Lord Apetsi, National Union of Students Scotland’s Refugees and Asylum Seekers Officer, visited the University of Edinburgh Students’ Association on Thursday, 29 September to speak about how Scottish higher education institutions can support the rights of migrants and refugees in the UK.
Earlier this year, Apetsi himself was detained by the UK Home Office and was forced to prepare for deportation back to Ghana due to an “administrative error”. Following the launch of a popular GoFundMe campaign, the Home
Office withdrew their decision and confirmed they would reconsider his case.
Apetsi’s visit to the University was well attended and began with a short presentation by Sharon Cowan, Professor of Feminist and Queer Legal Studies at the University.
Cowan gave a legal background of the asylum seeking process, and provided context on the numbers of displaced peoples around the world and the intake of various host countries.
Apetsi spoke following Cowan’s presentation. He began by thanking organisers and EUSA officials, saying he was proud to be part of the event.
He gave a brief overview of the asylum seeking process and raised contemporary issues surrounding migrant, asylum seeker and refugee rights, including the rise of politicians with anti-immigrant ideologies, such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage.
Speaking about the current Syrian refugee crisis, he said, “people don’t want to leave home and families to go to the UK. The Syrians don’t want to come here; honestly, they don’t want to come here”.
However, he used the biggest portion of the evening to recount his own experiences in Britain and within the detention system.
He emotionally recounted the prejudice he and his children have received in the UK and reported that, as he is cannot hold a bank account, he is largely limited to using supermarket gift vouchers and is unable to buy basic items for his children.
Speaking at length about the ill treatment he witnessed and experienced in UK detention centers, he said that he saw “men crying like babies,” and that he still has nightmares about the sounds he heard.
He told the attendees that he sometimes asks himself, “why am I putting my children through this? Why did I come here at all?”
Nevertheless, he spent the evening reiterating a positive message; the need for strong civil society, student activism and solidarity with refugees.
“It is very important we speak for the voiceless, if called to speak for the voiceless, do it. People need help,” Apetsi told the audience.
Highly active himself in student politics, he called for campuses to become more politicised and asserted that many go into student politics to train as “career” politicians, calling this “disgusting.”
He reported that, after his experiences, he is now dedicating his life to helping people.
The Student spoke directly with Apetsi after his speech, and he expressed his passion for helping others and for encouraging students everywhere to open their minds to activist politics. “If you see something and feel you should act, that you should say something, then it’s your calling,” he said.