in the wrong direction. At the end of my second year in studying NVQ level 2 in accounting there was a decline in my performance at college because the Home Office dismissed my claim for refugee status and humanitarian protection with the right to appeal. As the result, I could not perform properly and failed my exams.

To make things worse, my tutor and the module leader told me that the college will not accept my admission because my asylum claim was refused. He also told me that beside this he can help me continue my studies if I come to his own college. When I got there, he told me that I have to pay a huge fee to be able to start there. When I refuse to accept his demand, he declined to sign for my college works and my application form. I sought advice from a friend who later advised me to leave the college and apply to another one because this man will make life difficult for me. I decided to leave the college and start to make use of libraries at my new school while preparing for my court dates.

Dispersal and my struggle to continue education

Three months later, I applied to the AAT (Association of Accounting Technician) qualification and passed my exam a year later to become an accounting technician. The AAT qualification could land me a very good job but I could not apply for any work as asylum seekers are denied the right to work in the UK. At the same time, I was dispersed by NASS (National Asylum Support Service) team to Wolverhampton. There, I applied to the University of Wolverhampton to study CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accounting) qualification. I was shocked to learn that my application was successful and was delighted that I will be resuming my studies again in one of the UK’s prestigious universities.

One Monday morning in April, in my first year at the university, while I was at the lecture, I received a missed call from my flat mate who informed me that the NASS agent turned up and asked us to pack because we can no longer live in the house and we will be moving to Middlesbrough that afternoon. It was a heart break for me. I contacted a ‘One Stop Shop’ and other agencies that support asylum seekers in Wolverhampton to be able to find an accommodation for me in Wolverhampton. They told me that they can not stop the NASS dispersal and I was lucky to be offered an alternative accommodation elsewhere. I explained to them that I was enrolled at the university and my exams were in a month. They replied to me that my temporary condition to stay in the UK while awaiting my decision does not allow me to be enrolled in a long course and therefore they can not do anything to help.

The same night I was in Middlesbrough crying all night and the following day and could barely get out of the house. A few days later, I went to enrol for CIMA courses at Teesside University but unfortunately they were not taking any newcomers at that time and I would have to wait for the start of new academic year.

Access – and success – at London Metropolitan University

With the help of a friend, I was able to return to London and applied to London Metropolitan University where asylum seekers are charged ‘home’ student fees. I am very grateful to the Vice Chancellor’s decision to allow asylum seekers to be charged home student fees. I then enrolled for CIMA again. The requirement to study the CIMA course with London Metropolitan is to be in a work related environment as the course is more practical with the syllabus. Unfortunately I had to withdraw from CIMA course because I was not allowed to work while my application is pending. I then applied for an Undergraduate course in Economics and International Relations.

How I was treated by the asylum system

During all these times, I have experienced difficulties not only with my application for the right to stay in the UK but also with the way I was treated.

Firstly I had to report to the Home Office Reporting centre every week at a specific time in the day and the journey there could take up to four hours by bus. I requested with a letter from the university to be able to report every month but this was refused and every time you show up there the line you hear from the reporting officer is “you can be arrested and deported at any time”.

Secondly the dispersal system of the NASS which does not take into account the circumstances of the people concerned.

Lastly, the right to work for asylum seekers. If I was allowed to work, I would have been able to secure a job, contribute to the economy, support my self and be independent of the government’s little financial support. It could also be central to my personal development whether I secure refugee status or return home.

I am somehow lucky to be a very motivated person because I see all these barriers as a challenge for me and always tell myself that these hurdles will not bring me down because I will one day be who I want to be.

I founded STAR at London Met and have been President for over a year. Today I am working with STAR National to campaign for equal access to universities and I hope I will be a very good asset for the network.

Lamine Konate, STAR President and student at the London Metropolitan University.

People seeking asylum do not have equal access to university education. As a student network STAR believes that this is wrong and that higher education should be equally accessible to all. We are campaigning to ensure that asylum seekers have Equal Access to higher education and can join us at university as equals.

Posted by Communications on 11/02/2011 at 12:00 PM