About twenty women and men attended this successful workshop. Participants included people from Refugee Education Support teams in London, Leonard Cheshire (international section), Ay Family Campaign, Unison, Women Against Rape, Payday and No School Apartheid (NSA).
After an introduction by Nina Lopez-Jones, Niki Adams, LAW’s Chair, gave an overview of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum (NI&A) Act which included the clause which would segregate the children of asylum seekers away from mainstream education. She spoke briefly about LAW’s support work with No School Apartheid, a mother-led campaign, which includes parents and other carers, asylum seekers, teachers, unions, people in the Church, etc. NSA with LAW’s help had organised two very successful lobbies in the Lords and the Commons.
Kay Chapman (NSA) (pictured left) described how they started. Her children’s school has many children originating from war zones. Parents and teachers knew that the legislation was divisive. NSA started a letter campaign to MPs, which quickly spread around the country, to parents and teachers defending children in their schools. NSA was invited to the T&G Annual Conference, and met with Camden NUT. Ms Chapman read from a number of head teachers’ heartfelt letters of support that stressed the contribution of asylum seeker children to their schools.
Michael Kalmanovitz (Payday) described how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child could be used to oppose the detention of children. He quoted from a number of sources to show that Local Education Authorities (LEA) would not be responsible or accountable for the standard of education in accommodation centres.
Claire Montgomery, an advisory teacher for refugee children, outlined the legal obligations on local education authorities to educate the children of asylum seekers and their responsibilities to those in detention centres and accommodation centres. She explained that LEAs wait to see if asylum seeker children are detained, “dispersed” or deported before considering a school place. It isn’t known how many children are in detention centres, nor for how long. A number of NUT branches have resolved that members should not work in accommodation centres. Nina Lopez-Jones reported on a Tottenham school where teachers are publicising the “disappearance” of children. Zizu Mengistab (pictured top), who has just won refugee status, described how her daughter lost a year of schooling by being illegally denied a school place.
Sarah Parker (Ay Family campaign) gave an in-depth account of how Mrs Ay, a Kurdish woman with four children, despite having lived in the community for three years and the children having gone to a local school, are all now in a detention centre. They have been there almost a year: conditions are terrible, the children aren’t being educated and are depressed. The judge ruled that a strong immigration policy outweighed the needs of the children. LAW offered their support and stressed the importance of publicising that because of legal technicalities the full case has never been heard in court and insisting that the family has the right to a proper hearing.
There was a very lively discussion about the responsibility of LEAs, the teaching unions and voluntary organisations to support asylum seeker children. It was agreed to contact teaching union branches that are campaigning for mainstream education for asylum seeker children; to follow up on the international human rights conventions that protect children; to encourage in particular children’s charities and bishops to support and publicise the plight of children in detention. People were encouraged to remain in touch to support each others’ work.