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News
29 June 2021

IsDB-TWAS Young Refugee and Displaced Scientists Programme for the Year 2021

TWAS and the Islamic Development Bank are partnering to give displaced women scientists much-needed support

UNESCO-TWAS, along with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), has launched the third edition of its yearly programme seeking to help young women scientists who have been displaced by conflict and, nonetheless wish to continue their scientific careers.

The programme, called IsDB-TWAS Young Refugee and Displaced Scientists Programme, is open to women in science up to 40 years of age from one of the IsDB member countries who are refugees or displaced. They will each receive a six-year tenure as TWAS Young Affiliates, which in turn opens doors to further opportunities, including being invited to attend TWAS General Meetings, conferences and panels, and events organized by the Academy’s Regional Partners. They will also become members of the TWAS Young Affiliates Network (TYAN), which offers participants access to grant competitions, workshops and TYAN Outreach Programme. This latter is part of a broader cooperation framework between IsDB and UNESCO-TWAS.

By focusing exclusively on women this year, TWAS and IsDB aim to aid scientists struggling with both displacement and gender discrimination.

“At the IsDB, women’s empowerment is a key pillar driving IsDB vision as part of a long-term strategic framework to ensure that all people are given the right to live in dignity and prosperity”, said Hayat Sindi, Senior Advisor to the IsDB President for Science, Technology and Innovation, and also Supervisor of the Bank's Community Outreach Programme. “IsDB commitment to social and economic development via women’s empowerment has been recognized as a key tool to ensure targeted and inclusive growth in member countries. Through the IsDB-TWAS Young Refugee and Displaced Scientists Programme, we aim at creating a productive and economically empowered body of female scientists who will contribute to the development of their countries/communities.”

"We are most pleased to continue this key element of our crucial partnership with IsDB, and to take part in focusing this year's fellowship specifically on women scientists who are struggling with displacement from their home countries," said TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi. "This is important, because these women in science will play a key role in helping their countries prosper again once they begin to stabilize.

Another important partner in TWAS ongoing endeavors to provide assistance to displaced scientists is The Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF), which is a leading organization in addressing this challenge.

The Institute has collaborated with TWAS in building a support network for refugee and displaced scientists since TWAS first workshop on the topic in 2017, which set the foundation for a then-emerging initiative for displaced scientists, Science in Exile. In past years, IIE-SRF has helped identify candidates for the IsDB-TWAS programme.

IIE-SRF has a record in aiding scientists fleeing violence, oppression and conflict that shows the need for more resources dedicated to the issue.

“Throughout the past few years, IIE-SRF has collaborated with TWAS to raise awareness of the large number of threatened and displaced scientists globally and to help these scholars gain access to the networks they need to re-establish their careers and resume their important work,” says James Robin King, IIE-SRF Director. “We are thrilled to continue our ongoing partnership with UNESCO-TWAS and the Islamic Development Bank on the Refugee and Displaced Scientists Programme. This exciting initiative enables select IIE-SRF scholars to join TWAS Young Affiliate Network, allowing them to participate in workshops and conferences, collaborate with peers, and expand their professional networks. These critical opportunities are difficult, often impossible, to access for scientists who have been forced to relocate and navigate new academic environments.”

As members of TYAN, affiliates are invited to actively contribute to the network, which offers access to opportunities such as TYAN Collaborative Grants Awards, TYAN International Thematic Workshops, and the TYAN Outreach Programme. Young Affiliates are also eligible for TWAS Awards. Those selected can also take part in the Science in Exile initiative.

The world is witnessing the highest numbers of forcibly displaced people on record. At mid-2020, 80 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 technical training. Some of these countries once had well established science institutes and systems, and have seen their science infrastructure largely dismantled by conflict and violence.

The deadline for receiving applications is 2 August 2021, 11.59 p.m., Rome time. More information, including eligibility criteria, is available at: https://twas.org/2021-twas-isdb-young-refugee-and-displaced-scientists-programme-women.

Help after turmoil

Several early-career scientists, recommended by IIE-SRF, have benefited from past editions of IsDB-TWAS Young Refugee and Displaced Scientists Programme. Here are the stories of two of them:

Nada Abdulwali is a Yemeni physical chemist and IIE-SRF fellow working at the Electrochemical Technology Centre as a postdoctoral fellow, where she teaches an undergraduate course in chemistry for the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Her work focuses on the corrosion inhibition of metals, the environmental impact on the quality of foods such as honey, coffee and vegetable oils, and she conducts research relevant to quantum dots which have several applications to bioimaging, solar cells and nanomedicine.

“The IIE-SRF helps me continue my research safely and get an opportunity to teach at Guelph University,” she said. “And at IsDB-TWAS workshops, we met with several scholars from different countries and exchanged ideas and points of view. This programme allows members to discuss the strategy to help scientists who remain at risk.”

In Yemen, she had been an assistant professor at the chemistry department at Sana'a University since 2016. In November 2019, however, she had to leave because of the war in Yemen, which further resulted in threats, deprivation of rights and racial discrimination.

“It was an arduous journey, as it took us more than 80 hours to reach Canada,” she said. “Our journey from Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen, to the borders of the Sultanate of Oman took more than 36 hours by bus continuously, and this was the safest way for us. Then, we set off from Muscat Airport to Turkey and then to Canada. The journey was well worth it because now I'm more stable and safer, and I can continue doing my research and teach the courses without any fears or pressures.”

“The main challenges facing me and my colleagues are the difficulties of carrying out our work as professors without fear because of the war and internal repression,” she added. “Even after getting an opportunity out of the country, it is difficult to leave safely. Another difficulty is getting work after completing the fellowship, especially those who are still at risk, if they have to go back to their countries, which are unstable.”

She hopes to return to Yemen some day and share her experience obtained through the fellowship, and to help develop scientific research at home. As long as Yemen remains unsafe, however, she’s trying to gain a permanent position in Canada to continue her work there.

“I would like to thank the IIE-SRF and the IsDB-TWAS Programme for supporting and keeping threatened scholars safe,” she said. “It enables them to advance their research and contribute to their host communities.”

Hasan Aljbbouli is a computer scientist from the Syrian Arab Republic researching machine learning who works at the Computer Science Department of the New York University. His research focuses on new techniques to reduce the time needed to manage large data sets, making the path from theoretical research to applied research shorter.

He learned about the IIE-SRF fellowship and the TWAS-IsDB programming of displaced scientists through a friend’s recommendation.The fellowship enabled him to stay safe and work on his academic skills, acquiring more experience and continuing his research.

“I have a deep appreciation for how research can improve communities and people’s quality of life,” said Aljbbouli, “and I trust that the knowledge we accumulate as researchers and practitioners is valuable only if it is shared.”

After he finished his PhD in 2010 at Cardiff University, UK, he was eager to return to Syria and share his knowledge with students and colleagues. Soon after he returned, however, the Syrian conflict erupted. Two thirds of his home city were destroyed, and he lost many of his colleagues, friends and relatives due to the regime. So, he left the country with his family.

First, he worked at Fatih Sultan Mehmet Waqf University in Turkey and tried to help the Syrian students who had fled their country continue their education. In 2014, an IIE-SRF fellowship brought him to New Jersey City University in the United States, where the two-year fellowship then grew into a full-time job. He is now a faculty member at New York University and TWAS Young Affiliate.

“There are many challenges involved with being a displaced scientist, such as financial obstacles, integration and career perspectives, in addition to the moral commitments towards the community, our colleagues, and students in both our home and host country,” he said. “I am filled with hope that I will be able to exchange knowledge with others, contribute more to the community, and help rebuild my destroyed country in the future.”

Beyond this initiative, TWAS and IsDB have embraced a growing partnership since their cooperation began in 2019. Programmes to grow out of their joint endeavours have included a quick-response research grant on COVID-19 and a fellowship programme for young researchers on IsDB list of least developed member countries.

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