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Noor's quest for sanctuary

Noor Tuma
Sanctuary Programme Intern, BA Classical Studies with English

13 March 2024

Hi, my name is Noor and I’m studying BA Classical Studies with English. I emigrated to the UK at almost seven years old following the seven-year-long Iraq War. I was thrown into an unfamiliar sphere surrounded by a language I had never heard, foreign people, and a childhood made up of endless apprehension and quite literally, the unknown.

Despite being an outright product of it, I only discovered the term ‘displacement’ late in my A-level French studies (three years ago!), ironically learning verb conjugations for the topic ‘Migration in France’. I came across the verb déplacer (to be displaced), and, as I was instructed to, I conjugated it: J’avais été déplacé (I had been displaced) … J’ai été déplacé (I have been displaced) … not realizing that this was actually true. Arguably, this trivial anecdote is an illustration of the complexity of the English language, and in turn, how easily it became a barrier to core aspects of my childhood, like development, education, and a sense of stability.

Coming to the UK

My family decided to emigrate to the UK following the trauma which dictated our lives in Baghdad; the result of the wars which stemmed from the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the UK and US. With my surviving shreds of childhood memories, I can best describe the landscape shaping my childhood as a mixture of deathly contaminated air, scorching heat, and unbearably littered roads.

Like the fragmented Greco-Roman literary and historical texts that I’ve spent most of my degree analysing, the only memories I can gather are simply too broken to be used as a primary reference for anything. Spending your prime childhood years in a warzone feels all far too fast-paced. I never really had the chance to process my emotions or surroundings, until reaching adolescence.

Many things have marked my life’s progression. I left my home because of political instability, yet I have just completed an internship with the UK’s governing ministers. The language posing the greatest difficulties for me is also the language my degree now specialises in. However, I want to put special emphasis on one of my favourite circular moments: the King’s College Sanctuary Programme.

King’s Sanctuary Programme

The King’s Sanctuary Programme was established in 2015 with the objective of increasing accessibility to opportunity and education for students affected by the global issue of forced displacement. One of the opportunities provided by the programme is an 8-week internship that I have been fortunate enough to complete. Throughout my time interning as an Engagement and Communications Assistant, I have pitched ideas on key projects that the team are currently working on, as well as innovative ways that the Programme can receive greater acknowledgement and awareness.

The focal question of the sessions I presented to students during this internship was ‘what does sanctuary mean to you?’, mainly to prove that everyone’s interpretation of ‘sanctuary’ is completely subjective. For example, mine is political security, and in turn, a stable path to fulfilling my academic goals. Yours might be entirely different, but that’s the key point.

I embarked on this invaluable opportunity to do all that I can from a student standpoint to lessen the educational barriers imposed on helplessly vulnerable individuals simply seeking a shred of opportunity. I recently learnt that the French root word of ‘opportunity’, ‘opportunité’ stems from the Latin ‘opportunitas’… indeed, ‘in scientia opportunitas’ (in knowledge there is opportunity), as the Ancient Romans used to advocate.

These are the sorts of random wordplays I have casually picked up from the Latin lessons that are part of my Classics degree at King’s. More importantly however, a circularity like this, where I begin life in the UK unfamiliar with the English language, but later read a Bachelor of Arts degree at a globally leading institution, is a journey I wish many more students of similar backgrounds will accomplish, hence my affinity for the Sanctuary Programme and all its achievements at King’s.


sanctuary intern at a stall
Noor presenting "what does the term 'Sanctuary' mean to you" at a stall during her internship.

What have I learned?

Working with this Programme elicited a new magnitude of optimism in me, and equally reaffirmed why King’s was the right place to spend the three most significant years of my educational journey. I worked closely with the Programme’s manager, Dr Nicole Mennell, and she continuously encouraged the differing perspectives I provided, emphasising their sheer value to the Programme. I observed the team’s complete commitment to instilling positive, pivotal change in individual livelihoods, and this was one of the most profoundly uplifting, warming experiences. Truly, the shadowing, meetings, and projects I was involved in throughout this internship exposed me to an abundance of newfound knowledge and opportunity.

Admittedly, a key incentive to writing this piece was its potential to resonate with anyone who has faced or is facing anything remotely similar to my experience. I therefore want to conclude by stressing the unquestionable value of seeking support from your institution, as well as the importance of having unwavering persistence, especially in academic ventures. The journey to this point had its challenges, but overcoming these obstacles is also what makes the result feel more rewarding.

If you have a forced migrant background and would like to access support, please read our article What is forced migration and what support is available?