The EU just launched a program to help Syrian refugees find science jobs. And it's awesome.

Finding a job is essential to creating stability in one's life. That's where Science4Refugees comes in.

Three years ago, computer scientist Sonia left Syria with her husband and children.

In an interview with Science magazine, Sonia (whose name was changed) explained how conflict in her home country had made it more and more difficult to do her job. She was a professor who couldn't travel to conferences, and communicating with the outside world was getting harder, too. She and the other instructors were afraid to share their opinions openly.

Sonia and her family knew it was time to move. But it took two long years before they were finally able to find a safe home in Europe — mainly because it was so hard for Sonia to find a job.


That's why the European Union's new Science4Refugees initiative is such a game changer. The program matches refugees with universities willing to hire them for research positions.

Sonia's situation isn't unique. After fleeing a conflict, refugees often struggle to find jobs. More than 500,000 individuals from the Middle East have sought refuge in the European Union so far this year. Almost 429,000 people from Sonia's home country of Syria alone have sought asylum in Europe — a number that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says will only increase. That's a lot of people.

Now, when people like Sonia are looking for employment, universities that agree to participate will have something like a "refugee-welcoming organization" badge on Euraxess, the EU research career site. According to the secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, some have already committed to join the effort, including France's University of Strasbourg and Germany's University of Leuven.


The program aims to act as a matchmaker of sorts. Euraxess now has a page made specifically for refugees with science backgrounds to upload their resumes. While Science4Refugees doesn't give preferential treatment to refugees, it does provide a super helpful guide so they can target their applications to friendly institutions and not have to deal with explaining their unique situations.

Just knowing that a university has made a commitment to supporting people affected by conflict can be a boost for applicants.

As Sonia told Science:

"When I was trying to contact universities ... sending my CV and explaining that I was a Syrian professor, I never got any answers. It gives you the feeling that you are alone in the world. Feeling supported, on the other hand, can greatly help you overcome difficulties."

Research, Science and Innovation European commissioner Carlos Moedas speaks at the 2015 World Economic Forum. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.

Making a commitment to be a "refugee-friendly" university is an awesome way to decrease the effects of conflict situations on these scientists' careers.

As Sonia put it, refugees "need opportunities to rebuild their personal and professional lives. The quicker they can find a stable job, the more easily they can build new lives."

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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