Meet CUSI: The student-led initiative making Cambridge a safer place for refugees

CUSI has been relaunched to make Cambridge a ‘University of Sanctuary’ for refugees and asylum seekers

The Cambridge University Sanctuary Initiative (CUSI) is an organisation made up of students that aims to make the University of Cambridge and its colleges safe spaces for refugees and asylum seekers by achieving “sanctuary status”.

The initiative was launched last year and started campaigning in JCRs and MCRs on a college level, in an attempt to eventually persuade the university as a whole to support the university of sanctuary pledges. However, the movement stalled following the Covid-19 pandemic and only Pembroke College MCR passed the ‘University of Sanctuary’ motions.

This Michaelmas, the movement has been relaunched by a third year HSPS student studying at Churchill College, Tegan Louis-Puttick. The Tab Cambridge was fortunate enough to have an interview with Tegan discussing the refugee crisis and what Cambridge and its students can do to help. Here is what she had to say…

Tegan Louis-Puttick, a third year HSPS student, who has relaunched the CUSI campaign this Michaelmas. (Image Credit: Tegan Louis-Puttick)

Creating a safe space

CUSI’s primary aim is to make the university a ‘University of Sanctuary’, a title that has grown from the City of Sanctuary Initiative and has already been awarded to 16 UK universities. Tegan says that the “main aim of our campaign is to make Cambridge and it’s colleges safe spaces and welcoming environments for refugees, whether they are students, staff, or academics.”

Becoming a University of Sanctuary

In order for Cambridge to be awarded ‘University of Sanctuary’ status, a list of pledges have to be made. Tegan outlines the pledges as; “A ‘University of Sanctuary’ is an institution that has appropriate support structures in place for refugee and asylum seeking students and academics. This can be achieved by having appropriately trained staff that are aware of the difficulties faced by refugees in higher education. Having appropriate access to mental health provision is also incredibly important, as well as providing protection from deportation.”

Protection from deportation is a particularly important factor of the campaign, as often refugee students have their VISAs revoked once their studies or research periods end. All universities have the ability to extend educational VISAs, Tegan says that “a ‘University of Sanctuary’ puts in provisions to prevent deportation for a period of 6-12 months after studies end.”

Another important aspect according to Tegan is “reviewing harmful Prevent policies that are incredibly discriminatory towards refugee students.” She also states that “the university would have to provide greater financial support to refugee students and be more accepting in recognising periods of interrupted study.”

The wider university currently runs a scholarship programme each year for 10 refugee students and there are also individual programmes on the collegiate level. In becoming a university of sanctuary, there would be more scholarship opportunities and financial support available.

Using our privilege and influence

Tegan believes that is important that Cambridge, as an incredibly influential educational institution, uses its own power to “create a space of diversity and inclusion rather than of privilege and exclusion.” She believes that “education is the place where change can really happen, the barriers to education have to be dismantled in order to create a more accepting and enriched environment.”

She adds “you have to try to enact changes in the spaces you occupy, especially when in a position of privilege at the University of Cambridge. Our privilege and influence won’t last forever, so use your position of influence while you have it.”

Enacting change

The campaign is continuing its original strategy of passing motions on a collegiate level in order to eventually put pressure on the university as a whole. Tegan says that “we have found that working on the collegiate level creates the largest student impact, so we aim to pass JCR and MCR motions in as many colleges as possible to then eventually go the university.” Tegan firmly believes that if there is enough support in the student body, then colleges will enact change.

Tegan and friends demonstrating this year in London (Image Credit: Tegan Louis-Puttick)

“We are currently looking for college representatives to present our motions.”

As the movement grows, CUSI is looking for student representatives to help present motions to college JCRs and MCRs, if you are interested in getting involved, their Facebook page can be found here.

Tegan also outlined the numerous other ways that Cambridge students can get involved. There is the Cambridge Undoing Borders group on Facebook, as well as the “Solidaritee” campaign. On a city wide level, students can join Cambridge Must Act, a group that is spearheaded by Tegan, who recently had a success in convincing Cambridge City Council to rehouse 200 additional refugees to the city.

“In becoming a ‘University of Sanctuary’, we would create a more welcoming and safe environment for all students, it would enrich academic discussion and make educational representation more balanced, increasing diversity of experience for all Cambridge students.”

Feature Image Credit: Tegan Louis-Puttick and Cambridge University of Sanctuary Initiative