Univer-cities of sanctuary

Tuesday 23 May 2017 - 09:00 to Wednesday 24 May 2017 - 17:30

The UNHCR estimates that over 60 per cent of the world’s 19.5 million refugees and 80 per cent of its 34 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in urban environments.

This can pose dangers to refugees who may be vulnerable to exploitation, arrest or detention, and who can be forced to compete with the poorest local workers for the worst jobs. However, unlike a camp, cities provide opportunities, allowing refugees to live anonymously, make money and build a better future. Cities also offer interconnected networks of public, private and civic actors who can play an important role in responding to the global refugee crisis.

This session will start off looking at the wider role of institutions within cities receiving refugees, including universities, technology companies and local authorities. Panellists representing universities from the cities of Toronto, Canada and York, UK will address how their respective institutions and cities have welcomed new citizens, often from vulnerable backgrounds, offering a place of safety and integrating refugees into local communities. These examples will show what community impact has been achieved within these institutions and their city through a collaborative approach with civic and community partners.

The remaining panellists will represent the global perspective which transcends cities and speaks to the importance of interconnectivity in every sense. A representative from Techfugees, a social enterprise coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of refugees, which has more than 25 ‘chapters’ in cities all over the world. The Cambridge chapter, for example, brings the lively tech community of the area (‘Silicon Fen’) into dialogue with the local and the global refugee aid organisations to provide new and robust solutions which meet real and urgent needs. Finally, a representative of the political or donor community will discuss the multilateral efforts and support needed to bring about change to the situation.


  • Vivienne Stern, Director, University UK International, UK (Chair) 
  • Dr Helena Barroco, Diplomatic Adviser, Global Platform for Syrian Students, Portugal 
  • Monika Jako, Director of Community Engagement and Social Innovation, Ryerson University, Canada
  • Dr Allan Goodman, President, Institute of International Education, USA