Cork-grown Sanctuary Runners is launching a new first-of-its-kind initiative to bring locals together with refugees and migrants, through open sea swimming.
Building on from the success of using running, jogging and walking to break down social barriers which exist between migrants and locals across Ireland, the ‘Sanctuary Swimmers’ initiative is being launched by the Sanctuary Runners and Swim Ireland.
‘Sanctuary Swimmers’ will use the experience of open sea swimming to bring together all in the community – including asylum seekers and refugees currently living in Direct Provision.
The aim is to create Sanctuary Swimmer Groups of approximately 18 people in Kerry, Cork, Wicklow, Galway and Dublin this year, made up of locals and people who have moved to the area alike.
Swim Ireland instructors, with a specifically designed programme, will teach the participants how to swim and be at ease in the open sea.
Swim Ireland CEO Sarah Keane explained that the open water can, for some, invoke a feeling or fear, for others a sense of adventure.
“Those emotions are heightened for those who have never been in the sea before. Transcending these is the power of the Sanctuary Swimmers’ initiative and doing it all alongside people we care about and who support us is what makes it truly unique,” she said.
Celebrating the 5th year of the Sanctuary Runners’ movement which now has over 10,000 members across Ireland its founder and CEO Graham Clifford said this collaboration with Swim Ireland offers another vital strand for community integration.
“We live on an island, open sea swimming is a liberating gift we can all enjoy. And even for those who may have developed negative views of the open sea because of their journey to Ireland, conquering those alongside locals is so important,” he said.
“As with our core work with the Sanctuary Runners we believe sport has such a vital role to play in community integration, in bringing people together no matter their nationality or legal status and helping natural positive friendships develop while always championing solidarity and respect to all,” he added.
The launch follows the completion of a successful pilot programme held in Cork in the autumn of 2022, when 18 people from across 13 different countries were taught how to swim by Swim Ireland instructor Deirdre Sheehan.
The launch coincides with release of video series showcasing the success of the Cork pilot, featuring Refugee Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, whose story is told in ‘The Swimmers’ film on Netflix.
Two short films documenting the journey through the pilot programme, filmed by documentary maker Clem McInerney, conclude with a message of congratulations from the Refugee Olympian and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
Mardini promises to “One day come swim with you in Ireland.”