After two years of waiting and expectation, Eqbal Dauqan, a Yemeni biochemist who has won international honors, has received a new opportunity to work and continue her research at the University of Agder in Norway.
“I will pursue my studies and research here anew,” said Dauqan. “The warm reception of the professors in Agder University astonished me and made me feel familiar with them and enthusiastic.”
Dauqan is coming to Agder early next month as an associate professor in the department of public health, sport and nutrition.
It would not have been possible for her to join the faculty there without the support of Scholars at Risk, a U.S.-based network that supports refugee scientists worldwide. It’s one of a number of organizations—others include the Institute for International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, the U.K.-based Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), and the World Academy of Sciences—that help scholars displaced by conflict or persecution find new positions where they can continue their work (See a related article, “A New Film Focuses on 4 Arab Researchers’ Lives in Exile”).
For Dauqan, the move to Norway represents just one of several interruptions in her career over the past three years.
In 2015, her hometown of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, became a battle zone in the country’s continuing civil war and came under heavy shelling. Al-Saeed University, a private institution where Dauqan was working as a professor and head of the laboratory department in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, was seriously damaged and forced to close. Dauqan’s family’s home was destroyed, and nine of her relatives were killed when their home was shelled. (See the related articles “Yemen: Chaos, War and Higher Education” and “Yemen’s Ongoing War Leaves Scientific Research Crippled.”)
“It was not easy, especially since I had just finished establishing the university’s first department of nutrition science and human health,” said Dauqan, who had been honored the previous year as one of five winners of the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.
However, she did not give up and started looking for an opportunity to complete her research outside Yemen. She began by sending emails to universities in Malaysia, where she had studied and received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the National University of Malaysia in 2012.
But even communicating by email was not easy because of the war, amid continuous power cuts and insecurity due to indiscriminate shelling throughout the day.
“I had to go out to my car to charge my mobile phone and correspond with my professors in Malaysia to help me apply for research grants,” she said.
Late in 2015, Dauqan was awarded a scholarship sponsored by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to work in a Malaysian university for a year. This was renewed for another year. During this period, Dauqan published a book titled Fruits Mentioned in the Holy Quran: Their Importance to Health. Her research focused on the effect of natural antioxidants in foods from vegetable oils and herbs to fruits, and the book became a best-seller on Amazon in Malaysia.
Last year, after the IIE scholarship expired and her residence permit ended, Dauqan had no choice but to leave Malaysia.
“It was a very difficult time. I could not go back to Yemen because of the ongoing war and I had to leave Malaysia because of the expiration of my residence permit,” she said. “I had to leave Malaysia and come back again as a temporary visitor if I wanted to stay there. Of course, that was very expensive.”
Dauqan’s situation is similar to that of hundreds of Yemeni researchers and students in Malaysia, especially with the Yemeni government’s inability to pay their tuition fees.
“The Yemeni academic situation abroad is no better than its situation at home,” she said. “The financial burden is so heavy and the legal difficulties of residency and study are endless.”
Abdo Al-Daqaf, the dean of Al-Saeed University, agrees with Dauqan regarding the poor conditions for Yemeni academics. “The war in Yemen is a disaster for everyone. There are few options and opportunities,” he said. “Eqbal is an excellent active scholar whom we lost in Yemen. We lost others, and we hope they will all come back home once the war is over.”
But Dauqan does not think that will be possible any time soon.
“It will be difficult and it will take a long time,” she said, as she prepares to start a new chapter of her life in Norway. “Therefore we must not surrender and waste more time, and [instead] start looking for opportunities to resume our work and research that will certainly be beneficial to all countries, including Yemen.”