By Mark Lynch
NUI Galway has become a designated University of Sanctuary, a movement aimed at promoting the inclusion of International Protection Applicants, refugees and Irish Travellers within the community.
The movement is a product of the Places of Sanctuary Ireland (PoSI), which is anetwork of groups in local communities, which share the objectives of promoting a culture of welcome and inclusiveness across Irish society for those seeking international protection in Ireland.
The University of Sanctuary initiative encourages and celebrates universities, colleges and institutes, which welcome refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants into their university communities in meaningful ways. The University of Sanctuary steering committee at NUI Galway also includes the Irish Traveller community in its remit, with a focus on the promotion of Irish Traveller culture as an innate and positive element of Irish society, and to address the low levels of participation at second-level and third-level education amongst Irish Travellers.
President of NUI Galway, Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, welcomed the designation, announcing the value he places on the initiative. “The University of Sanctuary responds to many issues that affect and animate Irish society today, including the promotion of meaningful integration for Ireland’s newest communities, breaking down barriers to education, and eliminating discrimination in all its forms. It is also an exemplar of our values as they have emerged in our university strategy, in particular our values of respect and inclusiveness. As such, our designation as a University of Sanctuary is a distinctive signal of the character of NUI Galway, seeing ourselves as part of and not apart from our wider society”.
Leo Snygans is a student here at NUI Galway and has directly benefitted from the University of Sanctuary initiative, which he describes as “a programme of hope”. He added, “As an asylum seeker, or, in more fancy language, an International Protection Applicant, I personally benefit from this beautiful initiative. I won’t go into details, but tell you just a little bit from my journey of life. Coming from circumstances and places that we do not choose, we have to make a lot of hard decisions, the most important of which is fighting for our lives. I was very alone and I felt not worthy, like a second-class human, due to the struggles the world put on my journey”.
Leo is also aware of the trouble people can have on the way to getting to where he is, “Believe me; it is very hard going through the process and feeling excluded, due to a lot of red tape. Coming to a new country is very challenging and being treated almost like you committed a crime. The only crime committed is trying to be safe. I will embrace this moment and be part of a country that is not perfect, but embraces all to be free and equal, as it supposed to be for all citizens of the world. Every day is a new day and I take it step by step, and I try to use my voice for all the other fellow refugees stuck in difficult circumstances. I am one of the lucky ones, as many other refugees struggle to overcome the barrier of language and are stuck in the middle of nowhere, which makes it impossible to integrate with society”.
The movement’s placement within the University’s Access Centre gives effect to the commitment to broaden access to university education from under-represented groups, while the involvement of the Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI), and its approach to civic engagement, ensures that this initiative is sustained well in to the future, through the promotion of continued student and staff engagement with the initiative. Leo Snygans expressed his deep appreciation for the Access programme itself to SIN, saying, “A few months ago, while staying in the direct provision centre here in Galway, I met a lovely gentleman from the University of Sanctuary, who helped me apply for the Access course here at NUI Galway”. He continued, “I will not call out any specific names, but just want to say what a wonderful group of souls those who fight and live for the heart of humanity in the Access office. Thank you from my heart. I joined the programme two weeks ago, coming from a minority and fighting for my survival, and I got embraced into a wonderful new family with such care and love”.
Leo wants to see others treated with the same acceptance and tolerance that he has been shown in this programme. “People from all spectrums put humans in boxes. The face of the refugee has no specific colour, or look. A refugee is the person, maybe, sitting next to you. As a species, we should embrace our diversity, which is our strength, and not our enemy, as preached by confused souls. I could write a book about all of my life experiences, but I will quote the words from Professor Anne Scott, Vice-President of Equality and Diversity at NUI Galway: “Education is an enormous force for the good, it transforms people’s lives and opportunities”.
President Ó hÓgartaigh finished by adding, “On behalf of our University community, I look forward to working with all of our communities, to make Galway (city and county) a ‘Community of Sanctuary’ over the coming year”.
To celebrate the official designation, NUI Galway will host a designation ceremony on Thursday, 21 November.