1. Who are researchers at risk?
Researchers at risk include researchers, scholars, scientists at all stages of their research careers, including doctoral candidates through to experienced researchers and professors, who are experiencing threats to their life, liberty, or research career, and those who are forced or have been forced to flee because of such threats. (More specific eligibility criteria for the different proposed fellowship tracks are outlined in point 11 below).
While some researchers at risk have recognised refugee status, asylum status, or similar protection status, a more significant proportion of those seeking the assistance of NGOs specialising in the field of scholar protection are outside the refugee process, seeking or holding temporary visas/work permits through visiting research/scholar positions at host universities in Europe or elsewhere, outside their home countries.
2. Why are researchers at risk?
The global Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) reports that although each individual researcher’s situation is unique, clear patterns have emerged within the 5,000+ applications for assistance the Network has received since its founding in 2000. Based on over 20 years’ experience receiving requests for assistance from at-risk scholars, professors, researchers, doctoral students, institutional leaders and other members of higher education communities, SAR identifies three broad categories of risk reported:
(a) Risk due to the content of a scholar’s work, research, or teaching being perceived as threatening by authorities or other groups. When the development of ideas, exchange of information, and expression of new opinions are considered threatening, individual scholars/researchers are particularly vulnerable.
(b) Risk because of the individual’s status as academics/researchers. Because of their education, frequent travel, and professional standing, scholars are often prominent members of their community. Where a scholar is a member of a political, ethnic, or religious minority, female, or a member of LGBTQ+ communities, an attack on an individual scholar may be a highly visible and efficient means for intimidating and silencing others.
(c) Risk as a result of their peaceful exercise of basic human rights, in particular, the right to freedom of expression or freedom of association.
3. Who threatens researchers?
Researchers report threats by a range of state and non-state actors, including armed militant and extremist groups, police and military forces, government authorities, and members of their own higher education communities.
4. What types of threats do researchers report?
Some examples of threats reported by researchers assisted by the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) and the IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) include:
• a professor from Colombia who received death threats for his reports linking Colombian drug traffickers, local self-defence forces, and government officials;
• an assistant professor in Yemen accused of treason and threatened with imprisonment after the partial destruction of his faculty by airstrikes because he refused rebel demands that he continue teaching his students in dangerous conditions, and was forced into hiding, unable to support his family;
• A Syrian analytical chemist who faced risk in Syria not only due to the ongoing conflict, but due to her peaceful activism calling for an end to the regime’s violence toward the Syrian people;
• a professor from Pakistan who applied to SRF when Islamic clerics at her university in Pakistan brought charges against her that included blasphemy, an offense punishable by death;
• a Turkish academic who came to the UK with a fellowship from Cara, after being forced to take early retirement from her job in retaliation for signing a petition in early 2016. The so-called ‘Academics for Peace’ petition criticised government policy in Turkey’s Kurdish regions. She was summoned to return to Turkey to stand trial on a charge of ‘propagandizing for a terrorist organisation’;
• a lecturer at a state-run university teaching hospital in Iraq, who was targeted by ISIS for refusing to come and work for them;
• a human rights lawyer and academic from Iran who advocates for the defence of women’s rights throughout the Islamic world. Her work led to her arrest and imprisonment in Iran and ultimately to her exile from her home country.
The SAR Network reports that the types of threats reported by researchers/scholars applying to SAR for assistance range in scope and severity and include harassment, surveillance, denial of access or permissions, confiscation of notes and computers files, professional or personal slander or defamation, physical or sexual intimidation, arbitrary dismissal, internal or external exile, arrest on false charges, detention without trial, trial and imprisonment, torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing. Requests for assistance have also been received from universities facing ideological pressure and censorship, imposition of national ideology, ideological revisionism, closing of schools and universities, suppression of strikes/protests, restrictions on travel, restrictions on information exchange, and discriminatory restrictions on academic resources.
5. What happens to researchers at risk after their temporary fellowship positions?
Each programme in support of researchers at risk undertakes follow-up in distinct ways to understand what happens during post-fellowship transitions in order to further support researchers at risk in their next steps. The following findings are based upon alumni surveys and direct reporting from alumni:
PAUSE – Programme national d’accueil en urgence des scientifiques et des artistes has information on post-fellowship numbers and pathways in its most recent public annual report of activities (2020) on p.20 here.
The Phillip Schwartz-Initiative of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation produced a 5-year overview report of the programme in 2020 entitled, “A New Beginning.” Information on career paths after the fellowship can be found on p. 9 here.
Scholars at Risk Network produces an annual report. In the most recent 2021 annual report information on career paths after the fellowship can be found on the “Scholar Story” pages throughout the report here.
The Institute of International Education – Scholar Rescue Fund produced a 100-year overview of the programme in 2020 entitled, “A Beacon of Hope.” Information on career paths after the fellowship can be found throughout the report here.
6. What level of qualifications do at-risk scholars supported by support organisations hold (Master’s/ PhD/Postdoctoral)?
Each programme in support of researchers at risk has different approaches to the level of qualification at which support is provided. The following links provide a general sense of organizational tendencies and outcomes in this regard. However, support organisations are also often guided by context in terms of support assessments and may be flexible with regard to the level of qualifications at which support is met in cases where there are mitigating circumstances.
Cara (Council for At-Risk Academics): Cara supports a range of at-risk scholars with varying levels of qualifications. Some early-career Cara Fellows are supported in their completion of postgraduate qualifications, such as a PhD, to continue their career; others already hold doctorates and are looking for a postdoctoral placement to carry out research, possibly with the goal of moving later into a full-time teaching or research post. Additional information on Cara’s Fellowship Programme may be found here.
PAUSE – Programme national d’accueil en urgence des scientifiques et des artistes lists information on programme support by qualification in its most recent public annual report of activities (2020) on p.13 here.
In order to be eligible for the PAUSE program, amongst other criteria, scientists and artists at risk must be able to prove they hold the status of a doctoral student, researcher, teacher-researcher or artist-teacher in their country of origin. Additional information on who is eligible for the PAUSE program may be found here.
The Philipp Schwartz-Initiative of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation: Candidates for a Philipp Schwartz Fellowship must already hold a Doctorate or comparable academic degree (Ph.D., C.Sc. or equivalent). In the case of doctorates in law or medicine, proof of equivalence to a research doctorate must be provided. Additional information on who can receive a Philipp Schwartz Fellowship may be found here.
Scholars at Risk Network: Scholars may be academic professors/ researchers/ lecturers with a substantial and recent history of employment at an academic institution of higher education and who have authored academic publications. Most scholars supported by SAR have a PhD; on an exceptional case-by-case basis SAR is able to work with scholars at the MA/MS level. Additional information on SAR support processes may be found here.
The Institute of International Education – Scholar Rescue Fund: Preference is given to scholars who hold a Ph.D. or highest degree in their field and have significant teaching and/or research experience at a university, college, or other institution of higher learning. IIE-SRF typically cannot consider applications from individuals who are seeking to continue their studies, including Ph.D. study, or to complete an academic training program. Additional information on IIE-SRF eligibility criteria may be found here.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 857742.
Ten European partner organisations have joined forces in an ambitious initiative to support researchers at risk. Researchers at risk include researchers, scholars, scientists at all stages of their research careers, who are experiencing threats to their life, liberty, or research career, and those who are displaced because of such threats.
Project partners and associate partners include leading organisations in the provision of support to researchers at risk.
Please find below recordings of webinars and other online events that we hope will be useful to researchers at risk and prospective employers and host institutions in Europe.