This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Refugees Initiative

Scholars at Risk (SAR) – University of Trento Protection Program

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INTERVIEWS


INSTITUTION RESPONSIBLE FOR THE INITIATIVE

University of Trento

COUNTRY

Italy

CITY

Trento

Address

Via Verdi, 26 - 38122

Contact person:
Prof, Ester Gallo
Co-ordinator of SAR Italy
email: [email protected]

TYPOLOGY

- Financial support for refugee students

TARGET GROUPS

- Newly arrived refugees
- University staff (academic and administrative)

DESCRIPTION AND METHODOLOGIES

The project ‘Scholars at Risk (SAR) – University of Trento Protection Program’ started in 2019 thanks to a co-funding between the University and the Autonomous Province of Trento (PAT).
The project, coordinated by Prof. Ester Gallo (Delegate for Academic and International Solidarity) develops in coordination with the Rectorate Office of ‘Equality & Diversity’, which hosts a program of welcoming and inclusion of refugee students since 2016. The Office is coordinated by Prof. Barbara Poggio (Vice-Chancellor for ‘Equality and Diversity’ Policies).
The SAR-UniTrento Protection Program offers yearly fellowships for scholars who have asked/obtained refugee status in a EU member state and/or hold a ‘risk-statement’ issued by the International network Scholars at Risk (SAR: https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/). The fellowships are ‘Assegni di Ricerca’ lasting for 12 months and renewable for other 12 months. The University also provides scholars (and their families, where applicable) with free accommodation in university residence and the cover of health insurance. The 2019 call was for two fellowships: it was opened to all scientific disciplines and involved 13 academic structures (departments, research centers, schools). An interdepartmental committee carries the selection by taking into consideration the academic curricula, the publication records, a research project, as well as the risk faced by the scholar. In 2019 the University selected a scholar in philosophy from Cameroon and a scholar in nutritional science from Yemen. Their profile details are anonymous for security reasons. The new edition of the call will open in January-February 2021. For information please contact: [email protected]

Activities
During the fellowship, SAR scholars are expected to carry the research project they presented at the time of the selection. The university will give administrative, organizational and some financial support to this end. Scholars are also involved in the teaching programs, both as guest lectures within institutional courses as well as in seminar series related to their scientific work as well as to the topic of academic freedom. They are also involved in workshops/conferences in Trento as well as in the other universities in Italy that are members of the national network Scholars at Risk - Italy.
A system of welcoming and support involve the following offices/people:
(1) SAR university coordinator, who fosters the dialogue between the University, SAR headquarter in New York and SAR scholars, and monitors the integration of the scholar within the university and the city;
(2) SAR departmental referent who acts as academic tutor and who takes care of scholars’ integration within the receiving department. For the 2019/2020 edition the academic referent at the University of Trento is Prof. Michele Nicoletti (Department of Literature and Philosophy) and Prof. Marco Ciolli (C3A and DICAM).
(3) The Welcome Office of the University, which supports the scholar with the paper work;
(4) The ‘Office of Equality & Diversity’, which involves scholars in academic and outreaching activities related to human rights, migration and equality.
(5) SAR volunteering or internship students who support scholars with the paperwork and the settlement within the city.
Networking also aims at involving SAR scholars within the activities carried at local and national level by civil society organizations working on the defense of human rights and on international cooperation and development. Specifically, current scholars will collaborate with the Trentino Forum for Peace (http://www.forumpace.it/), the network In Difesa Di (https://www.indifesadi.org/chi-siamo/) and the Shelter Cities Program for HR Defenders (https://sheltercity.nl/en/the-city-of-trento-committed-to-the-protection-of-human-rights-defenders/).

RESULTS AND IMPACT

In terms of impact the Protection Program established at the University of Trento can be summarized as it follows:
(1) It raised awareness within the university, and the city more generally, of the growing attacks against academic freedom worldwide and of the effects they have on the forced mobility of scholars seeking temporary asylum in Italian and European universities. There is indeed still limited awareness of the phenomenon.
(2) The decision to open and inter-disciplinary call intended for refugee/at-risk scholars offered the university an important occasion to reconsider/revise its recruitment strategies and to enhance the cooperation between different academic structures.
(3) It represents a unique opportunity to enrich the teaching offer within the university. SAR scholars bring their scientific expertise and political experience, often about geopolitical area that are less represented in academic curricula. For instance, 2019/2020 scholars will be involved in the yearly ‘Advocacy for Academic Freedom’ Seminar Series by giving classes on academic freedom in Central Africa and the Middle East. Further, they will be involved in guest lectures on African philosophy, on the nutritional potentials of Yemenite plants, to mention some themes.
(4) In focusing on refugee scholars, the program also importantly complements the activities carried by the University of Trento since 2016 with respect to refugee students (https://www.unitn.it/en/ateneo/53963/asylum-seekers-to-university-project), both through the exchange of good practices as well as in fostering a dialogue on common challenges.
(5) In terms of third mission, the project enhances the University role as active partner of local/national political and civil society, in supporting the defense of human rights and the protection of scholars whose work is compromised by conflicts and growing authoritarianism.
As the program is very recent, we can only anticipate some strengths and challenges.
In terms of strengths, it is important to stress that the program has been very well received so far by the academic community that is by institutional representatives, scholars, administrative staff and students. Its implementation is supported by a synergy and by a timely response to the challenges emerging from the relocation and settlement. At academic level, several colleagues have shown active interest in the scientific profile of the scholars and are interested in exploring forms of collaboration.
Another strength is certainly the fact that the program in Trento develops in dialogue with the broader network of universities and institutes that are members of Scholars at Risk Italy (https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/event/launch-of-scholars-at-risk-italy-section/). Other members (Padova, SNS, SISSA-Trieste) have developed similar programs and this constitutes an important opportunity to share strategies of support and to address common challenges. The presence of a national network also increases the potentials of creating future opportunities for SAR scholars once their period in one university comes to an end.
In terms of challenges it should be mentioned the sustainability of the program in the long term, both with reference to the possibility of external funding as well as of internal resources. This addresses another challenge that is that the reasons of forced migration rarely come to a solution within the limited time of the fellowship. Indeed, a future challenge will be to create opportunities of longer and more stable employment for refugee scholars.