The executive director of the Council for At-Risk Academics told The PIE that there has been a mood in universities during the crises to do more to help at risk scholars.
The organisation recently revealed that demand hit a record high this year.
“Up until the point when the Afghanistan crisis came along in the first half of 2021, many of our university partners, who were being very helpful, were saying, ‘okay, we’re getting to the limits of what we can afford to do because we have all these other priorities’,” Stephen Wordsworth explained.
“But with the crises, there was a mood in universities themselves that this is something really important we must help with. And that made it possible for them to go forward with more offers.”
With the Afghanistan and Ukraine receiving much media attention, there was an “extra surge” in the number of offers from universities due to pressure from academics and students, he detailed.
“There’s been a lot of support for the Universities of Sanctuary, which is mainly student focused and that’s parallel to what we do. We have some little bit overlap in the postgraduate and but essentially we work alongside each other.”
However, other conflicts – such as those in Sudan or Yemen – have not seen the same wide backing from academic communities, he indicated.
The UK government backed Ukraine with specialist visa schemes, in addition to being a large contributor to the £13.35m Researchers at Risk scheme, which meant that Cara could react quickly. However, other conflicts do not necessarily have the same backing, Wordsworth said.
“We are getting the visas we need, but it does take a bit of time as part of the regular process. When a crisis happens, something like the Ukraine scheme for other crisis-affected groups, from our point of view, would be a very useful thing,” he told The PIE.
“Things that make it easier for people to get to the UK would clearly be useful and make it quicker as well so that they aren’t stuck for quite a long time.”
“In the last month or two, we’re getting more applications from Sudan than we had from Afghanistan”
Cara’s emergency response fellowship program needs the right levers in place in order to ensure its processes are efficient, especially as conflicts are difficult to predict and need a fast response.
Additionally, more is needed to support crises that do not receive the same media attention.
Until the Afghanistan crisis took the global community by surprise in 2021, Yemen had been becoming one of the organisation’s biggest source countries, the executive director continued.
“Just recently in the last month or two, we’re getting more applications from Sudan than we had from Afghanistan,” he added.
Both are due to individuals in places such as Saudi Arabia coming to the end of their visas and unable to extend, thus facing the prospect of going home, but knowing in practical terms, they can’t.
“It would be much better if they could just get on with their lives [in their home countries] but as they do badly need help, we were grateful to our partners who make it possible for us to help them.”