A collaboration of three international science organisations is launching a new awareness campaign dedicated to assisting scientists who have been rendered refugees or are otherwise displaced by crises in their home countries.
This project will gather knowledge and lay the groundwork for a new, cohesive and coordinated response to the issue. It’s a collaboration between TWAS, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) and the International Science Council (ISC), under the umbrella of Science International, and will begin with existing organisations that help these scientists, then bring them together online for exchanges of ideas and best practices. It will also identify gaps in ways to help build a network of organisations interested in responding to the challenges they face, including by raising awareness of the issue among governments, international agencies and the broader scientific community.
To head up this project, the collaboration hired Erin Buisse Consulting, a firm whose clients have included National Geographic and the University of Geneva. The firm has experience working with refugees, running awareness campaigns, and to securing funds for the integration of refugees into national education systems.
“With this essential step, we can begin the critical work of making the international effort to aid scientists displaced by war and other tragedies more cohesive and synergistic,” noted TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi. “The mission of TWAS has always been to build capacity for science wherever it’s needed in the global South, and researchers among refugee populations are an important part of that equation.”
Programmes to support displaced scientists are few and fragmented, with great inconsistency between the host countries. There is generally no consistent effort to identify the affected scientists and to assess their skills and expertise — there are no platforms where they can come together for peer support, for example — and research on these issues is currently scant.
As it stands, the global community doesn't know for certain how many scientists are currently seeking asylum or forced into exile. ISC Science Director Mathieu Denis noted that if the current estimates of as many as tens of thousands scientists on the move globally are accurate, that could be the equivalent of the total number of university professors and researchers of a country like Italy or Canada.
The number of refugee scientists is also expected to increase should disruptive problems such as civil conflict and climate change continue to worsen. This project is designed to help the science and policy communities prepare — nationally, regionally and internationally — to mitigate the troubles these scientists endure, and ensure that they’re able to land on their feet and continue to pursue research and nurture expertise. This is also needed because that expertise, in time, will be important to rebuilding their home countries.
"Surely, their home countries would benefit greatly from their expertise," Denis added. "But we as a global scientific community must also realise the amount of knowledge and ideas that refugee and displaced scientists carry with them. That knowledge would potentially be lost for humanity if we cannot ensure its fruition and transmission. This initiative aims at clarifying the many ways in which different types of science institutions worldwide can assist refugee and displaced scientists, and at developing instruments for better and enhanced support."
Mohamed Hassan, the current president of TWAS and a former president of IAP, said that the project would be a source of hope for both displaced researchers and the international scientific community.
“This is a worldwide phenomenon, and we identified a need for a system to support refugee and displaced scientists three years ago at a workshop organised by TWAS,” said Hassan. “Now, it’s time to truly accelerate efforts to help them. These researchers have an important role to play in both the countries they seek safety in and the countries they know as home. And with so many global challenges, we must provide these scientists with the opportunity to do the exemplary work they are capable of no matter where they are today."
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Science International is a series of regular meetings that convene the International Science Council (ISC); the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP); The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS). Together, they represent more than 250 national and regional science academies, scientific unions and other organizations, with individual members at the highest levels of research, policy and education.Through these meetings, Science International aims to achieve a significant impact on key science policy challenges. Each of the Science International partners nominate experts to help produce its reports and policy proposals. The partners then work with governments, funding agencies and other policy bodies.