Syrian students across the UK are in need of urgent financial aid due to the on-going conflict in their homeland.
Of the 670 Syrian students in UK universities, 21 are studying at the University of Nottingham. Approximately 420 students across the UK have been sponsored by the Syrian government, while others were privately funded. Following the crisis in Syria, these sources of funding have been under threat.
Syrian students are being denied funding because they can’t get official headed letters to send to the British Council.
University of Nottingham PhD student Yamen Badr told Impact that the “EU sanctions against Syria have affected the students expecting money from their parents and the official students sponsored by the government in Syria. There is no way to communicate or transfer money.”
The British Council scheme is open to Syrian students seeking financial help, however the number of students eligible to this funding has only been widened after pressure from the Avaaz campaign, a global online campaigning network.
Christine Gilmore, spokesperson for the campaign, told Impact that students were being rejected from the British Council fund “because they were unable to get official headed letters from their Syrian universities on official letterheads because of the crisis”.
A Syrian student at Edinburgh University told Impact that he was tortured for 48 days during the Syrian uprising.
Official letterheads are impossible to get hold of because “there is no emailing system there, all paper must be collected in person from the University”, Husam Helmi, Syrian student from Brunel University told Impact. He also said that, “No employees are going to work because of the conflict. Universities are under attack”. At least 82 people were killed and 162 injured after a bomb exploded in Aleppo University in January this year.
Although the British Council has established a £1 million hardship fund, only 100 of the 670 Syrian students in the UK are eligible to the fund, from only eight universities.
One of the main problems facing Syrian students in the UK is the absence of an established national policy for all universities outlining the means of protection for Syrian students.
“The University does not have funding to support students in ongoing cases of hardship”.
Yassin*, a Syrian student at Edinburgh University told Impact that he was tortured for 48 days during the Syrian uprising. He said he was grateful to Edinburgh University for reacting “sympathetically” on his return to the UK, especially given the Syrian regime cut off Yassin’s scholarship to the University.
However, Edinburgh stopped his funding between the submission of his PhD in November last year and his viva, due to take place in April, despite the fact that he has retained his status as a student. Although he has appealed to the University, they are looking at his case “without any promises”.
Universities Minister David Willets gave a statement on the 18th January, urging students to speak to their university and for universities to give students access to emergency funds.
The University of Nottingham has an Alumni/Crisis fund, where students can meet with the International Office on an individual basis to appeal for financial assistance. The International Office told IMPACT that they work closely with the University Counselling service to ensure students can be seen by a counsellor. They also pointed out that “the University does not have funding to support students in ongoing cases of hardship. The funds are for short-term, unforeseen circumstances. As such, priority is given to students who are coming to the end of their studies”.
“They are looking into my case without any promises”.
However, for Nottingham student Yamen Badr his primary concern is to be financially independent in order that his family can keep their savings for his brother. His family are currently trying to get his brother out of Syria in order for him to escape his military service. Badr notes that although “they do not need my financial help, this can change at any moment”.
After trying to get a job with the University, in catering, cleaning and the libraries, Badr told IMPACT he: “got the impression [from people in his department] that the University is trying to help the local community” over its international students. He said that he thought “this is the right thing for the University”, but that it was frustrating for him in his search for a job to help his family.
The Human Resources department told Impact that they cannot confirm this allegation, given that “the University does not have a ‘marker’ for this information”.
Students’ Union BME officer has said that “students who have experienced issues should contact any of the SU officers or the student advice centre. We will be able to help with complete confidentiality”.
Additional reporting by Rob Moher
*name changed to protect identity
Image: James Gordon via Flickr