Page last updated at 19:04 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 20:04 UK

Protests over raid at university

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Student protest SOAS
Students are protesting against the raid on cleaners working illegally

Students in London are occupying a university building in protest against a raid by immigration authorities in which cleaners were detained.

Students at the School of Oriental and African Studies have been angered by the raid and subsequent deportations.

Five of the cleaners caught in the raid on Friday have already been removed from the UK, with three remaining in custody.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We will not tolerate illegal working."

The students in the central London university are calling for the return of the deported cleaners and a ban on immigration authorities from university buildings.

Illegal working

They say that the early-morning raid in search of illegal workers follows a campaign by cleaners at the university for improved pay and conditions.

The cleaners are employed by a contract company, ISS, which strongly denies any connection between such a campaign over pay and last week's raid.

A spokesman for the company says that it is legally obliged to ensure that staff are entitled to work in the UK. Employers face large fines if they are found to be employing illegal workers, he said.

A statement from the UK Border Agency said that following the investigation "five individuals were subsequently removed from the United Kingdom and three remain in UK Border Agency custody pending removal".

"The success of this operation was in part due to close co-operation with the company involved but where an employer knowingly employs people illegally we will take action against them.

"We will not tolerate illegal working. It leads to the exploitation of illegal immigrants who are frequently denied the minimum wage or forced to risk dangerous working conditions and undercutting the minimum wage."

The university said it was "legally obliged to co-operate fully with the authorities".

"We understand this must have been distressing for those involved and indeed our own colleagues. However we have been informed that the checks were carried out in a sympathetic manner," said a university spokeswoman.

Students taking part in the occupation have been supported by a number of trade unions and politicians.

"The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home. It is absolutely shameful," said Labour MP John McDonnell.

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