Universities in the United Kingdom are welcoming academics who are fleeing from war-torn Syria. This is reminiscent of the time when British institutions housed Jewish scholars escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Christ Church, Oxford specifically took German physicist Albert Einstein into its care.
The civil war in Syria began in 2011 and approximately 250,000 people have already been killed to date. Islamic State militant group Sunni, which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has been directly targeting academics. The group was responsible for the death of three personnel of Iraq’s Mosul University last September.
The Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) has been helping professors escape from their war-stricken country, following the release of a statement signed by 300 lawyers that criticised the British government’s “deeply inadequate” response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The organisation is currently working closely with Oxford University and more than 100 other British universities in finding appropriate sanctuaries for Syrian intellectuals.
According to CARA, these intellectuals have been living extremely difficult lives as they are targeted by various rebel groups and have been suffering from poverty. They will be given visas as visiting academics and won’t be considered refugees. Those taken by universities will receive free accommodation and food, as well as university salaries for a maximum of two years. The said expenses would be split between the host institution and CARA. The organisation expects the academics to go back home when it is already safe.
Although majority of academics seeking CARA’s help are Syrians, there are professors from other parts of the Middle East who also need to be transferred to safe havens due to civil war and job-related persecution.
CARA believes that receiving scholars will benefit both sides and won’t be considered an act of charity. In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the organization’s executive director Stephen Wordsworth said: “People coming over always bring with them their own experiences. It helps to encourage new ideas and new thinking.” He added that these academics will be able to help staff and students improve their understanding of the Syrian crisis.
The civil war in Syria has been worsening and people are either getting killed or seeking refuge from neighbouring countries. British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently announced that the UK will be accepting about 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.