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How we take down the hostile environment

The story of Let Us Learn. The young people taking on the hostile environment, one piece at a time.

Stephanie Wong | 02 Aug 2018

An image of young students with placards saying "Let Us Learn"

Image credit: Let Us Learn.

Let Us Learn

We are Let Us Learn. We are a project under Just for Kids Law born in 2014 for three main purposes:

  1. To raise awareness of how some lawful migrants are blocked from applying for student finance, and therefore can’t take up university places.
  2. Challenge government rules on eligibility criteria for student finance through litigation and campaigning.
  3. Level the playing field so that all young people in the UK, regardless of immigration status are able to continue their education beyond sixth form college.

Our story

Let Us Learn movement. Image credit: Let Us Learn.

Let Us Learn is made up of 1,000 young people who were brought to the UK at a young age (some as young as 6 months). Many of us have a form of immigration status called limited leave to remain.

This immigration status means our documents are checked by the home office (with an expensive fee attached) 4 times over a 10-year period before becoming eligible to apply for settled status or citizenship. What this means, in reality, is that for many of us our lives are put in limbo, we are treated differently from our peers and barred from accessing student finance because of restrictive eligibility criteria.

Many Let us Learners are unaware of our status until we apply for a university at the age of 17 or 18. It is at this moment that some of us realise we do not have the documents to attend university and we are not recognised as British.

For the majority of us, this was when we began our journey to regularise our status and become recognised as lawful residents.

We take Student Finance to Court

Let Us Learn action outside the Supreme Court. Image credit: Let Us Learn.

Prior to July 2015, young migrants who were in the UK lawfully but hadnt yet been granted citizenship were forced to endure a 10-year wait before we could apply for a student loan and go to university.

In 2015, the student finance rules were challenged in the Supreme Court. We organised in force. Over 50 young people, whose lives and careers would be affected by the judges ruling staged a peaceful protest outside the court and attended the hearing. We also won the support of four members of parliament.

The judges decided that the student finance rules were unlawfully discriminatory and should be changed. The blanket ban on anyone with LLR being eligible for finance was loosened, however extra hurdles still remain.

To qualify for a student loan, young migrants must have had LLR for at least three years and have lived in the UK for at least half of their lives by the first of September of their academic course.

Our journey is not easy, but we are committed and determined. Here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

The power of storytelling

Ijeoma Moore giving testimony at the Copper Box Citizens UK action. Image credit: Act Build Change.

We have seen the power of storying telling as a way of raising our voices to force change. At the start of Let Us Learns development personal, intricate and powerful stories unfolded within a group of young women. These stories grew into a volume of over a thousand narratives telling about a thousand lives. It is a volume we are all a part of and it forms a community of people that was largely unrecognised before Let Us Learn began its campaign for change.

We share stories to share experiences. Newcomers see that our struggle is relatable to their struggle: Our stories become familiar and significant. Our stories shift the focus from the individual to the wider community. Not only do the young people want to be helped, they want to be the help for those in similar circumstances.

The Let Us Learn team is made up of people with lived experience of the immigration system. The pain and hurt that we experience through enduring such a hostile and oppressive system are why we act.

Building relationships

Let Us Learn members. Image credit: Let Us Learn.

We build relationships and solidarity through monthly gatherings. Our monthly meetings can sometimes be overwhelming for those new to our work. We usually start off with games, before moving onto our focus of the month.

Our last theme was reflection. Through different activities, we looked back on what went well and didnt go so well in the last 6 months and developed new goals around that. We always end our gathering with a young person sharing a story of their experiences as a migrant in the UK and how that has impacted their lives.

Young, Gifted and Blocked

Christmas Action. Image credit: Let Us Learn.

Our #YoungGiftedAndBlocked campaign called on universities to create scholarships that would enable those of us who do not meet the student finance rules the opportunity to keep on learning.

In December 2016, we sent letters to all main UK universities and met with 10 London vice chancellors during our #mincepiefriday day of action. The mince pies were home-made, and hand delivered to 10 London-based universities by 20 Let Us Learners as a seasonal gesture of goodwill and to ask for a face-to-face meeting. On that day, we told our stories to each university and our strategy worked. As a result of these and other efforts, more than 20 universities agreed to offer scholarship places.

We care about care

Aside from changing policy and reducing the barriers facing young migrants, we also provide a space to acknowledge the mental toll of being a migrant. We reflect and work together on self-care regularly to ensure that the pressure isnt overwhelming.

Although Let Us Learn started off as an education campaign, this year we have broadened our remit to include the wider hostile environment. We do not want any more young people having to experience our struggle. As a result, we advocate, we lobby, and we continue to push through until we see results.

We continue to Act, Build and Change watch our space.