Page last updated at 17:53 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 18:53 UK

Angry students storm university

Students protesting
The students held a rally outside the university before storming the building

Students have occupied part of a London university in a protest over the detention of nine cleaners arrested by immigration officers.

Five cleaners at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in Bloomsbury have been deported in what students call an "act of revenge".

The cleaners were involved in a "living wage" campaign and the students say that is why SOAS called in police.

The Home Office said the cleaners were illegal workers and had to be removed.

More than 40 students occupied the director's office at 0930 BST on Monday, saying SOAS's reputation had been "tainted" by the incident.

John McDonnell
The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home
John McDonnell MP

They refused to leave until director Paul Webley agreed to write to the Home Secretary on behalf of the cleaners.

One of the occupying students said: "Universities should be sanctuaries, places free of violence and aggression.

"SOAS's reputation as a university has been tainted due to the complicity with state brutality in the arrest of the cleaners."

The students said all the cleaners should be able to stay - regardless of whether they have legal permission to work in the UK.

Labour MP John McDonnell has given his backing to the cleaners.

He said said: "As living wage campaigns build in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages.

"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."

'Working illegally'

But the Home Office said the cleaners, mostly from South America and Africa, were illegal immigrants.

A spokeswoman said: "Nine individuals were encountered working illegally on 12 June.

"Five individuals were subsequently removed from the United Kingdom and three remain in custody pending removal. "

She continued: "We will not tolerate illegal working."



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