Campaigns and initiatives undertaken by UCD staff and students have been recognised this week as the university was designated a University of Sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers.
Places of Sanctuary Ireland (PISI) awarded UCD the University of Sanctuary status following UCD’s initiative to offer free fees to refugees and asylum seekers. PISI is a network of groups in towns, cities, and local communities that advocate for the welfare, inclusion and integration of refugees, asylum seekers, and vulnerable migrants.
UCD now joins UCC, UL, and DCU among the list of Universities of Sanctuary in the Republic of Ireland.
In an article posted online, a UCD University Relations official wrote that the designation also follows projects which will lead to “employment and work experience to refugees and asylum seekers.”
The proposal to offer free fees was put forward last year by the UCD Refugee Working Group, which consists of 14 employees of UCD. Student Volunteer Recruitment Officer Holly Dignam previously told the University Observer that the proposal advised that the offer should be available to refugees and asylum seekers residing in Ireland “with immediate effect.” This proposal was subsequently accepted by UCD management.
Dignam stated that the Working Group also aims to “establish UCD funded scholarships in addition to free fees for those students who may also require support for travel and accommodation expenses.”
“As asylum seekers in Ireland receive €21.60 per week, issues such as money for transport to college/university and food for the week may be a problem.”
“In UCD we are aware of this and the working group are trying to acquire support for travel and accommodation expenses.”
The UCD Refugee Working Group is chaired by Professor Colin Scott, Vice President for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion and Principal of UCD Colleges of Social Sciences and Law, and Professor Grace Mulcahy, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine and UCD Conway Institute.
At a ceremony in the Sutherland School of Law, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Emily Logan stated that access to education and employment opportunities were “at the core of enabling each person to flourish.”
In a speech, UCD President Andrew J Deeks stated that UCD “recognises the very important contribution that we can make by harnessing the human resources, skills and energy of displaced staff and students and deliver benefit to both home and host nations by improving their access to work and study within higher education.”
A Stage 1 Computer Science student named Ola, who is one of the first students to benefit under the new policy, spoke at the event and stated that receiving the opportunity to study Computer Science at UCD was “an incredible experience.”
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for asylum seekers knowing that you can actually access third-level education. It will transform the lives of so many asylum seekers in Ireland.” Ola also said that he has started volunteering with CoderDojo, a computer coding club for children as a “little way of saying thank you to the Irish state.”
Holly Dignam, who assists UCD Welcomes Refugees with their campaign, told the University Observer in January that “[there] are three principles set out by [PISI] that a university has to meet in order to be eligible for [University of Sanctuary] status.” These are to learn, take positive action, and share.
UCD Welcomes Refugees held a Refugee Awareness Week in February 2017 and held another awareness week last month. Additionally, the group held a book appeal for Hatch Hall direct provision centre in June 2017 and marched at the National Demonstration to End Direct Provision in November 2017.
UCD Welcomes Refugees is part of Failte Refugees, a nationwide, student led campaign which consists of groups in DCU, TCD, DIT, and NUIG. The groups work to “put pressure on the government to stand by their original promise of accepting 4000 refugees.”