TODAY marks the bail hearing of Muhammad Rauf Waris, a business management student at the University of Stirling, detained by the racist Home Office for allegedly working too many hours while on a student visa. It’s a horrifying story and a clear example of the hostile environment suffered by international students and other migrants in the UK.

Muhammad’s situation is a particularly horrendous one – he’s been locked up in Dungavel for more than two months in an environment he has described as “mental torture”. His mental and physical health have been severely impacted.

Muhammad and his lawyer say they have evidence that he hasn’t violated the conditions of his visa and for the crime he is accused of, the treatment he has received is vastly disproportionate. The Home Office has imposed this hell on Muhammad because, it says, it has reason to believe he worked more than 20 hours a week.

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It’s one of the many restrictions international students across the UK face as a result of the Home Office’s hostile environment policies, the apparent aim of which is to make the experience of those who come to the UK to study as unpleasant as possible.

Research the National Union of Students Scotland conducted last winter found that international students are disproportionately affected by student poverty, with half having skipped a meal while two-fifths having gone without heating due to their financial situation.

Two-thirds said their mental health has been affected by money worries, and a horrifying 22% have experienced homelessness at some point during their studies – almost double the already eye-watering rate experienced by the general student population. Despite these horrendous statistics, international students are not entitled to the same support offered to home students, including the majority of hardship and discretionary funds. This means that while their peers can access help and support from their college or university when struggling financially, international students are left to fend for themselves.

While 60% of students rely on part-time work alongside their full-time studies just to pay the bills, international students face the 20-hour cap during term time, meaning they can’t work more hours to make ends meet in the same way as home students can.

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Of course, the very fact that any student is having to work 20 hours or more alongside their full-time studies is evidence of a broken education system, but the fact that an international student can face months of imprisonment for even being suspected of doing so is a terrifying reality.

Back when I was working the checkouts at a supermarket in Glasgow to keep the roof over my own head as a student (and often working well over 20 hours a week), one of my colleagues lost his job as a result of miscommunication from his university.

It was right before Christmas and his classes had finished.

After checking with his university online, he believed the term had ended and he was therefore no longer required to keep to the term-time work restrictions (the restrictions relax to 36.5 hours outwith term-time).

Unfortunately, although his classes had all concluded for the holidays, from the Home Office’s perspective the term didn’t end until all classes across the university had come to a close, and as a result he worked just a couple of hours too many, just a couple of days before the restrictions no longer applied.

The National: Home Office sign

This was right in the midst of the pandemic and he was sacked immediately, or else the store would have risked a hefty fine or even criminal prosecution, as well as a potentially far worse outcome for my colleague.

International students pay sky-high tuition fees to come and study in the UK and arrive to a country which has made as great an effort as possible to make them feel unwelcome.

It’s deplorable.

Worst of all, the cruel, racist hostile environment looks here to stay for as long as Westminster is in charge. Just a few months ago, Rishi Sunak announced new plans to prevent international students from being able to bring their families with them to study, a move which is as cruel as it is stupid – and which will disproportionately affect female students.

The move was widely condemned by those across the education sector but was shockingly welcomed by Labour’s shadow minister for immigration, Stephen Kinnock, whose only substantial critique of the move was that it didn’t go far enough. Of course, while the primary architect for the racist hostile environment policy was Theresa May when she was home secretary during the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition government, the idea was first coined by Liam Byrne, the Labour junior minister for borders and immigration under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The National: Sir Keir Starmer Image: free

Keir Starmer’s (above) Labour have since doubled down on numerous anti-immigration policies which just a few years ago would’ve been more at home in a Ukip manifesto than a Labour one.

It’s clear that the most effective way to end the hostile environment in Scotland – other than to gain independence – is to create our own hostile environment towards the racist Home Office and those who do its bidding.

When the Home Office tried to kidnap our neighbours on Kenmure Street in Glasgow’s Pollokshields, we showed we would make their job as hard as possible and, after just a few hours, they had no choice but to let them go free.

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In the days since an open letter was published by Amnesty International at the University of Stirling, Student Action for Refugees Stirling, NUS Scotland and the No Evictions Network calling for the release of Muhammad, more than 1000 people have signed it in solidarity.

Politicians including Scottish Green MSPs Maggie Chapman and Mark Ruskell, SNP MP Alyn Smith and the SNP’s candidate for the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, Katy Loudon, have all shown support for Muhammad, and significant press coverage – particularly by The National – has given him a platform to show the grim reality faced by international students.

As he faces his bail hearing today, he has the full support of thousands of people across Scotland and the UK. But as we fight for an end to his horrendous ordeal, we must also continue to fight for an end to the cruel hostile environment and the abolition of the racist Home Office so that no-one else ever has to face what Muhammad is facing.