The idea of ‘Universities of Sanctuary’ has developed out of the ‘City of Sanctuary’ movement. As of 2015 there were nearly 80 Cities of Sanctuary initiatives in towns, cities, villages, counties and boroughs across the UK, with the purpose of creating a culture of welcome and hospitality at the local level. This involves promoting understanding, recognition and celebration of the ways in which people seeking sanctuary enrich society, as well as providing opportunities for building closer relationships between local communities and new arrivals.
Sheffield became the first City of Sanctuary in 2007, and Coventry is also established as a City of Sanctuary. City of Sanctuary has helped many organisations, such as schools, arts centres, local businesses and health services to become more welcoming and accessible to asylum seekers and refugees. Part of this process involves creating an action plan and implementing it with the guidance of national coordinators, and then gaining status as a City of Sanctuary through the support of a consortia of local stakeholders.
The idea of Universities of Sanctuary is not new, but has become an increasing focus since concerns over the Syrian refugee crisis from September 2015 in particular. University institutions, as well as students and staff, have increasingly sought ways to make their university more accessible and welcoming to asylum seekers and refugees. The Universities of Sanctuary initiative is an important way of doing this because it offers an umbrella under which a wide range of activities can be undertaken in terms that facilitate a genuinely welcoming and accessible environment for asylum seekers and refugees both living locally or coming from further afield.
Given that Coventry is a City of Sanctuary with a longer history of accepting dispersed asylum seekers, as well as a more recent history of accepting resettled Syrian refugees via the SVPR (Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement) programme, Warwick staff and students have real opportunities to make a difference both in the local community as well as within the institution by embedding a culture of hospitality within all of our activities.
Warwick was successfully awarded University of Sanctuary status in 2017 and is developing its activities in this area through a phased action plan comprised of three stages. As part of our efforts, there are a range of opportunities by which staff and students from every part of the university can contribute to ensuring that Warwick is a genuinely welcoming place for people seeking sanctuary in the UK.
2. Learn, Embed, Share
At University of Warwick there are already a lot of things happening which seek to increase understanding of asylum and refugee issues, and create a culture of welcome within and beyond campus.
The Universities of Sanctuary scheme enables us to connect these activities while also providing opportunities to develop new initiatives. We are working with Coventry City of Sanctuary in order to ensure Warwick effectively contributes to local activities aimed at creating a culture of hospitality in the city as well as the university, with clear actionable commitments from the university.
We have developed an action plan which will be rolled out over the next three years and we welcome those who want to be involved in this process. We aim to foster learning about sanctuary, embed sanctuary activities across the university, and share our activities beyond the university more widely.
University of Sanctuary is continuously evolving and we welcome input and ideas from you! Please contact the working group via firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to propose activities or support with the University of Sanctuary initiative.
3. Things we can all do
First, educate yourself.
Do you know the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee? Which countries do asylum seekers in the UK mostly come from? Do you know how many asylum seekers there are in the UK or what kinds of welfare support or working rights they have?
Check out the Refugee Council's website for lots of useful accessible information. If you’re interested in other country contexts the website of the UNHCR is a good starting point for finding out about refugee rights and different country contexts.
Tell your colleagues about what you’ve found out.
4. I am a member of staff, what can I do?
Here are some ideas:
- Familiarise yourself with the various scholarship schemes at Warwick for scholars in exile or seeking sanctuary. You can find further information about these here
- Find out whether your department has received any applications for scholarships or fellowships under schemes designed for asylum seekers and refugees. Many at Warwick have, particularly in STEM subjects. Are there systems in place to ensure that staff know what these schemes are and that applicants are adequately supported in making an application? Could you co-ordinate some training on this?
- Find out if you have any CARA scholars in your department (ask your head of department). CARA (the Council for the Assisting Refugee Academics) matches displaced scholars with academic positions in UK institutions. We have a number of these scholars at Warwick. Speak to them about how welcoming they have found your department and what could be done to make it more welcoming.
- Sign up to be a ‘CARA Angel’ which involves mentoring at-risk academics, advocating for CARA within your institution, and/or running workshops for CARA. There is lots of information on the CARA website, take a look at the link below.
- Invite a speaker relevant to your department who specialises in refugee issues, perhaps in relation to health, healthcare, education, law, history or politics.
- Consider running a taster tutorial in your field of expertise for people seeking sanctuary in the local community
- Consider whether there is anything in your undergraduate or postgraduate programmes which covers issues of displacement and asylum in the past or present. This will not be relevant to all disciplines but will be relevant to at least those working in areas such as the humanities, social sciences and medicine.
- Suggest or organise a training session for staff in your department on refugee and asylum issues
- Suggest that your department choose a refugee charity for their annual charity donation or organise a sponsored event or bake sale to raise money.
5. I'm a student, what can I do?
- Join Student Action for Refugees STAR is a national network of young people and university based student groups aiming to raise awareness of refugee and asylum issues, campaign for the rights of refugees, and practically support refugees and asylum seekers through volunteering in the local community. Warwick has a STAR group, look up their webpage and find out how to get involved.
- Start volunteering with a local organisation such as Coventry City of Sanctuary, Coventry Refugee Centre or Coventry Peace House.
- If appropriate to your discipline, ask your department whether there are any opportunities to learn about refugee and asylum seeker issues on your degree programme. Suggest they offer these topics and see how they respond.
- Organise a talk through a student society from either an outside speaker or staff at our university who are experts on asylum and refugee issues –perhaps in law, politics, sociology, medicine or history.
- Find out whether you have any Sanctuary Scholars in your department (perhaps you yourself are one). What provisions are in place to make sure sanctuary scholars feel welcome and supported? Could you propose a buddy system where students in their third year mentor sanctuary scholars in their first year, for example?
6. Useful websites, resources and contact information
- The national Universities of Sanctuary handbook can be found online at: universities.cityofsanctuary.org
- A range of useful toolkits for academics and students can also be found here: universities.cityofsanctuary.org/resources/useful-documents
Find out eligibility criteria and information here:
"Coming from a war-torn country, accessing world-class research facilities and state-of-the-art laboratories was like a dream coming true for me. Additionally, the caring support network starting from university staff to my personal supervisor has been uncanny. Warwick has zero tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and the fact that it has dedicated funding for refugees speaks out and loud for that. Also, the multinational environment of Warwick is an experience itself where I have been very lucky to make friends and meet academics from all over the world. For these reasons, I strongly encourage refugees to apply to Warwick."
Sanctuary Student, Life Sciences