The continuing impact on the UK of refugee academics from around the world has been celebrated in an event at the House of Lords to mark the 80th anniversary of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics’ foundation.
“The passage from outsider to citizen requires nothing more than a little time,” said author Jeremy Seabrook, who launched the second edition of his book The Refuge and the Fortress: Britain and the Persecuted 1933-2013 at the gathering on 3 June. “Panic over ‘newcomers’ or ‘strangers’ soon ebbs away in the light of their contribution to the material and moral well- being of the country.”
Mr Seabrook cited the case of the German neurosurgeon Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980), who was rescued from Nazi persecution in 1939 by the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, an earlier guise of Cara (originally set up in 1933 as the Academic Assistance Council to help academics fleeing Nazi Germany).
As well as his pioneering work at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital Spinal Injury Unit for wounded servicemen, Guttmann became the effective father of the Paralympics, so his vision “reached its fullest flowering in London in 2012, 75 years after he arrived in Britain”, Mr Seabrook said.
Refugee academics of the past few years, the author continued, had often followed rather different paths, abandoning their original disciplines “in order to help others”.
Some had drawn, for example, on their experiences of “persecution, displacement and the pain of adapting to a new culture and language” to become counsellors, social workers or mental health professionals.
The event also heard from Cara’s current president Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, who spoke of “the multiplier effect of what Cara has done”.
Yet despite its many achievements, the organisation remained essential in a world where it was still depressingly clear that “academics will continue to suffer and need support from colleagues in more fortunate countries”, Professor Grant said.