Students call time on multi-million academic investments in border violence

Students across the UK are today calling on their universities to end “complicity in border violence”, in border and surveillance industry (BSI) firms, and to reveal any investments in the scandal-hit BSI.

Photo by Imre Tömösvári on Unsplash
Photo by Imre Tömösvári on Unsplash
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This comes as part of a national campaign against the growth and expansion of the UK’s “hostile environment” three years on from the Windrush scandal, highlighting the role of corporate profiteering in border violence. Campaigners are calling for an end to UK universities’ millions invested in BSI firms including:

Arms firms such as BAE Systems and Airbus, which provide both advanced technological and military equipment to border security forces that are engaged with or complicit in widespread human rights abuses at borders where thousands lose their lives every year. (BAE weapons have also been recently identified as directly causing displacement.)

Logistics firms such as Serco, G4S, and Mitie, who repeatedly gain lucrative contracts to administer the UK detention estate, despite their involvement in detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and Brook House which have seen widespread allegations of physical and mental abuse, indefinite detention, child detention, routine neglect and squalid conditions.

Surveillance firms such as Accenture, which since using the Syrian refugee emergency to promote its biometric identification systems, has expanded its involvement in borders, recently coming under fire from its own employees for its “unethical and immoral” contracts with US immigration enforcement while children were being separated from their families.

Academic investments are widespread, with examples including Durham University having £3.1m invested in Accenture, IBM, and Aramark; Glasgow University having £2.8m invested in Accenture and BAE Systems; and Huddersfield University having £279k invested in BAE Systems, Accenture, and Serco. Students will call on universities to fully divest from current investments in border companies within three years, exclude border industry companies from their investments in the future, and adopt a publicly available ethical investment policy that ensures human rights protection.

Taylor Adams, a student campaign activist at Huddersfield University said:

“For universities who claim to be open and forward-thinking, it is disgraceful and hypocritical that they are funding firms that profit from detention centres in which people are imprisoned, abused and neglected; surveillance systems which deny basic privacy rights; or equipment designed to hurt and even kill people seeking safety."

Eva Spiekermann, co-director at People & Planet, added:

“From the EU's lethal Mediterranean border, where thousands drown every year, to the UK's dehumanising hostile environment policies which separate families and divide basic services like healthcare along racial lines - violent borders are increasingly facilitated by private companies which arm states with weapons, walls, drones and surveillance systems. These companies' business models profit from chaos, misery and violence.

Students across the UK will not accept their institutions engaging with companies that facilitate regular human rights abuses. No university should invest in firms that profit from violence at borders.”

Dr Angela Sherwood, a lecturer in law at Queen Mary University London, added:

“It is well-evidenced that the world’s most powerful countries are pouring billions of public money into weapons and walls, harming rather than helping people seeking safety and protection. The profit-making border industry has catalysed this trend by giving states the tools, technologies, and militarised equipment to perpetrate violence against racialised and vulnerable groups.”

Zrinka Balo, chief executive at Migrants Organise, added:

“Migrants and refugees are subjected to hostile and degrading treatment at every stage of their journey. This is not a failure of the system – it is the system - hostile and violent by design. Companies make millions from imprisoning people with no judicial oversight or providing substandard accommodation to those who are forced into destitution. We must work in solidarity to resist border violence wherever it appears and restore dignity and justice for all."

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