Undoing Borders: An Interview With Cara Marsh

Cara Marsh is a graduating philosophy student at the University of Nottingham and co-founder of the people and planet campaigning organisation at the university. The campaign launches today and to mark it we have taken the opportunity to find out what they’re up to, why it matters and what can be done to help.

How did you find out about the campaign?

“The conversation began around the time of the first strikes last year. A representative from People and Planet came to talk at the Trent building occupation about the Undoing Borders campaign which was, at the time, in its very early stages. I really became involved with the campaign when People and Planet hosted a national campaign planning day at the University in February. Students from universities across the country attended – we spoke about different experiences of borders within universities and brainstormed action plans for resisting these borders.”

Why did you first get involved? 

“Borders and immigration have always been highly contentious in this country, however in recent years this has significantly worsened. The Brexit referendum, the ongoing refugee crisis, the Windrush scandal – our country has become an ever more inhospitable place for immigrants. The ‘hostile environment’ is the most tangible embodiment of this. Working with refugees, I am acutely aware of the everyday effects of this system – the brutality of the Home Office, the racism endemic on our streets, the suffering which is now built into the very structure of our society. Refugees often bear the brunt of this system, however the hostile environment impinges on every aspect of our social world. As a university student, I felt it was important that I also worked to resist the manifestation of the border regime in my immediate environment, the university.”

People & Planet is a network of student campaign groups in the UK

What is Undoing Borders trying to accomplish?

“The overarching aim of the Undoing Borders campaign is to resist the hostile environment on university campuses. Within universities, the hostile environment takes many forms. Staff are becoming border guards through the practice of attendance monitoring. The university shares significant data (including the addresses, location, and immigration status of students and staff) with the Home Office. Barriers have been erected which make it difficult for non-British and non-white students to access higher education. Financial barriers constitute a significant hurdle – this includes international fees and visa fees and exclusion from student finance, as well as things such as the ‘high risk countries’ category, which dictates stricter academic and financial admission requirements for certain countries. 

Undoing Borders demands an end to university complicity with the hostile environment. Prior to COVID, Undoing Borders was pressuring universities to sign a pledge to this effect, including a commitment to overhaul data collection policies and ensuring the protection of the fundamental rights of students and staff. Currently, the campaign is focusing on addressing the urgent problems produced by COVID – an open letter to UUK has been published, imploring universities to look out for migrant students. Students and staff on visas have ‘no recourse to public funds’, meaning they are denied access to state benefits and housing assistance. There have been reports of students starving. Undoing Borders is demanding universities establish hardship funds, to provide immediate relief, and to support the abolition of NRPF.”

What makes this campaign important to UoN? 

“Universities have become instruments of the hostile environment. This includes our university, and we must resist this. Universities should be free, open spaces – as long as the hostile environment persists, this will not be the case. The strikes earlier this year highlighted the array of issues within our university. The inability of some staff members to strike, as result of their visas, and the worries of some students about attendance monitoring during strikes, testifies to how inextricably linked issues around borders and immigration are to broader problems within the university. The strikes encompassed a broad range of demands, such as the BME and gender pay gaps and the current culture within universities. The slogan ‘our working environment is your learning environment’ embodied what the strikes were fighting for. The culture within our university is currently constituted by belligerence and animosity towards migrant staff and students. We therefore must work to better this and demand a higher standard in how our university treats all of its students and staff. The University of Nottingham ranks appallingly in People and Planet’s University League Table – we are 75th, making us a 2:2 university. There is a lot of work to be done. 

Of course, it is not only about universities, it is about defying and dismantling the racist, exclusionary borders which are constantly being strengthened in this country.”

Reporting to the home office has decreased during the pandemic

What are your plans for next year?

“It is unclear how COVID is going to affect borders and the hostile environment, however it is unlikely it will be positive. We must continue to demand the university end the surveillance of migrant students and staff and make a stand against the hostile environment on campus. We have been established as a campaign group, and we will continue to pressure the university to sign the pledge against the hostile environment. However, we must also be ready for unanticipated consequences of the Coronavirus crisis. It is therefore crucial we organise now, to ensure we are in a good position to resist whatever issues, both within the university and in the country as a whole, emerge.”

How can people get involved? 

“Follow our social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and send us a message if you would like to be involved – getting as many people on board as we can is crucial to getting this campaign off the ground. 

You can read about the Undoing Borders campaign and the demands we are making here.

We are currently demanding urgent action from UUK in response to the Coronavirus crisis – sign the open letter here.”

By George Sullivan

History and History of Art student Uni of Nottingham // Nottingham Labour Students Co Chair //

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