Refugee Week: The importance of a welcome

migration matters artwork

Refugee Week logoTo mark Refugee Week, we’re looking back at our University’s long-standing commitment to welcoming refugees and their unique contributions to our global community. From Nobel Prize winning scientists to pioneering Students’ Union officers, many of the talented people we’ve been fortunate enough to call staff, students and alumni arrived in Sheffield to seek a brighter future – both personally and academically.

We're reflecting on all the ways we've been striving to make a difference to people who are displaced or vulnerable - including raising funds, spirits and awareness in our mission to make refugees welcome.

So, at a time when we're still seeing the effects of the worst refugee crisis since World War Two, here’s the story of why this emotive issue is close to our hearts and at the very front of our minds at the University of Sheffield.

vc"One of the most powerful images we have seen this year has been the sight of thousands of refugees making the long walk from countries where they fear for their lives to what they hope will be a new life for them and their families.

"In the mass of people making journeys across forests and oceans, it is hard to pick out individual stories or to seriously imagine ourselves in the same situation. Yet in our University we have a particular reason to hold faith with those who make such a perilous journey; some of our own community had to do just the same. We are a university with a long-standing tradition of welcoming refugees as academics and as students into a City of Sanctuary. Yet we want to welcome even more refugee scholars and students, who will, in turn, be able to give back to our communities."  Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett.

It starts with sanctuary

sheffield welcomes refugees bannerAt the launch of Refugee Week 2007, the Mayor of Sheffield announced that the City Council had pledged support for a new project: City of Sanctuary. It meant Sheffield was the first City of Sanctuary in the UK – the first city to make a public pledge to welcome asylum-seekers and refugees.

What started as a way for individuals and groups across the city to come together and highlight a culture of acceptance and solidarity grew into a project that resonated in so many places – there are now more than 60 cities involved.

Having welcomed refugees and aslylum seekers for decades, it was natural for our University to mirror this movement within our own community, and we committed to becoming the first University of Sanctuary. This pledge confirmed our long-standing commitment to doing all we could to empower people fleeing conflict or tyranny, helping them start a new life without fear or degradation.

Remarkable people

Our Vice-Chancellor said in his July 2015 comment: “Academia is nothing if it is narrow. Ideas are not separate from people, and they travel with them and always have. From Egypt and India, from Syria and Spain, from China and Africa.”

Over the years, some of the brightest talents in the world have found their home here in Sheffield, flourishing with friendship and acceptance.

One of the inspiring individuals to make their journey here from fear and adversity was Sir Hans Krebs who joined the University as a lecturer in Pharmacology in 1935. Sir Hans was a German Jewish refugee and had already made significant scientific discoveries before being forced to flee Germany in 1933. He made Sheffield his home for 19 years and the new Department of Biochemistry was created for him in 1938.

Sir Hans was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1953 for the discovery of the citric acid cycle. He made this breakthrough here in Sheffield and established a group that worked on aspects of biochemistry that have been important to the world.

sir hans krebs with students kf

Experience KrebsFest on iTunesUkrebs fest

KrebsFest took place in autumn 2015 and explored Sir Hans Krebs' legacy through a series of public events and exhibitions.

Discover more about the impact of Sir Hans and experience KrebsFest through our iTunesU collection.

It features interviews with leading Sheffield academics and international artist Luke Jerram, lectures by Nobel prize winning scientists, an animation of the Krebs cycle and the amazing Krebs rap.

KrebsFest on iTunesU

Download iTunes from Apple

Moved to action

The world has recently faced the worst refugee crisis since before World War Two when Sir Hans made his journey here to safety.

As a University of Sanctuary, one of the most important things for us has been to show how committed we are to helping refugees and asylum seekers access higher education.

Here's how we're reaching out.

We’re offering scholarships

The University’s Asylum Seeker Scholarships scheme supports those who have sought refuge in the UK. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition and provide a grant award to support living costs for each year of study. They are available to students studying undergraduate degrees or postgraduate Masters courses.

We’re helping at-risk academics find a way forward

As a member of the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) we have supported a number of CARA-sponsored PhD students and academics with placements here.

CARA helps academics in immediate danger, those forced into exile, and many who choose to remain in their home countries despite the serious risks they face. It also supports higher education institutions whose continuing work is at risk or compromised.

In partnership with CARA, we’re also striving to host more refugee academics in danger or facing exile, giving them financial and practical help to continue their careers in a safe place.

We're walking in solidarity

Our Sheffield Walk for Refugees and Big Walk 2016 have helped us show friendship and solidarity as well as raising much needed funds for these initiatives.

On Sunday 5 June 2016 more than 200 of our staff, students, alumni and friends took part in a three mile walk to celebrate the wonderful contribution of refugee scholars to our University and city.

Then on Sunday 12 June, two teams of University staff set off on our Big Walk to walk 240 miles between them in six days, following the Trans Pennine trail.

The teams started at opposite ends of the trail, from Southport in the west and Hornsea in the east, making their way to a meeting point in Tankersley.

They walked the final stretch of 17 miles back to Sheffield together on Friday 17 June, joined by 125 members of staff and students from across the University taking part in the one-day challenge.

Top row: The two teams meet in Tankersley; one-day challenge walkers stopping for a selfie; the teams making progress. Second row: They made it back - both teams pose for a celebratory picture at the end of the walk; team Hornsea make a pit-stop; some beautiful scenery on the route.

meeting in Tankersley big walk one day walkers walkers on way home
walkers at end of walk big walkers on route big walk scene

Funds from our Sheffield Walk for Refugees, The Big Walk, and the one-day challenge, will help people who may never be able to return home and give them a starting point from which they can rebuild their lives.

To date, we’ve already raised over £38,000 including £416 of donations from the Sheffield Walk for Refugees but we want to reach a target of £100,000.

Professor Wyn Morgan led the Southport team on the Big Walk. When he arrived back, he told us how humbling an experience it had been.

Wyn said: “Whenever we struggled we remembered what we were doing it for. We did it knowing where our beds were at the end of each day, where we would be eating, that our bags were packed for us – we did it without fear, without dealing with the things refugees have to deal with."

Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Dr Casey Strine took part in the one-day challenge. He said: "The walk has been fantastic. It's been great to see so many people coming together to support people facing the most challenging of circumstances. On the walk people have been talking about their own stories of migration and it's been fascinating to hear about people's experiences.

"As a University we are in a unique position to be able to do things other organisations can't and fund these scholarships."

Thanks to everyone for your support. To help our Big Walk teams reach their collective £100,000 fundraising target, you can sponsor them here.

Hear some of our refugee students and scholars talk about the experiences we want to help them through.

We’re showing that #WeAreInternational

As well as welcoming people who migrate or seek refuge for a new life, we’ve always championed international friendship and the importance of our staff and students from around the world.

Students holding flags

In 2014 we launched our #standbyme project in celebration of the value and contribution of international staff and students not just here, but at all UK universities.

We wanted it to be recognised that their talents and skills contribute hugely to our culture and economy in the UK.

It led to our #WeAreInternational campaign which gained the backing of over 100 universities, educational institutions and organisations across the world.

Stand by me We are international

The real stories of immigration


The human experience behind the headlines around immigration or asylum is something that can be overlooked in the media.

But one Sheffield photographer was inspired to share the real stories of migrants who have arrived in Sheffield over the decades.

Some of our staff and students feature in Arrivals, a project by Jeremy Abrahams, soon to be exhibited at Weston Park Museum.

Jeremy wanted to create a series of portraits of people who arrived in Sheffield from another country for each year between 1945 and 2016.

His collection of portraits celebrates the diversity of our city and how it developed.

marion habib

Jeremy had the idea for his project in 2014 when he was studying photography. At the time, myths about immigration and asylum were common in the media but through the project, Jeremy was able to uncover the real experiences and humanity of immigration which is often shrouded by misconceptions.

Jeremy asked his subjects whereabouts in Sheffield they preferred to be photographed, to help tell their story about why Sheffield is so special to them. Some of their chosen locations include places like Hunter's Bar and Firth Hall.

After starting work on the project, Jeremy was invited to exhibit a small selection of his growing project at our Migrants in the City conference in 2015, where he also gave a keynote address.

Jeremy said: “It was the start of a really good relationship with the University. I’ve had so much support and encouragement and I’ve been given access to take photos in some brilliant University locations.

Pierre Ngunda Kabaya arrived in Sheffield in 2011 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where his life was in danger.

Jeremy said: “When I asked Pierre where he preferred to be photographed, he said he didn’t mind and that ‘It’s all beautiful!'"

To explain, Pierre showed Jeremy a photo on his phone of the refugee camp where he sought safety before he was able to come to the UK.

"I suggested we take his picture at the top of the Arts Tower where he could see the whole city!” Jeremy said.



Jeremy’s work will be exhibited at Weston Park Museum from September. Keep up to date via his Facebook page.

See Arrivals

Fetched home

Edmund de WaalAcclaimed artist and author Edmund de Waal created an artwork especially for the University as a gift after he learned of our tradition of supporting refugee academics and students.

The Sheffield alumnus and honorary graduate, whose father was a refugee who still works with the refugee community, presented the University with a piece called ‘Fetched Home’. The title is inspired by a poem by the Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan on the subject of homelessness and displacement.

Edmund visited our University in May 2016 to speak about the gift and discuss place and displacement in poetry and the visual arts. He talked about his own family history and his practice as an artist and a writer.

Watch the talk again below

Celebrating Refugee Week 2016


From 20 to 26 June, Refugee Week 2016 will celebrate the warm welcome shown to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Our city is holding its own festival to mark Refugee Week this year.

Migration Matters runs from 17-25 June to celebrate sanctuary in Sheffield, championing everyone who contributes to the city’s cultural diversity.

Music, good food and conversation will come together in a programme of events at Theatre Delicatessen, on The Moor.

View the programme

As part of Migrations Matters our academics and students are sharing their knowledge and perspectives on asylum and immigration for some special festival fringe talks.

On Sunday 19 June Dr Casey Strine talked about his research on the book of Genesis. He also showed images from the Back Where You Came From exhibition that he helped plan with local art therapist Emilie Taylor.

Casey is a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow and Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS).

You can catch him Tweeting from @Shefunilife from week commencing 20 June.

Read more about Casey's research on Migration and the Bible.

Letters and pictures from Lesvos

By Dimitris Ballas and Phil Jones

Thursday 23 June, 5–6pm, Theatre Delicatessen, The Moor, Sheffield

Dimitris Ballas is a senior lecturer in human geography and Phil Jones is a PhD research student in our Department of Geography.

In this illustrated talk, they reflect on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Lesvos, following a field class visit to the island in March 2016.

Student David McCourt who went on the field trip said: “Before the trip, we all thought we knew more than general public about the refugee crisis, but we didn’t.

"Being there, feeling the emotions, we realized the truth of the situation."

Read more comments from our academics on the refugee crisis

What the experts say

Footballers Life jacket mountain: An illustrated talk by Dr Dimitris Ballas and Phil Jones lesvos