By Caoimhe Killeen
Minister of State at the Department of Education, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, has launched NUI Galway’s Schools of Sanctuary Programme at Scoil Bride in Shantalla.
The launch coincides with the appointment of NUI Galway as a designated University of Sanctuary and Galway’s selection as European Capital of Culture 2020.
NUI Galway is the sixth third level institution in Ireland to achieve the status of Designated University of Sanctuary, following in the steps of other universities, including University College Cork and Dublin City University.
The NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary programme is an outreach section of the University of Sanctuary initiative and NUI Galway’s access centre to post-primary schools.
A School of Sanctuary is defined as being a school that is committed to creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment that includes every pupil, including those who seek sanctuary. Schools that are designated this title must promote the welcoming of refugees, asylum seekers, Irish Travellers and other migrants into educational communities in meaningful ways.
Owen Ward, Coordinator of NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary Programme, said: “Through the collaboration with the Places of Sanctuary Movement, Ireland, the NUI Galway Access Centre and the participating NUI Galway Access linked schools; a sanctuary will be created for all within each school that will ensure a levelling of the playing field for everyone. This programme will positively impact approximately 1,500 students this year”.
Another key aim of the program is to celebrate and promote cultural diversity in schools, as well as promoting pathways into higher education. It aims to support increased access and increased participation from entrants from socio-economic groups with lower rates of involvement in second and third level education.
“Everyone involved in this programme will become beacons in the community and act as Ambassadors that promote and celebrate cultural diversity in addition to progression into higher education”, said Minister Mitchell O’Connor.
Principals of local secondary schools, Our Lady’s College and St Mary’s College, have already signed commitment pledges to begin the process of receiving the designation of an NUI Galway School of Sanctuary. “The benefits for the institutions as such are that they themselves promote inclusion and awareness. It’s all about common good, it’s all about shared values, it’s all about promoting equality, equity and social justice”, added Aidan Harte, also an NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary Coordinator.
The University of Sanctuary initiative itself was formed in NUI Galway in 2016 as a student–led initiative. After determining that, while they were raising public awareness around international protection issues and refugees on campus, they were not having a direct impact on policy changes, the Fáilte Refugees Society sought an alternative method and came across the University of Sanctuary initiative, a British and Irish based charity that was set up in 2005. After getting in contact with the University of Sanctuary’s Irish network, the group started to work towards the eventual designation of NUI Galway as a University of Sanctuary.
The group will hope to celebrate this designation with a special event between 10am and 12pm in the Aula Maxima Hall on the 21st November.