The world is currently witnessing the highest numbers of forcibly displaced people on record. At the end of 2020, 82.4 million were forcibly displaced worldwide according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These displacements are a result of persecution, conﬂict, violence, human rights violations and climate change. Among those fleeing their country, there are scientists, doctors, engineers, and others with advanced technical training. Countries such as Iraq and Syria, which once had well established science institutes and systems, have seen their science infrastructure largely dismantled by conﬂict and violence. Two thirds of displaced migrants come from just five countries, including countries with some of the world’s most poorly funded science institutes and systems.
The number of refugee and displaced scientists is unknown, but probably in the thousands and possibly exceeding 10,000. And this number is expected to increase.
As it stands, opportunities for refugee and displaced scientists are few and fragmented, mostly in the global North, with limited duration and great inconsistency among hosting countries and limited engagement by the scientific community. Until now, there has been no consistent effort to identify the refugee, displaced and at-risk scientists, nor opportunities for them at global level. Additionally, research on these issues is currently scant.
Aim and objectives
The Science in Exile initiative aims to create a network of like-minded organizations that will work together to develop a platform and roll out a coordinated advocacy campaign, so as to foster a cohesive response for the support and integration of at-risk, displaced, and refugee scientists.
The initiative is designed to help the science and policy communities prepare to mitigate the struggles these scientists endure, and ensure that they are able to pursue their research and training. Their expertise, in time, will be critical for rebuilding their home countries.
The beneficiaries of the initiative are scientists that are facing barriers either in their home country or abroad, including those who are at risk, displaced, forced migrants, asylum-seekers or refugees.
The initiative brings together at-risk, displaced, and refugee scientists and organizations that provide support to them, as well as governments, donors, international agencies, non-governmental organizations, the diaspora and the broader scientific community, to create a platform for the exchange of ideas, good practices and opportunities.
Specific objectives of the initiative are:
- To collect, develop and share information and knowledge to inform policy, practice, and stakeholders;
- To raise global awareness and advocate for improved measures to protect and support displaced and refugee scientists; and
- To strengthen the capacity and coordination mechanisms of stakeholders to deliver better programming and a holistic response.
The interim structure of the initiative includes:
1. A Steering Committee.This is the decision-making body, providing leadership and quality assurance, overseeing the implementation of the strategic framework and the activities, and developing a plan for a more formalized structure.
2. Four task teams on:
- Advocacy campaign
- Mapping and research
- Support to refugee, displaced and at-risk scientists
- Preservation of science in conflict and crisis
3. An Advisory Board (2022)
- Webinar series on the different stage of the displacement cycle. This series of four webinars aims to raise awareness of and discuss key issues and challenges faced by at-risk, displaced and refugee scientists, and to support a stronger solidarity towards affected scientists.
- Mapping Survey for organisations and programmes globally – e.g., NGOs, institutions, universities, diaspora groups, government bodies and funders - that provide support to and opportunities for at-risk, displaced, and refugee scientists. The deadline is 30 September 2021.The results of the survey will be used to populate a searchable database on the new Science in Exile website. This will be a useful tool both for scientists seeking support and protection, and organizations looking to create partnerships.
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Science in Exile documentary
The 2017 TWAS documentary explores the story of four researchers who were forced to suspend their work and flee conflict in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. The film has won global recognition, screening more than 50 times in two dozen countries, at film festivals, major science centres, international conferences and universities. Watch the documentary at www.twas.org/ScienceInExile
The organisations behind the initiative
The initiative is a collaboration between The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (UNESCO-TWAS), the International Science Council (ISC) and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), under the umbrella of Science International.
Science International designates a series of regular meetings that convene the three organizations representing, together, more than 250 institutions, including science academies and scientific unions, with individual members at the highest levels of research, policy and education.
A firm with experience working with refugees, running awareness campaigns, and securing funds for the integration of refugees into national education systems—Erin Buisse Consulting—was hired to guide the initiative.
The Science in Exile initiative is financially supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), through a contribution to TWAS.