What can academics do about the refugee crisis?



About 60 million people are currently displaced around the world as a result of conflicts and human rights violations. This displacement is being referred to as the largest refugee crisis since World War II. In the first four months of 2016, over 180,000 people have arrived in Europe.

We are facing one of those ‘wicked problems’ that seem impossible to solve. Every day media outlets show new images of human suffering, confront us with opinions about the perils associated with the movement of so many people, and scare us with stories about how this movement of people is threatening the essence of Western society.

We are facing a wicked problem – there’s no doubt – but is it really one that can’t be solved? If we break it down into a series of smaller ones, would that give us the opportunity to come up with solutions?

There are pockets of hope opening up around us, in all of the countries that are receiving refugees. There are countless local communities, individuals and organizations who are leading grassroots campaigns of support. Governments and NGOs are trying to come up with solutions but they are facing numerous obstacles which are slowing their progress and inhibiting their abilities to develop solutions.

In December, we brought a group of young experts in refugee and migration issues together because we wanted to see if we could come up with a ‘fresh perspective’ on the crisis, with a specific focus on Europe. Our participants’ subject areas included history, victimology, urbanism, international relations, public health, and engineering, among others. These backgrounds informed incredibly rich discussions.

We covered a lot of ground as you can read about in this PDF . As we kept talking to each other, what started to become clear was that what might actually be happening is more a crisis of solidarity than one about refugees. The conversations resulted in what we hope is a thought-provoking video about this dilemma (see below).

What also became clear to us was that we, as a research community, can and should be doing more.

As readers of the Thesis Whisperer, you are coming from around the world. You may be in a European country and seeing media headlines about the crisis every day; you may be in an area where other issues dominate; or you may actually be living in a conflict zone.

Most of you, though, will be in a place where you are safe, but where refugees are close by. Among them will be students, PhD candidates and early career researchers just like you. They are being forced to start their research careers at a significant disadvantage. They have important stories to tell, and a lot of potential. How can we, and you, help to facilitate their paths?

We challenge you to take up one of the options below, if you haven’t already. These ideas come out of the young expert meeting on the refugee crisis. The full report can be downloaded here.

What can you do to further our understanding of the refugee situation?

There is knowledge in every discipline that is useful in helping to address the refugee crisis. It doesn’t matter whether you are a construction engineer, who can think about clever housing solutions, or a linguist, who can help think through ways of language education. You have specialist knowledge – how can it be applied here?

Can you mentor young refugee students/academics?

Is there a way you can get involved with programmes that offer mentorship to young refugee students or early-career researchers? How might you work with your local university associations or asylum seeker centres to extend a hand of support? Collaboration is easier to manage than individual initiatives in this respect. The Young Academy of Scotland, for example, has just introduced a refugee/scholars-at-risk membership initiative which will see four spaces (two for women and two for men) allocated in each of their next three recruitment rounds. This initiative promises to help people to access the professional networks that will enable them to build successful careers in Scotland.

Can you help create a more informed debate about the refugee crisis?

If you have relevant knowledge, please don’t hesitate to share it with journalists and other academics, especially via blogs and social media (so it doesn’t take months or years to come out…). Be proactive and responsible with your research. Can you translate your findings into a video, or a magazine article that will get a wide audience?

We hope that our comments don’t come across as if we are only concerned about those refugees with academic qualifications or research ambitions because we aren’t.

As academics, though, there are specific things that we can do to help and ways that we can support those who are working with and/or volunteering for refugees in our wider communities. We have access to significant resources that many people don’t, so we need to think about how we can share what we have.

Please spread the word, and also share below which activities you have in mind; it will be an inspiration for others.

You might like to view the video that came out of our meeting:

Author Bio:Eva Alisic is Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy (www.globalyoungacademy.net)