INSIGHTS | HUMAN MIGRATIONS
munity. Because refugees may not have all
of the required qualifications, universities
and institutions should provide opportunities for them to complete some training
that brings them up to the required level
Name withheld, Germany
It was my credentials and the skills I learned
through my science education that saved my
life. I came directly from Syria to Canada to
escape the war and to save the lives of my
two children. I was an associate professor
at Al-Baath University, Homs, in Syria. As
a female scientist in the middle of a war,
I knew I had to leave. I have a Ph.D. from
France in biotechnology and food processes.
My knowledge of English and French helped
me make connections within my field and
find a new position in a new country. Since
February 2016, I have been a visiting scholar
at the University of Saskatchewan, Saska-
toon, Canada. I came with a work permit to
conduct research in my field. Although my
scientific goals include both teaching and
research, my current position allows me to
do only research.
Scientists can help displaced scientists by
giving them the opportunity to work and
prove their capacity. My career was interrupted for 5 years because of the war, which
means I have published fewer papers than
I would have in better circumstances. This
has put me at a disadvantage in Canada’s
competitive academic job market. Many
available research positions are 1- or 2-year
contracts, which is not enough time to complete experiments and publish results.
Employers should give refugees and
displaced scientists more time. The first
year is challenging when you are starting a
new life, exploring a new area of research,
and making new connections with other
scientists. As a woman and single mother,
I would have appreciated a way to connect
and share experiences with other refugee
scientists, even through a webinar or social
media group. I also would have liked more
training in my field, once in Canada. I
could not afford the training programs that
would have helped me find a position that
College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University
of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5B5, Canada.
We lost everything. In 1989, I was a 2-year-
old in Afghanistan. As the Soviet army
withdrew from my country, the mujahi-deen who had fought the Soviets began to
fight each other. My family had to migrate
from one part of Kabul to another to
escape the frontlines between various warlords fighting for power. We were finally
compelled to migrate to Pakistan.
Today, I am finishing my dissertation at
the Oregon Health and Science University, but the journey here was hardly
straightforward. I finished middle school
in Pakistan and then attended free schools
run by charities. I could not afford to take
the local bus, so I walked miles through
dangerous areas to attend a 1-hour lesson in English. Meanwhile, I worked at a
pharmacy, first mopping floors, then, as
my English improved, ordering supplies
and reading prescriptions. After obtaining
a first-aid certification, I was allowed to
start patients’ IVs under the supervision
of the pharmacist.
My family returned to Afghanistan in
2002, after the invasion of the U.S. Army.
When I was 17, I became an interpreter and
translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
During the last 2 years of high school in
Afghanistan, I became interested in science.
I came to the United States in 2006 and had
earned my B.S. and M.S. degrees by 2013.
When I began my Ph.D. program, I faced
stereotyping and discrimination for the
first time in my academic life. I was told
repeatedly by my first-year advisor that I
was destined to fail, an assumption based
solely on her experiences with previous
students of color. I did not give up, worked
hard, and passed my exams.
Scientists who would like to help people
like me should understand that we have
an unshakable conviction and motivation
to contribute to science. We have struggled
to change the lives of others for the better.
Treat us equally regardless of our skin color
or background. Act based on evidence and
facts, not stereotypes and assumptions.
Name withheld, USA
OUTSIDE THE TOWER
Giving refugees a chance
I am walking through a refugee camp in my city of Leipzig, Germany. The camp is a temporary home to more than 1000 people who are seeking asylum from countries such as
Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Albania. The people in the camp spend their days waiting,
hoping something will happen that allows them to move forward with their lives. The hall
I walk through feels like an overcrowded waiting room, except instead of chairs, it has
hundreds of beds, one next to the other. I am searching for refugees with an academic
background. Scientists who are kept away from their work can easily fall behind in their
fields, and I would like to help.
I am a professor of taxation, trained not to save lives but to save money for companies.
But when Germany was flooded with refugees, among them scientists and professors,
I decided to create a platform that connects refugee and German academics (www.
chance-for-science.de). The site was incredibly popular—with volunteers. Yet not a single
academic refugee registered. So I decided to visit the camp and search for refugee
As I walk through the crowds, I meet craftsmen, farmers, and families who have lost
their homes. Most of them do not speak any German or English. People are confused
about why I am here, and I begin to feel helpless. But then, I finally find a Syrian man
who understands me. He is a polite, inconspicuously dressed, middle-aged man. His
wife stands next to him. When I explain the purpose of my visit, he says, “Help me, I have
nothing left but my diploma.” I am bewildered and touched. He could bring only essentials on his journey, and his diploma was among them. I talk with him and tell him about
the website. Then I move on to meet others.
With the help of personal outreach, the Chance-for-Science site now has more than
150 refugee users who have a way to connect with fellow scientists. I hope more scientists will open their arms to refugee academics. We can make extraordinary contributions
at a personal level by recognizing refugee professors and scientists as professionals and
thereby giving back at least a small part of their identity. Treat them like colleagues: Invite
them to your institution, give them access to scientific material, and exchange research
ideas. If you can’t reach them in person, use Skype or write letters. It is easy. It does not
cost money, just a little time. You only need to do it.
Institute of Accounting, Finance and Taxation, Universitat Leipzig, Leipzig, Sachsen, 04109, Germany.