About us

A place of sanctuary

Poster created by University of Essex Sanctuary scholar

How we're helping refugees

Essex is committed to making the University a welcoming and safe place for refugees and asylum seekers.

We are an official University of Sanctuary, after being awarded the status in December 2020. This recognises our commitment to promoting a culture of welcome, safety and inclusion across our campuses and their wider communities. 

Universities of Sanctuary are part of the UK's City of Sanctuary initiative to ensure our nation is a welcoming place of safety for all.

“We are thrilled to be recognised as a University of Sanctuary. The University of Essex has a long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary for academics and students. I am especially proud of the strength of partnership work between our students and staff. The University, its staff and students, stand together to take action, in partnership with those who share our commitments to inclusion, to supporting refugees and asylum seekers, and to social action for the benefit for people and communities.”
Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Apply for our University of Sanctuary Scholarships

We have shown our commitment to refugees by establishing our University of Sanctuary Scholarships. The Scholarships are available to new Postgraduate Taught Masters students taking up a place to study at Essex, who have UK Asylum status or Discretionary/Limited Leave to Remain as a result of an asylum application, and those with Humanitarian Protection, as result of an asylum application or through a dependants claim. Applications are now open those interested in taking up a place to study in 2024-2025.

“This Sanctuary scholarship has made all the difference and it allows me to continue to pursue my academic goals. Thank you not only for the financial support but also for the gift of your heart and the human spirit.“
Temesgen Beriso Shire International Human Rights Law LLM

Discover the many ways we're helping refugees in our local communities and beyond

students embracing at colchester campus
“The Essex Student Action for Refugees group has transformed the lives of some of our most vulnerable and isolated women.“
Maria Wilby  Case Worker  refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action

Supporting Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action (RAMA)

For the staff at Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action (RAMA) each day is spent providing practical support to clients, such as help with immigration applications, housing and benefits, job and education applications.

Maria Wilby, case worker for RAMA, said: "The University has become a resource that we regularly turn to for support for our clients. Many lecturers and students have gone out of their way to assist clients and support us in applications for funding, giving us chances to spread information, and in placing students on placements with us. Law Centre students gave more than 60 hours of support in case work in early 2020."



Providing free English language classes

Teaching by student volunteers in the Students' Union V-Team

The remarkable commitment of University of Essex students to volunteering, including working with refugees, has earned the Students' Union's VTeam volunteering programme the King's Award for Voluntary Service 2023.

Ewa Haladus from Essex Integration which has worked with the VTeam on the Refugee Teaching Programme for the past six year, says student volunteers make a huge difference: “The students, both UK and international, help our clients integrate by teaching them English, offering four sessions a week, online and in person. Within the sessions, students sit next to learners and help with writing, reading, pronunciation, and practising speaking and listening skills. The students throw themselves into everything - from washing up after coffee breaks, to teaching 1:1 Literacy to our Afghan ladies who are illiterate.

“They don’t just offer tuition, they offer friendship and their own personal lived experience of adapting to a new culture. The international students that run our tuition sessions are able to empathise with our service users from the point of view of learning English as a second language, the cultural adjustment of moving to a new country, and even an understanding of what it’s like to go through immigration processes.”

Teaching by staff in our departments 

Dr Neophytos Mitsigkas from our Department of Language and Linguistics and his language teaching students provide free English classes as part of a programme supporting dependants of international students and staff, as well as students at the University from Refugee Action Colchester (RAC). Classes run in autumn and spring terms, four times a week, every week, for two hours. Sessions help participants learn a language at a level that suits them: beginner, intermediate, or advanced, plus there are sessions to help with academic writing.

Dr Mitsigkas also attends weekly RAC meetings to inform the group about the many ways the University can help, as well as encouraging them to attend his English language classes. He said: "Thanks to the frequency of the lessons, there is plenty of exposure, and it's a good opportunity for further practice and development, but importantly, it gives the chance to refugees to feel socially included, where they meet with other people, and share experiences and information."


Giving free advice through Essex Law Clinic

Essex Law Clinic benefits the local community by offering free initial advice about legal problems while giving our students the chance to work alongside practising lawyers to advise real clients. Work with refugees, asylum seekers and destitute migrants is taking place in collaboration with Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action (RAMA) and the Red Cross.

Essex Student Action for Refugees (STAR)

Students are working to re-establish the Essex Student Action for Refugees (Essex STAR) group. Previously the group was incredibly successful in focussing on educating and volunteering to promote the welfare of refugees, and students host discussions, campaigns and awareness-raising events, including to help asylum seekers and refugees see the opportunities to study at Essex.

Hosting and participating in talks and open seminars

PHAP webinar on the ethics of forced migration research 

PHAP, the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection, hosted a webinar on 10 December 2020 with more than 600 people attending.  Geoff Gilbert, Professor of International Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Essex Law School and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, and Chair of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network of the Global Compact on Refugees was one of the event's keynote speakers.

The event discussed ethical challenges faced in researching situations of forced migration, and how these relate to the application in practice of the principle of “do no harm” and the IASFM Code of Ethics. Alongside Geoff's participation, the event included contributions from researchers, a refugee post-graduate student, as well as a camp manager, who shared their experiences and views. A recording of the event is now online. .



"I am incredibly proud to be a part of the University of Sanctuary. My Masters programme on International Humanitarian Law is of great importance to my career. After successfully completing my course, I would like to take part in international projects to share the knowledge and experience I have gained."
Fatma Ozdemir LLM International Humanitarian Law student

Our research

Our researchers are highlighting the challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees through their academic work, and they are involved in activities and initiatives in many different areas.  

Read our research case study about how we're helping to improve the lives of refugees around the world. 

Our teaching

Our teaching addresses issues relating to migration and sanctuary seekers at all levels, in both courses and modules.

  • MSc Migration Studies uniquely explores the study of migration through a sociological perspective and uses a scientific approach to investigate the key challenges that will shape policy agendas and the impact that this could have around the world.
  • MA Migration Studies explores the study of migration through a sociological perspective, investigating how these challenges shape policy agendas with particular attention to issues surrounding social integration, rights and multiculturalism
  • MA Refugee Care brings together people from diverse walks of life and parts of the globe to explore how we can care for refugees more effectively. Delivered in partnership with the therapeutic provision of the Tavistock Clinic in London, we offers four modules and the opportunity for students to attend placements and volunteer in the community at charities such as the Red Cross, CTAR, Refugee Action Colchester, Colchester Institute teaching English to refugees and Freedom from Torture. Through this placement students gain real experience in refugee care and provide support for vulnerable people in the community.
  • BA Teaching English as a Foreign Language includes focus on issues to do with the teaching and learning of English as a Second, Foreign and an Additional Language, and includes our students providing English language classes to local refugees.
  • Essex Law School students have the opportunity to work in our Law Clinic, work with refugees, asylum  seekers  and  destitute  migrants  through  collaborations with  Refugee Action and the Red Cross in Essex.

Studying at Essex

The University of Essex is committed to inclusivity and prides itself on offering a transformative education to people from a diverse range of different backgrounds and countries. We want as many applicants as possible to have the opportunity to study with us and recognise that many forced migrants may not have access to qualification documentation to evidence their previous academic or English language qualifications. If you are in this position and you do not have access to some or all of your qualification documents, please contact the relevant Admissions Office to discuss how we can support you to make an application to the University of Essex.

Postgraduate Admissions Office: pgadmit@essex.ac.uk
Undergraduate Admissions Office: admit@essex.ac.uk

Refugee bursary

Students with UK refugee status, or dependants of UK refugees, may be eligible for a refugee bursary of up to £1,500 if studying full time, or up to £750 if studying part time.

Sanctuary Scholarships

We are offering the University of Sanctuary Scholarship to new Postgraduate Taught (PGT) Masters students taking up a place to study in 2024-25, who have UK Asylum status or Discretionary/Limited Leave to Remain as a result of an asylum application, and those with Humanitarian Protection, as result of an asylum application or through a dependants claim.

Students' wellbeing support

The University’s student wellbeing and inclusivity service provides a professional and proactive guidance service, within a healthy and inclusive environment, to help our students to fulfil their potential. The team's accessibility and wellbeing manager, is a dedicated member of staff and the main point of contact for sanctuary students.

More information

If you would like to get in touch and find out more about our financial and wellbeing support for refugee students please email: inclusion@essex.ac.uk

Students' stories

Rahaf's story 

Rahaf Sabha Alghalyoun is from Syria and in her third year of studying for an LLB in Law at Essex

"I left Syria in 2015 when the war started. Initially I started a Media and PR degree in Jordan, but my studies were interrupted by events there, so I had to leave. I worked for the UN with children for two years, and this is when I heard about the resettlement scheme, and successful applied for a five-year visa with refugee status to the UK.

"When I arrived in Colchester I first worked with Refugee Action Colchester (RAC) now Refugee and Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action (RAMA), as a volunteer caseworker and interpreter, as I have good English. There, I met Maria Wilby (from RAMA) and Dr Carlos Gigoux Gramegna from the University, who both encouraged me to apply for a scholarship, which provided some financial support for my Law foundation year.

"Settling into full-time study was difficult at first – especially with two young children – but by my second year I had made more friends through the University of Essex Islamic Society, my English language had improved, and I am enjoying my studies. While there have been struggles along the way, I see my degree as an investment I’m making to help other refugees in the future.

"I still volunteer, to help other refugees with legal issues they may have, offering advice and help with application forms, for example. I would say to anyone in similar circumstances to not give up. You shouldn’t let anything stop you from reaching your dream."

Yara's story

Yara Issa is from Syria, and is currently studying for a PhD within the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. 

"I was in my final year in 2011 within the Department of Law in Syria when the war started. I met my ex-partner who had to come to the UK to pursue a PhD degree in Finance at Essex, and we left Syria on 8 November 2011. I briefly returned in February 2012 to do my final exam, but the situation became worse and I had to fly back to the UK as fast as I could. I left the county without completing my exam and therefore failed to get my degree. Since then I haven't returned, and I haven't seen my family. 

"The war, the danger, the horror I witnessed in Syria during my stay put me into a severe depression. Added to this, I wasn't able to speak English, and had no friends around me. I joined the International Academy at the University of Essex, on a programme to help PhD students’ dependants and partners with their English and integration into life here. This was my first step towards meet people and learning the language - and after six months I was able to speak fluently and had too many friends! Then, to help myself financially, I worked at a school as a teaching assistant, taking an NVQ3 in teaching assistance and a SEN2. I started to feel at home here at Essex.

"When I was working and doing the other degrees, I started feel the difference between my culture and others; especially when I started to make international friends. Especially issues related to women and children. I was motivated to know more about these differences, and why women are more or less appreciated in different cultures. Also, I was interested in the education system here in the UK, and how it is completely different in structure from Syria's.  

"One day I met with my ex-partner’s supervisor and I shared these thoughts with him; he encouraged me to study within the Department of Sociology at Essex, as it is one of top departments of its kind. I had an offer to study Sociology and Social Psychology and I was over the moon. I was very organised and always had a plan: my English started to improve and mentally I was doing well. 

"I had my son in 2014 then I started my BA in 2015. After I finished my BA with a first, I applied for scholarship at Essex for a Masters degree - I was accepted and did my Master in Survey Methods within ISER, finishing with very good grades, and also doing a placement within ISER for six weeks, I was delighted with this opportunity as I found ISER a great place to learn - its staff are friendly and incredibly smart! Also, I have a big interest in research methods and statistics, so I wished to continue my study journey and applied for a PhD. I started my PhD last month and I think I am doing well so far.

"The University of Essex is like a home to me. It's a place where I felt proud of myself, where I dramatically improved, and found help when I needed it. There are people who I like and love here. When I was suffering from depression, I got effective help from my teachers, especially Renee and Carlos. They were very supportive. Being student at Essex helped me rethink my life and my career, and I gained unique experience from an academically challenging environment. As a refugee, I got huge support from my department, emotionally and academically.  

"Essex also helped me financially thanks to the Refugee Bursary, which supports students affected by war and political unrest; it gave me a lot of security, and made me feel I'm not alone, there is always someone here to help if I needed it. I would not be where I am now without the help and the support I've had from my teachers and friends at Essex. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I'm very proud to be a student at Essex." 

Jean-Nicolas' story

Jean-Nicholas Beuze works for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, as their representative to Yemen. He graduated in 1998 from the School of Law, with an LLM (Master of Laws) in International Human Rights Law.

"I recently joined the UN Refugee Agency in Yemen to lead our protection and assistance response to some 280,000 refugees – mainly from Somalia; Yemen hosts the second largest Somali refugee population globally – and more than 3.7 million internally-displaced people. 

"Yemen currently ranks fourth in the number of nationals displaced within their own country by a conflict globally, as it entered its sixth year of conflict. It has a very sad record when it comes to humanitarian needs, from risks of cholera and famine to being at the bottom of the Human Development Index.

"In Yemen, UNHCR runs its fifth largest cash programme. While, with respect to refugees, my agency is responsible for all aspects of their wellbeing – from being recognised as refugees or providing specialized services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, to health, education or livelihoods – our internally-displaced peoples’ response focuses on protection of civilians, emergency shelters and hosting sites’ management while other humanitarian partners focus on other aspects of their needs.

"At Essex, my primary interest was in international humanitarian law, which led me, for example, to coach the Essex team at the Jean Pictet Competition for international law students that year, on the suggestion from Francoise Hampson, now Emeritus Professor in the School of Law. But ultimately, the late Sir Nigel Rodley gave me the opportunity to become his assistant on the torture mandate at the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.  

"Thanks to interaction with other students, who were already experienced human rights or humanitarian practitioners, Essex gave me a sense of the realities of field work. The Essex LLM postgraduate programme truly combined the theory with the practice. Essex also allowed me to establish an extended network of friends, on whom I continue to rely to this day for advice and support, and the last Essex friend I made is Christa Rottenstein, who works for the International Organization for Migration’s operation in Yemen."

students embracing
Get in touch 
If you're involved with a University project that's supporting refugees, please get in touch.