Refugees may plug skills gap

March 11, 2005

When Abdul Lalzad fled to the UK from Afghanistan in late 1998, he found himself living off income support despite being one of his country's foremost engineers.

But thanks to a grant from the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, Professor Lalzad, who was head of the engineering department at Kabul University, has returned to academia. He researches cheap and efficient desalination techniques.

Cara, which is based at London South Bank University, offers vital support to academics such as Professor Lalzad. He features in a new handbook for the refugee community produced by the council and co-sponsored by The Times Higher.

The handbook, backed by the Trades Union Congress and the Commission for Racial Equality, tells refugees how to apply for UK university degrees and what financial support is available. The handbook is also sponsored by London South Bank, the Home Office, the Rayne Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

It argues that at a time when there are shortages in key areas such as engineering, science and the medical profession, many refugees with relevant qualifications are unemployed or stuck in unskilled jobs. It costs as little as £1,000 to prepare a refugee doctor to practise compared with Pounds 250,000 to train a doctor from scratch.

John Akker, Cara's executive secretary, said that the council awards funds for expenses such as travel, but is forced to turn many refugees away. "We urgently need greater resources and guidance for refugees to stop talent going to waste every year," he said.

In a foreword to the handbook, Kim Howells, the Higher Education Minister, says: "Cara has made an important contribution to bridging the academic and refugee worlds."

Professor Lalzad, who fled to the UK after the Taleban shut his department, is a visiting professor and a PhD candidate at London South Bank.


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