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January News

We hope the new year has begun as well as possible for you. It is important to stay connected during these uncertain times, so please enjoy reading the latest news from the Places of Sanctuary network.

Please feel free to forward this email to friends or colleagues who may be interested.

Tiffy and team

  1. Schools of Sanctuary

2020 ended really positively for Schools of Sanctuary. We hosted two online training sessions for Sanctuary Ambassadors in Education, with people from Monaghan, Dublin, Galway, Laois, Cork, Waterford and Wexford taking part. From this, we were able to appoint two monitoring teams for the first schools to submit their portfolios for national assessment. Mount Sion CBS Secondary School, Waterford and Bunscoil Loreto , Gorey were then visited on zoom by  monitoring teams, and both schools were pronounced ‘outstanding’, receiving the coveted award with flying colours!  You can read about them here: Several new schools from around the country heard about these achievements via the mainstream media, and have registered their interest. These two schools join the three awarded schools in County Monaghan as well as over 40 in Northern Ireland, and several more in Galway, Cork and Dublin are aiming to achieve recognition in the next few months.

Meanwhile a national steering group has been formed to coordinate and steer the work, with Dublin teacher Sallie Ennis and NUI Galway educationalist Owen Ward appointed as Chair and Vice Chair respectively. Schools may be closed at the moment, but the Sanctuary message is alive and growing in many school communities. To find out more or to get involved, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

  1. Sanctuary Ambassadors Training

Sanctuary Ambassadors Training, which has evolved from Sanctuary in Politics, is a programme to equip, inform and empower groups of refugees so that they can become better informed and more active in dialogue with decision makers, advocating for rights, and participating in all aspects of Irish society. The Sanctuary Ambassadors groups have been quite active recently. In November and December, in addition to the training mentioned above, groups were involved in several consultations around the publication of the Catherine Day Report on the Direct Provision system, including meeting the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. We had several online gatherings in preparation for this and to discuss our responses to the Day report and anticipated changes. In December, Wexford County Council offered the ambassadors a shop in Gorey to host a two day exhibition of various handcrafts mader during lockdowns. The exhibition was a great success and you can read about it here:

Since the start of January, we have been using our Zoom platform to meet ambassadors regularly for sharing, updates and encouragement. Everyone appreciates the support offered by the group, especially as there is a lot of stress and loneliness during these times of lockdown. Homayoon, as well as several others from the Ambassadors group, have been participating in Know Your Rights training offered by IRC, and will be sharing some of their findings with the larger group. Now we are beginning to prepare a programme for the coming months based on the areas of interest and concern expressed by the group. If anyone would like to get involved or find out more, please contact [email protected]. Updated information will be posted on the new webpage:

  1. A New Chair for Our Board

As we explained in the last newsletter, there is now a vacancy for a Chair for Places of Sanctuary Ireland. We are very pleased that long-time sanctuary friend and advocate, Andy Pollak, has taken on the role of Acting Chair for three months. Andy has been active in Places of Sanctuary for several years, including key roles in Sanctuary in Politics, Schools of Sanctuary and Dublin City of Sanctuary. Andy is now working with a small team to recruit a new long-term Chairperson.

Please take time to read this short message from Andy:

I am delighted to be stepping into the role of acting chair of Places of Sanctuary Ireland and supporting the vital work that Tiffy, Homayoon and so many others are doing to welcome, include and integrate ‘newcomers’ into Irish society. I have a particular interest in refugee issues since my father came as a political refugee from Czechoslovakia to Northern Ireland in 1948. PoSI is now a little over five years old, and under its founding chair, Philip Berman, has built an all-Ireland network of groups working to support refugees, asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants. I believe the next few months are a time to begin to re-energise the board and the organisation under a younger long-term chair and new board members, including some from a refugee background. If anybody has any ideas or suggestions about the way forward for the next five years, I would be grateful to hear them. I am at [email protected]

  1. Churches of Sanctuary Webinar

Rev. Inderjit Bhogal, the founder of the City of Sanctuary movement, was the main speaker at a webinar on Churches of Sanctuary hosted in December by Christchurch Cathedral. Homayoon went along and was deeply impressed by Inderjit’s moving testimony and powerful speaking, Here is a quotation from Homayoon’s report, which you can read in full here:    He emphasised that the churches are places of welcome, safety, refuge and protection. He spoke of his experience when he was 15 when walked in to a church for the first time and was welcomed, and that led him to be now serving for 40 years in the Methodist ministry. He stated that Churches of Sanctuary are not only for Christian believers but for everyone from all faiths.


  1. Sanctuary During Lockdown

There is no doubt that levels of stress and anxiety have been growing across all counties and all sections of society with the latest lockdown after Christmas. People in International Protection have extra layers of worry for a variety of reasons. Repeated lockdowns have brought about even longer delays in decision making (I know of several families who have been waiting over a year for the outcome of their first interview; others who have been here nearly two years and have not yet been interviewed, and still others with papers who face indefinite delays in family reunification applications). Delays mean that people have to stay much longer in Direct Provision and cannot begin to start the longed-for next stage of life. The closure of schools means that the cramped conditions of many families is much harder to manage, with stresses ranging from shortage of laptops to lack of reliable internet connection and study space.

Our Schools of Sanctuary steering group decided to write to the Minister of Children and the Minister of Education to highlight these concerns about homeschooling conditions in some centres.  Over 80 people signed the letter, including the leaders of most organisations working with refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland. We are encouraged by the wonderful example set by many schools who have been working overtime to ensure that their sanctuary commitment is still active during lockdown. If anyone has concerns about a particular situation that needs extra support, please let us know.

  1. Belfast City of Sanctuary Zoom seminars.

Belfast City of Sanctuary is organising a series of Zoom online meetings to assist asylum seekers, refugees and newcomers with information about Training and Upskilling Opportunities; Employment Rights; Welfare Benefits; Housing Rights; and Wellbeing, with experts to answer questions. To find out more, please check Belfast COS’s website or facebook page.

  1. Sanctuary in Higher Education

Following the successful webinars we held during November and July, many asylum seekers all over the country have been busy finalising their CAO forms for places in universities and other third level colleges next September. Please make sure you check the University of Sanctuary website and IRC’s booklet for any updates about scholarships.

Here’s an opportunity for students. The Washington Ireland Programme (involving third level students spending time on placement in the US capital) is looking for applicants for 2021, including students from a refugee background. It is highly recommended by Jacqueline Phiri from Galway City of Sanctuary and the Places of Sanctuary Ireland board, who was a participant in the 2020 programme. Jacqueline says:  Among the innumerable life-changing lessons that I took away from being a member of WIP2020, self-reflection stuck with me and forced me to grow beyond my own limiting beliefs. The programme’s focus is to inform and challenge you on your leadership and service perceptions while developing your debating, research, presentation, and analytical skills. You are encouraged to reflect on your beliefs, the values you uphold, your purpose, and the humble contribution you would hope to make- to ensure a better tomorrow. 

The deadline for this programme is approaching so if you are interested please check it out on

  1. Upcoming Events

The Immigrant Council of Ireland is hosting a National Integration Conference, 15 -18 February,  on Zoom For more information contact [email protected].

Nasc in Cork are running a series of short webinars, under the title ‘Our Lives, Our Futures’, aimed at empowering young migrants and refugees to campaign for fairer education rights. For more information contact [email protected].

Finally, we hope to bring out a newsletter like this about every two months. Please send us your news, your views and any upcoming events, we will do all we can to include them next time.

Wishing you all safety, strength and hope

Tiffy, Homayoon, Rania and Andy.

Tiffy Allen – National Coordinator and Schools of Sanctuary

Homayoon Shirzad – Assistant Coordinator and Schools of Sanctuary

Rania Elhaimer – Volunteer Website and Schools of Sanctuary Assistant

Andy Pollak – Acting Chairperson, Places of Sanctuary Ireland

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