‘What started out as a ripple, has now well and truly become one big wave of solidarity’
Participants and officials have hailed the success of ‘Sanctuary Swimmers’ events which gave refugees, asylum seekers and locals from across Ireland the opportunity to experience open sea swimming this summer.
The programmes took place across five coastal locations; at Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Wicklow.
The ‘Sanctuary Swimmers’ groups each consisted of 18 to 22 people, with swimmers from 19 different nations taking part in at least one of the events this year.
It was a significant increase from the 18 people from 13 different countries who took to the sea for a pilot project in Cork in late 2022.
The success of that project saw Swim Ireland officially partner with ‘Sanctuary Runners’ earlier this year to create the latest innovative water-based venture.
Sanctuary Runners, which was founded in 2018, had already enjoyed significant success with their events, which also aimed to breaking down social barriers between migrants and locals across Ireland.
Sarah Keane, CEO of Swim Ireland said she was “delighted” by the growth of the project and the positive reactions she has seen to it.
“Through our vision of ‘An island of swimmers’ we believe it is vital to increase the opportunities for people to swim regardless of their age, background or ability,” she said.
“Sanctuary Swimmers is a programme that speaks right to that vision; through it, participants are learning an important life skill, making new connections, integrating into communities and are doing it in a fun and safe environment.
“This is what swimming is all about and we look forward to the wave of solidarity rolling right across the country in the years to come.”
Participating swimmers came from Ireland, Algeria, Ghana, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Spain, Germany, Nigeria, England, Afghanistan, Morocco, Congo DRC, the Netherlands, USA, Ethiopia and China.
Graham Clifford, Founder and CEO of Sanctuary Runners, added; “There’s something about being in the sea together that empowers people to learn, to take the plunge and to cherish the moment.
“Many of our swimmers live in confined settings, some have negative views of the sea because of previous traumas, others may not have been in the sea for years, but because of the Sanctuary Swimmers inhibitions are overcome, serenity and calm is restored and, most importantly, new friendships are created.”
Among those taking part to hail their experience were Ratile and Catherine from South Africa.
“I never thought I’d face this fear, but today I faced it,” said Catherine, with Ratile adding; “I can learn how to swim and now I can swim back and forth and even hold my breath underwater!”
Catherine continued; “whoever is scared must come here!”
Cosmos, from Ghana, was full of praise for the event and the experience.
“Where I come from is a forest area, so if you asked me to climb a tree I’d be able to do that,” he reveals. “But this was my first time of floating on the sea and it was a good experience.”
Each group learned form a dedicated Swim Ireland instructor and swim gear was sponsored and provided by Mayo-based outdoor wear company Portwest.
The initiative was also supported by Local Sports Partnerships in Cork, Galway, Waterford, Dublin and Wicklow.
The five-group journey was captured on film by videographer and documentary maker Clem McInerney, which can be viewed here.