By Ella Hopkins
A charity has supported five academics fleeing from war-zones to resettle in the UK over the last two months.
The South Bank University-based Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) works with 121 universities to offer a lifeline for scholars in need.
Its network includes Goldsmith’s University, Kingston University and Greenwich University, which host academics to study in London.
In its latest rescue operation, Cara is helping 10 academics to flee from war and persecution in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Turkey.
It has been a year and a half since Razan Abbara fled war-torn Syria and started her PhD in microbiology at Kingston University with the support of Cara.
In Syria, she lived under constant fear of violence targeted at university students and staff.
She said: “When I was in Damascus doing my master’s degree, there was mortar fire and car bombs.
“Once, my brother was going to pick something up from the supermarket. Moments after he left the supermarket was bombed.”
Razan later moved to study in Homs, where she lived under the threat of kidnapping and violence at the hands of militia groups.
She said: “In Homs, a bus full of academics and students was bombed and they died, including a professor who taught me during my undergraduate degree.
“There were armed groups kidnapping people.”
Fearing for her life, she jumped at the chance for support from Cara to flee and study in south London in November 2019.
She said: “I was so happy. I felt optimistic that I finally wouldn’t be in this situation.
“At Kingston University, it has been so nice to work in the lab and meet people.”
Razan counts two other academics who have fled from Syria as her friends. She hopes to one day return to the country to continue her pioneering research.
She said: “I have to return to Syria one day to live with my family and use my skills there.
“I hope things will be better in the future.”
Birkbeck University archeologist Professor Jennifer Baird has been working with Cara for years with archaeologists from Syria.
The university supports several Cara fellows studying PhDs.
She said: “We provide long-term support and integrate people by doing meetings with staff and students.”
In Syria, Isis have bombed archaeological sites and historical religious buildings.
Jennifer said: “Of course, the human cost is most important but memory is also so important for Syria.
“The reason that organisations of destruction target cultural memory is so it’s not there to go back to.”
Stephen Wordsworth, Executive Director of Cara and former UK Ambassador, said: “Our work is naturally challenging, but this pandemic has thrown up exceptional obstacles.
“And this came at a time when Cara was already receiving its highest number of appeals for help since the 1930s.
“Our mission at Cara is to get threatened academics safely out of their respective countries, and settled into their new positions.
“There are many countries today which oppress, imprison and murder their most gifted minds, and Britain’s universities and its public have been outstanding in embracing these intellectual victims, who have given, and are still giving, so much to us in return during their stay here.”
When UK visa application centres temporarily closed last year due to Covid-19, many academics were trapped in dangerous places.
Stephen said: “They had to stay where they were and lie low. They were stuck in places without resources.
“The important thing is that people can move again and start their research and make a contribution in universities here.
“It’s about getting them to a safe base where they can develop their own expertise and knowledge and keeping the link alive.
“Otherwise a lot of these academics would be dead or in prison.”
Since Cara’s first operation in 1933 to help academics fleeing Nazi persecution, 16 rescued academics have become Nobel Laureates and 18 have received knighthoods.
For more information on Cara and to donate, visit the website https://www.cara.ngo/
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