In 2021, Somerville College became one of the UK’s first Colleges of Sanctuary.

Our commitment to supporting the millions of people who today find themselves displaced by war, persecution and climate change is an extension of our College’s historic commitment to support sanctuary-seeking students and academics, which dates back to the 1930s. Back in those days, we welcomed Jewish academics like Lotte Labowsky, who were fleeing the oppression of Nazi Germany. 

Today, the world remains a brutally inhospitable place for the millions of people today who find themselves displaced or endangered by conflict, persecution, climate change or the violation of their human rights. Equally damaging is the fact that only 7% of those affected by these issues go into higher education.

Our work as a College of Sanctuary offers displaced students and academics a place of refuge and, through our Sanctuary Scholarships, chance to rebuild their lives. 

Sanctuary Scholarships

The Somerville College Sanctuary Scholarships are the foundation of our work as a College of Sanctuary. Under this programme, Somerville has in just three years welcomed 8 Sanctuary Scholars to Somerville from regions including Ukraine, Sudan, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.

The programme continues to expand through the transformative support of donors and alumni who see the great value of this work.  Under the scheme, Somerville offers fully-funded places for both undergraduate and postgraduate study, pending a valid application to the University of Oxford, with all living costs covered by the college and further financial support from Oxford University through the waiving of tuition fees. 

Please note: In order to be considered for a scholarship, you must first apply for and be offered a place at Somerville. Please visit applying to Oxford for more information about the application process. 


Sanctuary Scholars 2023-24

Sharmarke Dubow

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Sharmarke Dubow

Samson Oolio

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Samson Oolio

Ghaith Al Najjar

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Ghaith Al Najjar

Sanctuary Stories

 Dr Marwa Biala (2020, MSc Radiation Biology)

A portrait of Dr Marwa Biala in her sub-fusc on the Somerville quadDr Marwa Biala is Somerville’s inaugural Sanctuary Scholar. A radiologist at Tripoli University Hospital, she completed her Master’s in Radiation Biology at the height of the pandemic.

Read Marwa’s Story


Dr Malak Alshaikhali (2018, MSc Immunology) 

Student smiling in college garden - Malak AlshaikhaliMalak Alshaikhali is a doctor from Gaza who completed her MSc in Immunology at Somerville as an Oxford Qatar Thatcher Scholar between 2018-19.

Read Malak’s story



Freshta Karim (2016, MPP Public Policy)

Freshta Karim is the Director of Charmaghz Mobile Libraries, a non-profit organisation which provides mobile library services to children in Kabul. In November 2021, she addressed the UN Security Council with an impassioned plea to take steps to end the cycle of violence in her home country.



Dr Anwar Masoud

Dr Anwar Masoud standing in Darbishire QuadSomerville is committed to supporting all types of sanctuary seekers from the global academic community – including researchers and academics. Working in concert with CARA, the Council for At-Risk Academics, we were honoured to help Dr Anwar Masoud find a place here in Oxford from which to continue his important research.

Read Anwar’s story


A College of Sanctuary

To secure accreditation as a College of Sanctuary, we brought together all our previous work supporting asylum seekers and refugees to help develop further support for those seeking sanctuary. This is outlined in our College of Sanctuary submission, which provides an overview of existing activity and sets out our commitments to further develop our support.

A photograph of the German-Jewish classicist Lotte Labowsky

Lotte Labowsky

Our commitment to nurturing a culture of inclusivity and awareness for those seeking sanctuary dates back the 1930s, when Jewish academics such as the Classicist Lotte Labowsky fled to Somerville from Nazi Germany. Labowsky went on to make Oxford her home, serving as a Fellow of Somerville until her death in 1991. 

Somerville is also proud to remember the work of Eleanor Rathbone, the first Somervillian to enter Parliament and the Founding Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Refugees, which she established following the Munich settlement and Kristallnacht. The committee became the vehicle for challenging officials and ministers to ‘break with the fatal policy’ of quotas and voluntary financial support and was instrumental in moving the British government to welcome Jewish and political refugees from Czechoslovakia, and subsequently all of Nazi occupied Europe. 

Support OUR Sanctuary WORK

Support the Sanctuary Scholarships

Our sanctuary efforts are made possible through your generosity.

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Welcome Pack

If you’re a new Sanctuary Scholar, our welcome pack will help you to get your bearings and make sure you have everything you need for your life in Oxford. You can download it using the link below:

Sanctuary Scholar Welcome Pack