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SOAS occupied in protest at cleaners immigration raid

imc-uk-features | 16.06.2009 12:18 | Education | Migration

Update: Occupation ends with (partial) success.

Students and staff at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), along with anti-deportation campaigners, have occupied the School's main building in protest at the management's and immigration authorities' attack on migrant workers at the School. Nine cleaners were detained on Friday, 12th June, in an orchestrated dawn raid in which the management and cleaning contractor ISS reportedly played a 'sickening' role [details].

Five of the nine have already been deported, with the others held in detention pending their deportation. A well-attended rally was held on Monday, 15th June, outside the building [pictures]. Another rally and demonstration were held on Tuesday [pictures | update].

Campaigners believe the raid was the management's 'revenge' against the cleaners' successful campaign, Justice for Cleaners, which saw them winning the London living wage and trade union representation.

Links: Occupation's blog | the Justice for Cleaners campaign | London Indymedia feature | Shouldn't the SOAS raid be the beggining of a campaign against subcontracting?

The occupiers have issued a list of demands to the SOAS management, which included:
1. We call on the directorate to request the secretary of state to immediately release the detainees and to prevent the deportation of the three cleaners who are still in detention in the UK.
2. For the directorate to release a public statement condemning what has happened to the SOAS cleaners and calling for their immediate release and return.
3. To campaign for the return of the cleaners who have already been deported.
4. To bring all contract staff in house. SOAS should not use contractors, ISS or others.
5. To keep immigration officers from entering campus under ANY circumstances or other forms of collaboration with immigration or police. Universities are for education not for state violence and oppression.
6. A year's wage as reparations for all detained and deported staff.
7. To hold accountable SOAS managers who were complicit in facilitating the raid and detention of the cleaners, refusing to aid a sick worker and a pregnant woman.
8. To reinstate Jose Stalin Bermudez, the SOAS UNISON branch chair.
9. To respect the right to organise in trade unions unimpeded.
10. To provide space and resources for a public meeting to build support for the SOAS 9 and other migrants, in education and beyond, affected by immigration control and racism.
11. Amnesty for all those involved.



Update from the Occupation

16.06.2009 20:01

Today's rally was very well attended, with speakers including the occupiers, Jeremy Corbyn, Michael Rosen and Alberto, a member of Willis Cleaners for Justice. The mass marched around the buildings of other Bloomsbury colleges.

Despite the threat of eviction at 1:30p.m. today, the occupiers have persuaded management to enter into negotiations, and hope to achieve the following in writing tomorrow:

- A letter to the Secretary of State from the Directorate requiring exceptional leave to remain for the cleaners still in the country
- A public statement with a commitment not to facilitate any future raids
- A meeting of the Governing Body to discuss the end of ISS's contract at SOAS
- Amnesty for all involved

The atmosphere at SOAS is good, as are the numbers. Please come along and support the occupiers!

- Homepage:

Rally tomorrow

16.06.2009 22:57

The fight continues.

Rally scheduled for tomorrow at midday. Details at this address.



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Update on the SOAS cleaners

05.07.2009 18:41

More news is emerging of just how dehumanising and brutal have been the effects of the immigration raids at SOAS organised by external contractor ISS shortly after the cleaners won union recognition and pay rises to the level of the London living wage.

One of the UNISON members picked up, who was traumatised by the clandestine nature of the raid and the appearance of around 40 officers in full body armour, arrived back in Bogota, 48 hours after the raid, wearing the same clothes she was arrested in and with 75pence in her pocket. Disorientated and distressed, she was simply dumped in Bogota—hundreds of miles from her home town without any concern as to how she could get back to her family.

Another of the nine, Rosa Perez, was deported on Tuesday 30th without being given the 72 hours notice that is required—she had no chance to say goodbye to workmates who had been visiting her in detention or to receive the collections that SOAS staff had been making to help with her return.

One of the nine, Marina Silva, remains in detention at Yarlswood—where detainees are on hunger strikes and other forms of protest because of the appalling conditions and the decision to freeze their bank accounts, which contain all the wages earned at hard jobs like cleaning or fruit picking. Marina, who is 63, has claimed asylum because her husband was murdered in an honour killing at home and she was threatened until she left. Having lost the breadwinner and in fear, Marina eventually came to live and work in the UK a few years ago. She is very frightened in Yarlswood where her detention disrupted medical tests.

1. Please send urgent faxes immediately to Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for the Home Office asking that Marina Silva is released from detention and given permission to remain in the UK. Please use the "model letter" at

You can copy/amend this or write your own version. (No Home Office reference numbers but fax anyway).

Fax: 020 8760 3132 / + 44 20 8760 3132 if you are faxing from outside UK)


"CIT - Treat Official"

2. Ring your MP and express your concern for these individuals and ask them to pass on the message to Alan Johnson. You can get your MPs details from or ring 020 7219 3000 and ask for their office. Your MP can ask a question about this or can lay down an early day motion.

3. Ask your trade union branch/faith group/community association etc to also take action

Any faxes/E-mails sent to Alan Johnson or to your union branch/faith group/community association:

Please copy to SOAS UNISON, fax: 020 7898 4039. or

- Homepage:

ISS' reputation

13.07.2009 01:57

This doesn't come as a surprise, as I know first hand what goes on in ISS, having worked there a number of years ago. Cleaners are threatened and intimidated constantly. I've personally seen a manager walk into a nursery drunk, defraud everyone else, and sack half the people I used to work with.

Now the unions and the Socialist Party must back the cleaners and sort out that corrupt firm.

Mary Jane
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