Monday, August 14, 2006

Dirty Work by the Irwell?

Salford University

from video, Rhetta Moran on Asylum, by Chris Edwards,

SALFORD, the city where I grew up, inspired Ewan McColl's song Dirty Old Town. A city of factories, mills, docks and a mine. They've cleaned it up a bit now, the colliery shut 15 years ago, and the docks are empty but have a marina. Reflecting the social changes there's a new young offenders' institution and prison, HMP Forest Bank, where Agecroft power station used to be.

Salford Tech, as once was, is a University now by the banks of the Irwell. Is someone there doing dirty work for the government?

Dr Rhetta Moran is an internationally recognised researcher on refugee issues, and a member of the National Union of Journalists. In 2002 she took up the case of Abdullah Rahmatullah, an Afghan refugee from the Taliban who had become a leader in his community. Rahmatullah was ‘arrested’ without warning when he reported to a Salford asylum seekers’ centre, and held at Manchester airport before being sent to the Harmonsworth Detention Centre near Heathrow

From there he was deported to Austria, on the grounds that he had stopped a few hours there on his way to Britain. Dr.Moran discovered he was being held at a remote camp near Austria's mountain border with Italy. This is how the British and other western governments are "batting for freedom", as Mrs.T used to put it when talking about Afghanistan.

Since Spring 2004, Rhetta has been battling to defend herself and her research against her employer, the University of Salford. Her colleagues, students, union and supporters believe she was targeted for the sack because she exposed how UK government policy was making people destitute.

Her research led to a Guardian article exposing how the British government was rejecting asylum claims from Iraqi men, telling them to leave this country and return to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, at the same time as Britain was finalising plans to bomb their country.,,4629565-103550,00.html

A year later, on Sunday March 28, 2004, the Observer carried an article on how young asylum-seeking women were having to go underground, living in permanent fear in Salford. It drew on work and contacts provided by Rhetta Moran.,,4889962-102285,00.html
Soon after this Rhetta was removed from her leadership of the £600,000 Salford RAPAR SRB5 research project about asylum issues. RAPAR, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participation and Research, although in the "voluntary sector", is funded by government. Rhetta's union colleagues believe her work on the plight of asylum seekers in the north of England proved uncomfortable for the political establishment (Observer, 12 February 2006).

Within a month, the University of Salford wrote to Dr.Moran telling her that her research was not "compatible" and that her contract would not be renewed. An employment tribunal panel that is hearing her case has sat for 23 days so far. The university is insisting that Rhetta was dismissed because she was 'redundant'. But issues exposed in the courtroom so far include:·

  • Rhetta's professorial line manager says she is one of the best researchers he has ever worked with
  • · Within two weeks of sacking her, university bosses handed a £192,316 research grant from the European Social Fund which Rhetta had secured to a male researcher in the university and, when he could not deliver it because he did not have her networks and expertise, they sent the money back to Europe
  • Many of Rhetta's postgraduate students were left without any supervision for at least one year.

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, urging supporters to attend the ongoing hearings which re-open this week, says "This case is about academic freedom and human rights: "the rights of researchers to do their research and to communicate their findings about human rights abuses without interference and the responsibilities of universities and governments to protect these rights".

You can send email messages of support for Rhetta's continuing struggle to with copies to

Incidentally, supporters of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions point to their involvment with the state and occupation. Opponents protest that the boycott infringes upon "academic freedom". Perhaps both sides can unite in condemning what appears to be happening in Salford?

My own trades union council, like many others, does not meet in August, but our Secretary has been in touch proposing that we send a message of support to Rhetta Moran. I'm sure there will be lots more.

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