The war in Ukraine has claimed countless lives, forced Ukrainian students to flee their country or take their place at the front and cast a dark cloud over the future of students all across Europe. Surviving crises requires unwavering commitment to human rights and solidarity. As more dividing lines are being drawn, we demand that also the status of international students be improved and that students fleeing violence and persecution be protected.
Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine, illegal annexation of regions and bombing of civilian targets have forced millions of Ukrainians to leave their homes, driven Europe into an energy crisis and led to a considerable hardening of social attitudes across Europe. The war is both an attack on democracy and a sign of the increasingly clear division of the world into authoritarian and democratic states. The outlook for international collaboration has been bleak.
The missile strikes on Ukraine have also damaged academic freedom, free student movement, science, research, teaching and education. Bombs have hit university campuses, and a large number of Ukrainian students have either had to join the fight at the front or flee abroad without any knowledge of what their future holds. Higher education has been unable to continue and highly educated persons have become refugees, which has had a strong negative impact on the country, where the brain drain was already a serious issue prior to the war.
Crises have always had a significant impact on students. SYL was founded after World War I when a joint representative of the student unions was needed for the International Student Congress held in Prague in 1921. Thus, international collaboration and solidarity have been at the core of our movement from its very beginning. In the course of a century, SYL has helped students fleeing persecution during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 as well as contributed to the start of development co-operation in Finland.
Today, it is still our job to support democracy and help those in need. As a student movement, we want to see the Finnish government and the European Union as a whole standing in solidarity with Ukraine and other conflict-affected countries in the midst of crises, protecting human rights and the rule of law, and increasing the amount of aid provided. We demand that Ukrainian students who have fled to Finland be provided with permanent ways to continue their studies and complete their degree in Finland.
We also urge that the protection and support offered to Ukrainian students also be offered to other students fleeing violence and persecution. At the same time, we must not forget the countries in the Global South that suffer from the consequences of the war in many ways.
The student movement is increasingly worried about the dividing lines being drawn and the situation international students are faced with during times of crisis. Despite the difficult international political situation and hardening attitudes, we must keep an open mind towards internationalism and improve the status of both the foreign students arriving in Finland and those already here. We must continue to fight against racism and discrimination in all situations.
Tyranny, fear and violence must not prevail. Finland and Europe must do everything in their power to help Ukraine achieve victory and protect the students fleeing the war. Once the war is over, we must strengthen the structures of peace and democracy throughout Europe and offer our full support to help Ukraine rebuild its higher education system.
The General Assembly of the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) 19/11/2022
Secretary General Sonja Raitamäki, tel. +358 40 741 1251
SYL’s President Konstantin Kouzmitchev, tel. +358 44 906 5007