23 January 2019 marked one year of the University of East Anglia being a ‘University of Sanctuary’ and saw several events take place on the day to celebrate. The title was awarded by City of Sanctuary, a movement promoting the support of asylum seekers and refugees, as UEA had been recognised for its ability to offer sanctuary through a wide range of courses and scholarships. It is one of few universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland to offer such support.
The British Red Cross Refugee Centre welcomed donations throughout the day. Another initiative was the donation of unwanted winter clothes. The UEA Student Union collected adult coats, scarves and other items of winter clothing to donate to asylum seekers and refugees.
The university also ran drop-in sessions to provide information about volunteering at NGOs, but also to offer advice to any students that need financial advice about studying at UEA as part of the Sanctuary scheme. The celebration event featured a display of work by a number of UEA staff members, further showing that UEA is wholeheartedly committed to offering sanctuary to those in need. The celebration event was wholly engaging, providing live music, drinks and a range of food including a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stall. The stall was campaigning to lift the ban in place preventing people seeking asylum from working in the UK. You can help to demand action against this by using the link benjerry.co.uk/right-to-work.
Lord Mayor of Norwich Martin Schmierer also attended the celebration event, commenting that ‘Norwich prides itself on being a welcoming city and something needs to be done to support asylum seekers’. The Lord Mayor continued by saying ‘This is close to my heart and it is wonderful to support initiatives like this.’
Steve Waters and a group of Drama undergraduate and postgraduate students read a short excerpt from his play Calais, which has been performed both in Norwich and in Cambridge. Waters himself described the play as ‘almost an act of journalism’ in how it portrays events.
After the celebration event Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Neil Ward, began the presentation of the evening, claiming that, ‘we will continue to ensure UEA is a sanctuary to asylum seekers’.
Enana Al-Assaf spoke of her experience living in Aleppo whilst continuing to study, and explained her trauma and how her home was caught in the crossfire of the civil war. Her husband, Dalyan, spoke of his journey learning English as a foreign language and about the amount of support he experienced from The Forum and the NILE Institute in Norwich.
Steven Wordsworth, representing the organisation Cara, helped to explain their work. Cara is a charity that provide a lifeline to academics at risk. 70 percent of those Cara helps are pursuing a postdoctorate career, however 30 percent are Masters and PhD candidates. Cara want to make UEA their 117th member.
To spark academic debate, an interactive balloon debate was held in the UEA Drama studio about borders and if controls are needed. This debate is particularly relevant with the current turbulent political climate in America surrounding Trump’s persistence to construct a wall on the Mexican border.
War clearly impacts every aspect of life including education, it is extremely important that UEA continues to lead the way in providing sanctuary to those that need it. UEA have celebrated their status of being a University of Sanctuary in a way that embodies UEA as an institution: welcoming and thought-provoking.