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."
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."