by Samantha Calthrop
On Tuesday 14th January, UCC staff and students gathered at the quad in solidarity with UCC student Hamza Khan— who, along with his parents, three brothers and sister, was issued a deportation order after having spent three years in Ireland’s Direct Provision system. The Khans’ deportation order was revoked through intervention by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan on the 16th, the morning before a demonstration was set to take place in Cork.
Hamza is a 2nd year Computer Science student, and one of UCC’s Sanctuary Scholars. He attended Coláiste Éamann Rís/Edmund Rice College, where he received a number of school awards before being awarded a scholarship to attend UCC. His three brothers are currently at secondary school in Coláiste Éamann Rís. The family’s academic and sports achievements have also been praised.
The Khan family attracted national attention after their deportation order was instituted, with a petition online by UCC’s Student Union gaining almost 7000 signatures and a petition by the boys’ secondary school gaining about 3000. UCC President Patrick O’Shea, SU President, Ben Dunlea, and staff from both UCC and Edmund Rice all wrote letters to Charlie Flanagan, urging him to intervene.
The Khans are seeking asylum from Saudi Arabia, and were due to be deported to the UK, where they travelled through to get to Ireland. The family originally came from Pakistan, and had to flee Saudi Arabia after anti-Saudi citizen laws were introduced that forced the Khans’ sons to stop attending education to earn money.
UCC Student Union and Sanctuary Working Group have released a joint statement clarifying the Khan’s legal position. “We note that a number of different, and potentially conflicting narratives are circulating publicly on this issue,” it reads, “Proceedings have been issued by the family’s legal representatives, seeking a judicial review of the case. Under High Court rules the Khan family cannot be removed until these proceedings are determined. There has been no statement by Minister Flanagan regarding a potential Ministerial review. Since the family’s future in Ireland remains uncertain, we are seeking clarity from the Minister on his intentions regarding this case.
“We will be continuing a public campaign in the coming weeks to support Hamza and the Khan family’s case to remain in Ireland. We call on all public representatives, including current candidates for election in Cork city, to support us.”
The announcement of their deportation order’s reversal was welcomed by UCC and Edmund Rice officials, although social media has been skeptical of Minister Flanagan’s motives in the wake of the general election.
The solidarity display last Tuesday attracted a modest number of students, with around 100 gathered by 2pm. It was attended by national media, as well as President O’Shea, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Unit Karl Kitching, and UCC Administration staff member Gary Hurley, who helped organise the event. Students and staff chanted, “Justice for Hamza, justice for the Khans!” and, “One race, human race!” for gathered photographers.
“Hamza is studying here and it’s all going incredibly well, and the idea of sending him home at this stage is shocking, and not something that we want to stand by and allow here at UCC,” said Gary Hurley, speaking at the event. “We stand up for our staff, we stand up for our students, and we want the best for them. That apples to Hamza, who is very happy here.”
Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in UCC, Karl Kitching said, “We’re a university of sanctuary. We support people who are seeking sanctuary, who are seeking asylum. Hamza is a sanctuary scholar, which means he is part of an undergraduate scheme to support asylum seekers. When an asylum-seeking student’s ability to continue their studies is put at risk like this, we have to come out and show support.”
President O’Shea echoed these sentiments, pointing to Hamza’s high academic achievements. “We’re very, very supportive of Hamza, he is a fantastic student, as he demonstrated at his school. he is doing reality well here. If he is removed from Ireland, he loses his scholarship. He won’t be able to continue in third level education. It’s disruptive, to him and his family, who’ve suffered so much. We are a global university, we want to attract students from all over the world, and those who seek to learn here should be given the opportunity to learn here. We chose Hamza because he is a fantastic student, and he would be a great benefit to Ireland. He would give back more than he consumes with this scholarship, he would give so much back, culturally and economically, to society.“
There are currently 7000 people in Direct Provision across the country, with an average waiting time of 24 months before they are granted either leave to remain or receive a deportation order. Some remain in the system for up to 12 years. “My own personal view is that Direct Provision is inhumane,” said Mr Kitching, “Deportation is inhumane… These people should live in communities like everyone else.”
When asked if he had a message for the students supporting him, Hamza said, ““I would like to thank them I really appreciate the support. I have no words to describe the support, it is priceless…I realy love them. That’s all I can say. I really love them. Thank you so much for all they are doing, it means a lot to me.”