In 2021, Somerville College was recognised alongside Mansfield College as one of the UK’s first University Colleges of Sanctuary. Our entire community is committed to ensuring that Somerville offers a welcoming and safe space for refugees and asylum seekers.
To secure accreditation as a College of Sanctuary, we brought together our existing 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.
Our commitment to nurturing a culture of inclusivity and awareness for those seeking sanctuary dates back the 1930s, when Jewish academics such as Classics student 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.
“Gaining recognition as a University College of Sanctuary is a brilliant step for Somerville and I am so proud of the way in which our staff, students and alumni have given their passionate support to us to help provide an inclusive place of refuge and welcome for scholars seeking sanctuary.”
Baroness Royall, Principal
In the future, our commitment to support those seeking sanctuary will include our new sanctuary scholarships (see below), as well as a range of measures that will enable us to remove the obstacles that currently mean only 1% of sanctuary seekers attend university. Alongside this objective, we will also seek to embed the key concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion throughout Somerville, so that members of College can learn what it means for others to seek sanctuary, both generally and within the context of higher education.
Somerville College runs annual events to raise awareness about sanctuary seekers, two of which are featured below.
Somerville and Mansfield Colleges are proud to have established a new Sanctuary Scholarship as part of their efforts to provide a guaranteed pathway to Oxford for bright students from a sanctuary-seeking background.
Under the scheme, both institutions will offer a fully-funded place to a sanctuary-seeking student, with all living costs covered by the colleges and further financial support from Oxford University through the waiving of tuition fees. We are indebted to the wider Somerville community for their generous support of this initiative via a 2020 crowdfunding campaign.
Read ‘A Day in the Life’ with Dr Marwa Biala (2020, MSc Radiation Biology), Somerville’s inaugural Sanctuary Scholar for 2020-21.
Supporting At-Risk Academics
Somerville 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 feel honoured to have enabled academics forced into exile or in immediate danger to continue their important research here in Oxford as well as to gain sanctuary for themselves and their families within the Somerville community.