Syrian students at British universities have been trapped in the UK without money to pay fees or meet their living costs because of the civil war in their home country.
Several hundred students are thought to be affected. There are around 650 Syrians studying in the UK. Around four-fifths are on postgraduate courses, according to the National Union of Students.
Many Syrian students rely on private sources of income to pay their fees, but have found themselves cut off by the government of President Bashar al-Assad or by sanctions against it.
Mansour Shaeban, formerly a computing student at Bolton, was expelled last year after being unable to get money from his family to pay his fees. “They have money,” he said, “but they cannot send it out of the country.”
Husam Helmi, who is studying towards a doctorate in economics at Brunel, said that following “the sanctions on Syrian National Bank and also the closure of the embassy . . . there is no way now that the student can have access to funds.”
Mr Helmi is one of around 100 students supported by a Syrian government scholarship. “I haven’t received any money since April,” he said. “I’m just relying on some work and some savings.”
Some of the first students to be affected were active in the opposition to the Assad regime. Mr Helmi said: “Some students participate in opposition activities, and after the government recognised that, they cut scholarships totally.”
The British Council has negotiated deals with eight universities to make sure that students on the main Syrian government scholarship scheme are not thrown off their courses. A hardship scheme is currently supporting 58 scholars.
This process too has been made more difficult by the conflict in Syria: Mr Helmi says students need details from Syria, such as up-to-date letters from their Syrian home universities, that are now almost impossible to get.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is holding meetings about the problem and says that the Treasury has “issued licences to the banks concerned to allow them to deal with funds that are subject to an EU asset freeze and transfer this into the students’ personal accounts”.
The business department added: “We recommend that universities and scholarship awarding bodies use their own discretion over fees, and their welfare and hardship funds to help support these students if possible. In some cases universities have temporarily suspended fees or provided financial support to students.”
Luis Morago, a director of Avaaz, a campaigning organisation that has taken up their cause, said: “The UK beats the drum for action on Syria but has so far done nothing to help hundreds of stranded Syrian students in Britain.”