By Simon Bierwald from Dortmund, Germany (Dubai Sunset from Burj Khalifa) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Birmingham UCU calls for immediate release of PhD student Matthew Hedges and for action to safeguard rights of students and staff at Dubai campus

Birmingham UCU reacted with alarm to the news that Matthew Hedges, a PhD student at Durham University, has been charged with spying for the UK government in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We send our support to Matthew and his family and friends and call for his immediate release and safe return to the UK. Additionally, we call on management at the University of Birmingham, which just last month welcomed its first students to the University of Birmingham Dubai in the UAE, to explain what they are doing to safeguard the rights of students and staff at the Dubai campus.

Longstanding concerns over University of Birmingham Dubai

Birmingham UCU has consistently expressed serious concerns about plans to open a University of Birmingham campus in Dubai and sought answers from management over how the rights of students and staff will be safeguarded, in light of the UAE’s poor human rights record.

For example, Human Rights Watch notes:

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) arbitrarily detains and in some cases forcibly disappears individuals who criticize the authorities. The UAE plays a leading role in the Saudi-led coalition which has carried out scores of unlawful attacks in Yemen, some likely war crimes. The UAE was implicated in detainee abuse at home and abroad. Labor abuses in the UAE persist. Migrant construction workers face serious exploitation. Domestic workers’ rights are now enshrined in law, but some provisions are weaker than those accorded to other workers under the labor law. The UAE has denied activists and international human rights organizations’ access.

A particular focus has been safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ staff and students. We commend the work of the University’s Rainbow Network in this respond. Last month, we republished the Rainbow Network’s advice to LGBTQ staff considering working for the University in Dubai.

Joint letter of concern about Dubai campus

Working in conjunction with the other recognised trade unions on campus (Unison, GMB and Unite), on 15 October we sent a joint letter to the University, expressing our concerns about the Dubai campus:

As recognised trade unions representing support and academic staff, we are disappointed that we have not been consulted on the opening of the Dubai campus, or on the policies that will apply to the members of staff who will be working for the University in Dubai. Understandably, many of our members have raised concerns about the lack of adequate and clear assurances that their rights will be upheld while working in Dubai. In order to have a constructive dialogue and better understanding of the practicalities of working and studying on the Dubai campus, we have a series of questions and assurances that we need from you.

Actions speak louder than words

In the letter, we call on management to provide clear answers regarding a range of concerns  about the operation of the University’s Dubai campus, including: trade union rights; legal for students and staff arrested by UAE authorities; LGBTQ and women’s rights; academic freedom and pay and progression.

We end the letter by calling on the University to take whatever action is necessary to distance itself immediately, publicly and unmistakably from Dubai’s atrocious record on LGBTQ rights, on trade union rights and on migrant rights, and to ensure that staff are fully and frankly informed, in writing and up front, about the dangers of working in an environment in which their basic human rights will not be respected, and which refuses these rights to everyone, including our own students in Dubai.

We will keep you informed about how the University responds to our letter.

You can read the full letter on Unison University of Birmingham branch website.

Featured image: By Simon Bierwald from Dortmund, Germany (Dubai Sunset from Burj Khalifa) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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