A UCC society is leading the campaign to make UCC a ‘University of Sanctuary’. UCC STAR Society, which was set up in January of this year, is working to officially make University College Cork a more welcoming place for refugees. In December 2016 DCU became the first Irish university to gain the distinction from the UK-based organisation ‘City of Sanctuary’. The University of Limerick (UL) became the second in June of this year.
STAR, or Student Action for Refugees, is United Kingdom-based charity of approximately 26,000 students, whose aim is to make the UK a more welcoming place for refugees through volunteering at local refugee projects, campaigning to improve the lives of refugees, educating people about refugees and asylum seekers, and fundraising to welcome refugees. UCC STAR Society is the first Irish branch of the UK charity. Isaac McNamara, Chairperson of UCC STAR, spoke to the Express about the concept of a University of Sanctuary, why it’s important for UCC to seek this accolade, and how they should go about it: “A University of Sanctuary is a university that creates a culture of welcome, acceptance and accessibility towards asylum seekers and refugees. We at STAR believe that that UCC should endeavour to become a University of Sanctuary due to our university’s proud history of charitable work. Having UCC officially recognised as a University of Sanctuary would be a means of affirming the positive work that the UCC through its staff, students and alumni already partake in with asylum seekers living in Direct Provision and other refugees.
“DCU, as the first University of Sanctuary in Ireland, are possibly the best guide to follow in terms of standards. Firstly, they offered five undergraduate scholarships across five faculties. This comprised of the waiving of fees, a laptop, travel costs and meals on campus for refugees and asylum seekers under the age of 23. Furthermore, they offered 10 online scholarships to refugees and asylum seekers over the age of 23 comprising of waived fees. They examined what the university was already doing to create a culture of welcome and linked all the individual activities and initiatives by students, societies and staff.”
While the campaign ahead may be long, one cannot say the STAR Society have not been practical so far, enlisting the help of over 25 other UCC societies, as well as the UCC Students’ Union. “We are currently trying to gather as much support for the campaign as possible from the student body. After that we intend to link up with all interested parties across the university such as staff. From there we intend to do our best to press the university management to see the positive effects that being a University of Sanctuary would have on UCC,” Mr. McNamara continued, adding “We haven’t had too much contact with the staff yet. However, we have met with the Glucksman Gallery on more than one occasion with regards to the campaign. They have made us aware there is a group in the staff who are trying to get UCC recognised as a University of Sanctuary separately. We intend to link up together properly to brainstorm and forward the campaign in the coming weeks.”
The society is not limiting itself to this one campaign, as Isaac elaborated: “We intend to volunteer, fundraise, campaign and educate. Our aim is to do whatever we can as students to help refugees and asylum seekers, be it by petitioning the government to fulfil their obligations or providing practical outlets for people living in Direct Provision. One of our main upcoming projects will be helping the Glucksman gallery continue their wonderful creative projects with children living in Direct Provision across Cork. We are currently attempting to set up initiatives with other societies to give people living in direct provision more opportunities to integrate and to remove the ‘us and them’ mentality often seen.”
If you wish to get involved with the STAR Society, you can email them on firstname.lastname@example.org, or find them on Facebook, @UCCSTARsoc. For more information on the Glucksman’s projects, read our article on it from the previous issue of the UCC Express, available online now.