Academics trapped in Syria and Iraq: what is the best way to help?

Universities across the world have joined forces in offering hope to those facing persecution and even death

May 8, 2016
Syria refugees queue
Source: Alamy

The Scholar Rescue Fund in New York has called further attention to the plight of academics trapped in Syria and Iraq – and what can be done to help them.  

“We know that academics are specifically targeted by the so-called Islamic State,” said assistant director James King, “both because of their presumed secular outlook and also because they were employees of state institutions, and the state is the enemy in both Syria and Iraq. Individuals have been beheaded for refusing to comply with the changed curriculum.”  

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the SRF – which forms part of the Institute of International Education – has awarded 130 fellowships to Syrian professors and researchers, enabling them to continue their work at nearly 70 safe-haven universities and research centres in 12 countries. 

In Jordan, the fund has built close links with the government, so something of an Iraqi faculty-in-exile has been created there, with a member of the royal family on one occasion sending her car to the border checkpoint to facilitate an academic’s crossing. Yet many thousands of academics whose universities have been taken over by Islamic State remain trapped and unable to leave their countries.

“It is not the intention of the self-proclaimed Islamic State to have academics flee,” explained SRF chairman Mark Angelson. “The alternatives are for the academics to conform to the academic system imposed by Islamic State or they are murdered. It’s a binary decision. Flight is an option academics choose, not something Islamic State offers.

“If we award a fellowship to a professor in Mosul, we are not able to arrange for them to get out. But what we are providing is the solution once they are able to flee. It’s very difficult to flee a place like Mosul and potentially risk your life if there’s nothing waiting for you at the other end. We are focused on giving them hope and a solution once they are able to get out.” 

To publicise their plight, the SRF held a forum on 29 April bringing together fellows, university hosts, funders and those working on human rights in governments and universities.

After a panel exploring the targeted repression academics face all over the world, others addressed the impact of Islamic State on academia and how outside universities should respond.

In the longer term, most of the scholars rescued from Syria and Iraq would like to return to their home countries, where Mr King believes they “will play essential roles in leading reconciliation efforts. The university should be a vanguard for diverse groups to come together and work through societal challenges. We know our scholars will be heavily involved in that.”

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments


Print headline: Academics trapped in Syria and Iraq: how is it best to help?

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show