Programme / IV. A The Journey of Refugee Scientists

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Day 3

Thursday / 9 nov

11:30 - 13:00

Thematic session:
IV. A The Journey of Refugee Scientists
Organised by:  The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), UNESCO
Venue: King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre, Mount Nebo 1&2 - Sea Floor

We are living in an historic period of global dislocation and migration. In the Middle East/North Africa alone, war and civil conflict in recent years have forced millions of people to leave their homes. Most have arrived in adjoining countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Some 1.5 million have arrived in Europe. Others have travelled as far as South Africa, Malaysia, Canada and Brazil.


Among them are uncounted thousands of professionals and students in science-related fields. For example, by one count, Syria had 31,000 doctors before its civil war. Today, half are gone. Meanwhile, other displaced and refugee scientists from across the region are scattered to neighbouring countries, or to Europe and North America. There is an urgent need to help them continue their careers so as to avoid the irreversible loss of scientific capital; they will be of utmost importance when the time comes to rebuild their conflict-torn countries and economies.

"Science in Exile" is a new documentary film produced by Italian filmmaker Nicole Leghissa and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). The film, making its global premier at the World Science Forum, explores the struggles of researchers who have been forced by war and conflict to leave Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Additional insight is provided by experts from the UK, Lebanon, Canada and Germany.


Arriving in the adjacent countries or in Europe, these displaced scientists are determined to continue their work or their studies, but they are confronted by daunting professional and personal challenges. The destination countries, both in the MENA region and in Europe, have often made significant sacrifices and investments to accommodate them. But jobs and support are difficult to find; among policymakers and the public, there may be insufficient awareness that some refugees have research skills and experience that can be of great benefit to their new communities. But these skills can be put to use only if the destination countries identify the scientists and engineers and provide training, employment and other support.


A five-minute trailer of "Science in Exile" will be shown to open the session. The film presents a scientific story, but also a deeply human story, about men and women who are living precariously and often invisibly in their new countries. They are struggling to find a place in this new world, and dreaming of the day when they can return home to help rebuild.


The panel discussion will explore in deeper detail the experience of refugee scientists, their needs, and key issues for top policymakers and educational leaders in the MENA region, Europe and North America. The discussion will also highlight and discuss the UNESCO Science@Risk Initiative, which promotes the comprehensive protection of the global scientific capital in cases of violent conflict and disasters.

To achieve this goal, the Science@Risk Initiative focuses on four key objectives: (i)  to protect and valorize of the human scientific capital in cases of natural disasters or violent conflicts; (ii) to foster open data, free flow of information and sharing of Scientific knowledge to and from region afflicted by violent conflicts and disasters; (iii) to safeguard the natural scientific archives, including  the climate archives, such as glacial ice/ice core, climate historical and instrumental records; (iv) to protect the built scientific infrastructure, such as universities, libraries, and laboratories.


Event video