20th June 2018 - Irish Universities providing sanctuary through education to Refugees #WorldRefugeeDay

Today is World Refugee Day. Held every year on June 20th it commemorates the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. This year, World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the public to show support for families forced to flee. The latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, show that at least 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced within their own countries or across borders.

Many people have had to cut their education short due to fleeing their home countries or have never had a chance to have an education. However, it can be very hard for those who are seeking sanctuary to access higher education. Asylum seekers have no recourse to public funds and often have fled without any money. Additional barriers to higher education include English being a second language and Universities not having the facilities and staff trained to understand the needs to those who are seeking sanctuary, many of whom have been though traumatic experiences.

Universities of Sanctuary is an initiative of the City of Sanctuary movement which began in October 2005 in Sheffield. It celebrates the good practice of universities welcoming sanctuary seekers into their communities and fostering a culture of welcome and inclusion for all. A University of Sanctuary should be a place where anyone can feel safe, welcome and able to pursue their right to education.

“The Universities of Sanctuary initiative is a natural fit for Irish Universities as they seek to widen participation in Higher Education for students who face barriers to attending. Critically the key success factor in this initiative is the drive by university staff to enable education opportunities for students living in Direct Provision. Universities are using innovative options such as virtual learning environments in recognition of the challenges some of the students face in physically attending classes on campus. Our universities are committed to welcoming students from all over the world, especially those fleeing conflictSinead Lucey, Head of International Relations, Irish Universities Association

The Universities of Sanctuary initiative encourage Universities to:

  • Do everything possible to secure equal access to higher education for refugees
  • Reach out to and support refugees in their local communities who could benefit from University resources in a sustainable way.
  • Undertake activities to nurture a culture of welcome and an inclusive atmosphere within their institutions such as among staff and students.
Irish Universities of Sanctuary

Dublin City University was designated as Ireland’s first “University of Sanctuary”  in December 2016 in recognition of a range of initiatives demonstrating commitment to welcoming asylum seekers and refugees into the university community and to fostering a culture of inclusion for all. Read more

University of Limerick was officially presented with the University of Sanctuary award on United Nations World Refugee Day June 20th 2017. The designation for UL was built on an existing history of engagement with refuges and asylum seekers in a number of programmes of education and research. Read more

University College Cork joined DCU and UL as universities leading the way in Ireland by being awarded University of Sanctuary status by Places of Sanctuary Ireland in February 2018.  Read more

University College Dublin  was awarded University of Sanctuary status in March 2018 in recognition of a range of initiatives welcoming refugees and asylum seekers into the university community. Read more

Seeking Designation

NUI Galway launched its University of Sanctuary Campaign in May 2018. The specific aim of the campaign at NUI Galway is to increase public awareness of the global refugee crisis and Traveller-specific issues across the University campus.  Read more

Trinity College Dublin is aiming  to join other Irish universities by becoming a University of Sanctuary. Such an achievement would be contingent on TCD identifying ways of supporting young asylum seekers and refugees, who have successfully come through Irish secondary schools, to access undergraduate education at Trinity. Read more


A university of sanctuary must follow three main principles across the board and at all levels:

Learn: Learning about what it means to be seeking sanctuary, in general and at a university. This encompasses any activity on training staff, teaching students or holding events to raise awareness on what it means to be seeking sanctuary.

Embed: taking positive action to embed concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion within the institution and the wider community. This involves ensuring that a sustainable culture of welcome is established within the institution to bring about far reaching, tangible and long-lasting changes.

Share: sharing the university’s vision, achievements, what they have learned and good practice, with other universities, the local community, the media and others.