Science International: at-risk researchers

Under the banner of Science International, four global science organisations met in Trieste, Italy, to explore policy and programmes for scientists displaced by war.

With global awareness growing about the challenges confronting researchers displaced by war, four international science organisations met in Trieste, Italy, to consider the scientists' needs – and what can be done to support them. 

The meeting convened 17-18 June 2018 under the banner of Science International, beginning the first discussions in a process that will ultimately produce policy and programme recommendations focused on scientists in flight from war and conflict. 

The four core organisations of the Science International project are the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), both based in Trieste; and the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), both based in Paris. (ICSU and ISSC will merge in July 2018 to become to become the International Science Council.) Collectively, they represent more than 280 national, regional and global science organizations worldwide, with individual members at the highest levels of scientific research, policy and education.

"Many countries were caught unprepared by the recent upswing in human migration," said IAP President Volker ter Meulen. "We know there are scientists, medics and other trained personnel among these displaced persons, and we believe the scientific community has a responsibility to do all it can to assist them. That is why IAP and the other partners in the Science International group have agreed to work on this issue at the global level."

"At TWAS, we count the scientists who are forced to leave their labs and their home countries as members of our community, and we see it as imperative to understand their experiences and needs," said TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi. "The costs of this forced migration – to the individuals and their countries – is enormous. But because many of them hope to return home someday, we must recognise their importance and continue to support their work and development."

The Science International effort is "critically important", said ISSC Executive Director Mathieu Denis. "Through our combined membership and networks, we can help mobilise expertise, raise awareness among our institutions, connect initiatives, learn from what others are doing and help address the fate of thousands of refugee and displaced scientists worldwide."

An historic forced migration

Countries such as Syria and Iraq for decades had strong universities and productive research sectors. But the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has displaced 11 million people – half of the country's population. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, efforts by Islamic State and other extremist groups have brought chaos to broad regions. And in Yemen, a civil war has caused extensive destruction of universities and research infrastructure.

“The freedom of movement of scientists has been at the heart of the International Council for Science for decades – it is enshrined in one of the core principles of our statutes, and will continue to be so as we become the International Science Council,” said Heide Hackmann, executive director of the International Council for Science (ICSU). “At a time when populist trends undermine societies’ understanding of, and support for, the value and values of science, and hinder scientists’ ability to practice their profession, the new Science International initiative is central to ensuring action, including from governments, to provide the support that displaced scientists need.”

Over the past 18 months, TWAS and IAP have been involved with other high-level scientific bodies to explore the experiences and needs of thousands of scientists, engineers, medical professionals and advanced science students from their homes in places such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. An international workshop in March 2017, co-organised by the TWAS Science Diplomacy programme, produced a detailed set of recommendations for policy and research.

But the Science International initiative marks the most ambitious effort to date to bring scientific organisations together with displaced scientists, the leaders of agencies that support at-risk scholars and others to support those driven into an historic migration of research talent.

Under the Science International initiative, universities and other research organisations are already being surveyed about their experience with displaced scientists. A North-South leadership group has been formed to guide discussions and research in the months ahead.

Members of the leaderships group: TWAS Vice President Mohammad Ahmad Hamdan, Arab Open University in Jordan; for ICSU, Valérie Schini-Kerth, University of Strasbourg (France); for IAP, Robin Perutz, University of York (UK); and for ISSC, Pascale Laborier, Université Paris Nanterre.

Also among those who attended the first working group meeting were leaders and representatives of UNESCO; the European Commission; the Institute of International Education-Scholar Rescue Fund; Scholars at Risk; the Global Young Academy; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA); the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD); and the international Committee on Human Rights at the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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