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UCC Declared a University of Sanctuary

University College Cork (UCC) has been awarded the title of University of Sanctuary by People of Sanctuary Ireland in recognition of their efforts in promoting the welfare of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, in particular the grant of seven full scholarships to members of these groups.

The scholarships will be available for full-time undergraduate courses beginning in September 2018 for those under 23 on January 1st of this year.  Application will be through the Central Applications Office (CAO). Awardees will benefit from free tuition, as well as a number of bursaries for other expenses. There will also be supports in place for recipients once they begin their course.

UCC Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Karl Kitching, described the scholarship scheme to TheJournal.ie as “hugely significant” in assisting vulnerable young people in attending a third-level institution like UCC despite “financial and cultural constraints.” Kitching commented that refugees and asylum seekers living in Direct Provision can often be overwhelmed by the difficulties inherent in their situation. “People’s dreams are dashed. Regardless of how long you’re in the school system, it can be extremely demoralising to do your Leaving Cert and know you can’t afford to get into the colleges your friends will be going to.”

UCC Student Action for Refugees (STAR) Society led the charge in campaigning to make UCC a University of Sanctuary. The society, the first of its kind in Ireland, wished to have UCC join Dublin City University and University of Limerick to become the third university in Ireland to receive the prestigious status. Their efforts have been complemented by UCC employees such as lecturers Dr Jacqui O’Riordan and Mike Fitzgibbon, who were recently awarded with UCC Exceptional Citizen Awards for their tireless campaigning to put an end to the Direct Provision system and support of those living in the system. Direct Provision which was originally established as a temporary six-month scheme 17 years ago, and people living in Direct Provision are provided with a weekly allowance of just €21.60 and, unlike asylum seekers in many other EU states, are prohibited from seeking work. Meals are provided at set times during the day, with people in the centre denied the right to cook for themselves. Direct Provision centres are for the most part run by private, for-profit companies, contracted out by the State.

Chairperson of UCC STAR, Isaac McNamara, spoke to the Express about why it was essential for UCC to become a University of Sanctuary: “A University of Sanctuary is a university that creates a culture of welcome, acceptance and accessibility towards asylum seekers and refugees. … Having UCC officially recognised as a University of Sanctuary [is] a means of affirming the positive work that UCC through its staff, students and alumni already partake in with asylum seekers living in Direct Provision and other refugees.” McNamara expressed the society’s gratitude towards all those who supported and were involved in the campaign. “It’s an excellent feeling having the award, and it’s a great step towards creating a real culture of welcome in UCC. We look forward to meeting all the new students next year!”

Expounding on the decision, Senior Vice President of UCC, Professor Caroline Fennell, said: “Universities provide a key space in which to challenge societal assumptions and to support and highlight work aimed at fostering a culture of welcome for asylum seekers and refugees.” Per Professor Fennell, UCC’s receiving of the distinction of University of Sanctuary is an indication of not just what the university has accomplished, but also a signal that a need exists for continued campaigning to support asylum seekers and refugees on a local and a global level.  She added: “Through the range of initiatives cultivated over many years in UCC, we [UCC] are dedicated to providing spaces to learn about what sanctuary means, to develop a sustainable culture of welcome and to share our practices and initiatives with communities and other higher education institutions”.

UCC will host its inaugural Refugee Week next week (from 5th-9th of February), with events planned including a lecture by the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration, and ‘Blueprints’, an art exhibition at the Glucksman gallery featuring work by young refugees. ‘Sorry I Drowned’, a powerful short film inspired by a letter found on the body of a refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, will be shown throughout the week at the Glucksman.