Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Matthew Hoser (CC BY-SA 4.0)

University of Sanctuary status given to Oxford

The University of Oxford has been recognised for its efforts to support sanctuary seekers, receiving University of Sanctuary status this week.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey has celebrated this status, stating that it upholds the “long tradition of supporting peoples from around the world to find refuge” in Oxford.

Earning the status joins the University with the national Universities of Sanctuary initiative, bringing together Higher Education institutions in solidarity with those seeking sanctuary.

The award comes after individual colleges Mansfield and Somerville were awarded College of Sanctuary status in 2021. Their efforts included Sanctuary Scholarships funding graduate students from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds.

The initiative describes itself as upholding the “proud and radical tradition of supporting refugees and people in the asylum system”. It brings together staff and students working towards safe, empowering, and inclusive education environments.

Oxford’s commitment to supporting those that have been forcibly displaced goes back to 1982, with the establishment of the Refugee Studies Centre. This is a part of the Department of International Development, improving knowledge and awareness of forced migration.

Director of the Refugee Studies Centre Professor Alexander Betts called Oxford’s new status “an important step”. Betts added that it “reflects our shared commitment to increase scholarships for refugees” and provides a chance to “do even more in future”.

Support is available in the form of scholarships for sanctuary-seeking students, such as recent assistance for Ukrainian students since Russia’s invasion. This year, 26 students from Ukraine took up scholarships for master’s courses.

Funding and support is found under the new Oxford Sanctuary Community. It helped organise the inaugural Sanctuary Fair held on 11th May 2023, bringing together those impacted by forced migration to make the University more inclusive and integrated.

Also as part of the Oxford Sanctuary Community, a research base in Nairobi works to support displaced academics and promote research careers. The community also supports the local Student Action for Refugees branch.

This status is held by 25 UK universities, which, as a part of the initiative, endorse the City of Sanctuary Charter. Oxford has been part of this movement as a city since 2008, with cross-party support in the City Council.

The University of Sanctuary Coordinator Maryam Taher said the group was “thrilled” to have Oxford join the network. She said the efforts the university makes “welcoming those seeking sanctuary is vital” to create a national sentiment of safety and support.