On campus at the University of Liverpool, Ataa Alsalloum feels happy and safe. She and her daughter were rescued from Syria in 2016, a departure arranged by the U.K.-based charity Cara (Council for At-Risk Academics).
Alsalloum now works as a lecturer in architecture and urban heritage at Liverpool, developing the career that made her a target for Islamic State militants in her homeland.
“This is a multicultural city,” she says, “a place where all international people are welcomed, particularly around the university, where I am happy and respected and part of the staff. It’s a good place to be.”
In February, Cara rescued another female Syrian academic, the first of ten scholars from war-torn countries in the Middle East being brought to the United Kingdom over the coming months. Some are fleeing conflict, others are the targets of despotic regimes.
“Our mission at Cara is to get threatened academics safely out of their respective countries and settled into their new positions. They are enormously talented, truly among ‘the best and brightest,’ and we find them places where they will be safe to do their research and to carry out their vital work until they can go home again,” says Stephen Wordsworth, executive director of Cara.
The Last Straw: Shelling of Her Daughter’s School
At the time of her rescue, Alsalloum was living in Damascus, having fled her home city of Homs. But the war had come to the capital too and danger was constant.
“Going to university every day was putting your life at risk because you don’t know when the mortar shells will hit. … But when you’re in the middle of a war you can’t just stop living.”
Alsalloum and her daughter, then aged 12, moved five times as the army battled to regain the city from ISIS militants. “I remember sometimes sleeping on the floor of the bathroom to avoid accidental bullets, which were another risk if you had a house on the corner or a main street.” (See a related article, “Syrian Children Are Deeply Disturbed By War, Report Says.”)
Then shells hit her daughter’s school, killing two of the girl’s friends and maiming others. When staff called Alsalloum to collect her daughter’s backpack, she knew they had to find a way out of Syria.