You’re offering sanctuary

Stephanie is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a dark top and denim jacket. The background shows stone columns inside at University of Bristol building.

Chemistry student and former President of the University’s Student Action for Refugees group, Stephanie Hall, has witnessed how Sanctuary Scholarships can transform lives.

During my first year at Bristol, I went to a poetry reading in a café on Gloucester Road. That was where I first heard Home, an incredibly moving poem about how it feels to be a refugee. The piece was written by Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet who was born in Kenya. In this poem, Shire talks about how you’d never want to leave your home, unless it had become ‘the mouth of a shark’ – in other words, when it becomes so unsafe that it stops being your home.

It was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever heard and it inspired me to join the University of Bristol’s Student Action for Refugees group (STAR).

During my time at STAR, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know many of the University’s Sanctuary Scholars. All of these students have come from refugee or asylum-seeking backgrounds and have been able to access or continue their higher education through Sanctuary Scholarships. The incredible support of Bristol’s alumni and friends provides critical funding for this programme.

Many of these students have been forced to flee their countries of origin after fearing for their lives. They may have faced discrimination because of their sexuality, or their religious or political beliefs, and will have overcome huge obstacles to get here. When they arrive, they can find that the qualifications they’ve acquired previously aren’t recognised in the same way in the UK. Or perhaps, the situation in their home country meant they never had the chance to study at a university or college.

‘Sanctuary Scholarships are incredible. They give people opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach: they make the impossible, possible.’

Sanctuary Scholarships are completely transformative because without them it’s almost impossible for asylum seekers in particular to access higher education. In the UK, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work until they’ve been granted refugee status and have to rely on a tiny cash allowance. The process of applying for refugee status can take months, or even years. This puts a huge financial burden on individuals and their families; it can be hard enough to buy groceries each week, let alone save up to pay for higher education. On top of that, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to apply for student finance from the Government which adds a further barrier to studying. That’s why the University’s Sanctuary Scholarships are so incredible – they give bright, determined people opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

So far, 51 life-changing Sanctuary Scholarships have been made available to students at the University. Through these scholarships, students have been able to access subjects including History, Pharmacology, Mechanical Engineering and Law. As well as the academic benefits, these scholarships provide an opportunity for sanctuary-seeking students to build friendships and support networks within the Bristol community that could last a lifetime.

Each Sanctuary Scholar has such a unique background and set of experiences, but the thing they all have in common is their passion for education. For many Sanctuary Scholars, speaking out publicly can be difficult and even dangerous. But when you hear their stories and learn about the barriers they’ve faced it’s incredibly humbling. It reminds you to be appreciative and to never take your degree for granted. Whilst we can never fully understand what many of these Scholars have been through, we can do everything in our power to make sure they feel completely welcome here in Bristol – these Scholarships help us to do that.

Last year, the University was recognised as a ‘University of Sanctuary’ because of its commitment to supporting sanctuary seekers – something that we feel really proud of. To supporters of the Sanctuary Scholarship programme – thank you. You’re changing lives and helping to make Bristol a welcoming and inclusive place for all.

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