The University backed Colchester’s bid to be a Borough of Sanctuary two years ago, and now the University Steering Group has decided the University should seek recognition in its own right.
Chief of Staff, Monica Illsley, explained: “We are one of the world’s most international universities and are proud of the community we have at Essex. But sadly for many fleeing persecution or war, the idea of a university education seems an impossible dream.
“We know we can offer them support and a warm welcome when they get here, but we also need to look at what more we can do, including what financial support we can provide.
“So this is about much more than seeking accreditation, it is about looking at what practical steps we can take to provide sanctuary for refugees and to make it possible for them to go to university.
“Many of our students are fully behind this initiative, and they, together with colleagues in the Centre for Migration Studies, admissions, student wellbeing, HR and others, will help us shape our actions in this area as we work together to make it happen.”
Essex already has a good track record in defending the rights of refugees and protecting vulnerable and marginalised people. The longstanding work of Professor Renos Papadopoulos, Director of the Centre for Trauma, Asylum, and Refugees, has placed refugee care at the heart of Essex, and the Centre for Migration Studies, led by Dr Renee Luthra, is leading on research and initiatives to improve the lives of refugees.
Students are equally committed to the cause – for many years the V-Team has provided English classes to local refugees, Amnesty International Essex and the Human Rights Society have organised fundraising and awareness campaigns, and the newly-formed Essex Student Action for Refugees (STAR) group is campaigning for equal access to higher education for refugees.
Asha Ali, President for the Students’ Union said: “It’s amazing how our students worked together to bring this to the forefront of the University’s and Students’ Union (SU) agenda. Through the support of our students over the years, the SU has raised over £4000 for Syrian students with refugee status, and we are continuing our efforts to increase this fund, which will be used to offer bursaries for those who need support.
“This positive step also resonates with me personally, as my parents were both refugees, so I appreciate how people are actively working to help others in extremely difficult situations and it is wonderful to see everyone working towards making the University of Essex a place of sanctuary.”
A small project team will be set up to progress the application.
Read more from Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony in our latest blog.