In recognition of its sustained commitment to being a place of welcome for people who have been forcibly displaced around the world, Oxford University has received the University of Sanctuary award.
The status recognises Oxford’s continued determination and initiatives to aid sanctuary seekers, whether they be students, staff or members of the local community.
Universities of Sanctuary make up a national network which collectively strives to make higher education institutions places of safety, solidarity and empowerment for people seeking sanctuary.
Oxford University and its colleges have a long-standing history of being a place of safety, having welcomed numerous refugee academics during the 1930s and 40s, and more recently to students and academics displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The University's dedicated Refugee Studies Centre was established in 1982 and undertakes research, teaching, and outreach relating to all aspects of forced displacement.
University of Sanctuary status is now held by 25 universities across the country, including Oxford. Institutions are required to meet a series of minimum criteria and endorse the City of Sanctuary Charter.
Oxford will now deliver an integrated programme of scholarships and support for students from displacement backgrounds under its new Oxford Sanctuary Community. This will provide pre-arrival and on-course support, a regular programme of social and cultural events, and a dedicated point of contact for all self-identifying members of the community.
Oxford Sanctuary Community has also been involved in co-organising the first Sanctuary Fair in the city, connecting refugees, students and local residents. This event was held at Oxford Town Hall on 11 May 2023.
The Community is working to encourage Oxford students to learn about sanctuary and create an inclusive culture of welcome.
This includes support for the Oxford branch of Student Action for Refugees. With a physical base in Nairobi, the Refugee-Led Research Hub aims to support aspiring researchers from displacement backgrounds to become research leaders.
Professor Irene Tracey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: ‘I am delighted that we have been awarded Sanctuary Status – it is a landmark in our history. I wish to acknowledge and thank all my colleagues from across the collegiate University who have worked with the city and county to make this a reality. Oxford has a long tradition of supporting peoples from around the world to find refuge. I look forward to welcoming those peoples and working to provide a safe and inspiring environment in which to pursue their ambitions and dreams.’
Alexander Betts, Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, and Associate Head (graduate and research training) of the Social Sciences Division said: ‘We want the University to be a place of welcome for people with displacement backgrounds. Being recognised as a University of Sanctuary is an important step on that journey. It reflects our shared commitment to increase scholarships for refugees, build awareness across the University, and collaborate with local community organisations that support asylum seekers and refugees. Refugees enrich our community through their skills and talents. The hope is that we can build upon this opportunity and do even more in future.’
Maryam Taher, University of Sanctuary Coordinator, said: ‘We are thrilled that Oxford University is now part of the University of Sanctuary network, and we look forward to the University building on its positive work, and developing even closer links with local refugee communities and support groups. The support of the University in welcoming those seeking sanctuary is vital to ensuring the UK offers a safe and supportive environment for those in need at times of crisis.’
The Sanctuary Fair involved exhibitions by a variety of groups drawn from the University and the community. Alongside there were a selection of panels about making sanctuary a reality in Oxford, the political landscape for migrant rights in the UK and a wide variety of other workshops and discussions concerning refugee education, the role of faith communities in supporting refugees, campaigning for refugee rights and hosting refugees in Oxfordshire.
Speakers included Mark Goldring, Director of Asylum Welcome, Jan Royall, Principal, Somerville College, and Yaroslava Bukhta, Ukraine Graduate Scholar and President of the Oxford University Ukrainian Society.
Announcement of Sanctuary Status was made by Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University, at the start of the day and was the cause of delight among all attendees.