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Academic Groups Urge Global Support for Ukraine’s Displaced Scientists

As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, several international academic associations have issued a Science in Exile Declaration to urge the world to help Ukraine’s displaced scientists and scholars who have been uprooted by the conflict.

The World Academy of Sciences, (TWAS), the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) and the International Science Council (ISC) issued the declaration, subtitled “Supporting At-Risk, Displaced and Refugee Scientists: A Call to Action.”

Peter Gluckman, president of the International Science Council, told Al-Fanar Media that “the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the human tragedy of war and displacement, and that interrupted research careers and studies can have long-lasting global consequences for vital scientific research.”

UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, estimated last year that as of mid-2021, more than 84 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced because of war, sociopolitical instability, persecution or climate change. Add to them the 10 million Ukrainians that the agency estimates have had to relocate, internally or abroad, because the war in their country.

Approximately 6,300 scholars have fled Ukraine, but most of its 100,000 academics  are still in the country, according to recent assessments and a survey by the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science.

Gluckman said: “The loss of a country’s scholars and scientists, the fracturing of its science systems and destruction of its scientific infrastructure, deals a damaging blow not only to domestic scientific investment and future teaching and research, but also to the global network of scientists and research infrastructures.”

“It is an attack on the right to science,” he added.  “It is an attack on the heritage and the future of that area, country, or region.”

Science in Exile Initiative 

“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the human tragedy of war and displacement, and that interrupted research careers and studies can have long-lasting global consequences.”

Peter Gluckman President of the International Science Council

The International Science Council, the InterAcademy Panel and the World Academy of Sciences launched the Science in Exile network last year to provide a global platform that brings the science community together with nongovernmental organisations and U.N. agencies. The network’s mandate is to protect and support at-risk, displaced and refugee scientists affected by conflicts and natural or human-induced disasters.

The initiative asserts that scholars and others with advanced technical training represent invaluable assets for the global scientific community, and that the loss of their contributions has grave implications for scientific knowledge at the national and international levels, as well as for society.

The call to action urges scientists worldwide to recognise the benefits that refugee scholars bring to host countries and to petition their governments to offer them protection and support, Gluckman said.

The Declaration offers six key commitments that it says are necessary to protect scholars who are at risk and their contributions to global scientific knowledge at large. They are:

  • Preserve the foundations of science and safeguard scientific enquiry, data and institutions.
  • Protect and support scientists and their work in the event of war and conflict, political upheaval and repression, natural and human-made disasters.
  • Support at-risk, displaced and refugee scientists to engage fully in advocacy and lobbying efforts; they are their own best advocates.
  • Develop mechanisms aligned to global standards that will identify and endorse the skills, knowledge and professional credentials of at-risk, displaced and refugee scientists.
  • Safeguard the next generation of scientists by providing support programmes for students and early-career researchers who have been displaced or are in exile.
  • Work towards rebuilding national scientific systems in the aftermath of conflict or disaster and support the voluntary, safe repatriation of scientists.

Initial Warm Welcome May Fade

About six million people have fled Ukraine to other countries since the Russian invasion began in late February. The initial response from the citizens of Europe, the U.K. and North America to displacement from Ukraine has been positive, Gluckman said.

This attitude contrasts with what displaced people from Syria and other countries have encountered in recent years, Gluckman said.

“The world should not allow the skills of displaced scientists and engineers to go to waste. Protecting and supporting displaced scientists will pay dividends to any host country.”

Peter Gluckman

“Apart from the initial support directed towards Syrians, in particular from Germany, we’ve seen a hardening of attitudes and a series of migration and asylum policies aimed at reducing the number of people arriving in Europe to seek asylum.”

Gluckman is concerned “that as the displacement crisis from Ukraine continues, the current warm welcome will eventually wear thin.”

“The new and generous protection and support measures that have been activated need to be harnessed to push for a fairer and more humane system and policies overall,” he said.

Scholars from the MENA region play an important role in the governance of Science in Exile, with members from the region on its  Steering Committee and working groups.

This year Science in Exile launched the Exile Fellowship Programme for displaced and refugee scholars and scientists, in cooperation with the World Academy of Sciences and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation).

“The programme enables displaced and refugee scholars and scientists who have not yet found a safe and long-term host country to pursue doctoral and postdoctoral studies in Pakistan,” Gluckman said. “Thus far, 17 fellows from Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen have been selected.”

Post-War Recovery Assets 

People still talk about famous refugee scholars whose work made a mark   after World War II, and Gluckman thinks this positive legacy should be used to advocate for refugee scholars from more recent crises.

“The world should not allow the skills of displaced scientists and engineers to go to waste,” he said. “Protecting and supporting displaced scientists will pay dividends to any host country.”

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Gluckman believes this support will be critical for post-conflict recovery and rebuilding of a county’s higher education and scientific systems.

“Such development activities strengthen the groundwork for peace,” he said. “They preserve essential teaching and research that benefit future generations and collectively benefit societies and people across borders. Together, we must take action to help at-risk, displaced and refugee scientists thrive.”

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