Talking to Researchers at Risk
What steps must be taken by institutions such as KIT and its researchers to integrate colleagues who are at risk? What support do these researchers actually need, what are the opportunities? This was the subject of a workshop that took place in the middle of December and, with the support of the Humboldt Foundation, was organized by KIT together with Deutsche Gesellschaft der Humboldtianer and its Karlsruhe-Pforzheim regional group.
Representatives of the networks Council for at Risk Academics (Cara) and Scholars at Risk (SAR) discussed with researchers who have come to, among others, KIT out of threatening situations and want to proceed in their academic careers. Together with the respective hosts, ways of cooperation and support on different levels were fathomed, possibilities of integrating exiled researchers into the local scientific community were examined, and views were exchanged on the conceivable mediating role of further colleagues and networks.
Discussing Challenges and Opportunities
Professor Caroline Robertson-von Trotha from the Center for Cultural and General Studies (Zentrum für Angewandte Kulturwissenschaft und Studium Generale - ZAK) at KIT chaired a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities for researchers who have come to Germany from conflict areas. Karlsruhe’s Commissioner for Integration Meri Uhlig talked about Karlsruhe’s attractiveness and strength and the consequent importance of demonstrating an attitude of openness and welcome towards refugees. Stephen Wordsworth, Executive Director of Cara, and Karen-Lise Scheie Knudsen from the Norwegian section of SAR debated on how networks and universities can cooperate and be financed to integrate researchers at risk. Professor Rahel Schomaker from Fachhochschule Kärnten discussed the relevant European context, and Dr. Petra Roth from KIT’s International Scholars and Welcome Office spoke about the support the researchers need to develop new perspectives.
In the course of the workshop, the more than thirty participants developed brief messages in English, which they intend to distribute over social media to inform a large public about the situation of at-risk researchers and scientists. One of these messages, “caring for researchers at risk requires institutional support to be sustainable and effective”, is realized through meanwhile three Philipp Schwartz Fellowships by means of which the KIT enables researchers at risk to do research for two years and develop new perspectives in science. Other brief messages emphasize how integration enhances academic institutions: “Supporting researchers at risk promotes the freedom of research and of sharing ideas”, or highlight the social aspects of integration: “The more we help at-risk researchers and their families to feel at home in Karlsruhe, the better we will integrate them as individuals and researchers.”
Panel Discussion Speakers
Stephen Wordsworth, Executive Director of CARA, born in 1955 in Port Talbot, South Wales, former British diplomat, now Executive Director of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA).
Educated at St John’s School Porthcawl, Epsom College and Downing College Cambridge, where he studied German and Russian (MA). Wordsworth joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1977. In London, he held a range of posts in the FCO and Cabinet Office, including as FCO Section Head for relations with East Germany and Berlin as the Berlin Wall came down. In 1992 he was honoured by Her Majesty the Queen with the award of Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order for his part in the organisation of her State Visit that year to Germany. After leaving the FCO, Wordsworth joined the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) as Executive Director in 2012. Wordsworth was a member of the first cohort to take the Financial Times Non-Executive Director Certificate course, graduating in 2012. He is also a member of the British-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and of North chapel Parish Council in West Sussex.
Karen-Lise Scheie Knudsen from the University of Adger and Head of Scholars at Risk, Norway Section.
Faced with the difficult circumstances of an Iranian activist and scholar of political science who is facing threats due to his writing and activist affiliations and has been arrested and kept in solitary confinement for four months, Karen-Lise Knudsen, worked with speed and grace to safely provide the scholar with sanctuary in Norway. The scholar even lost his university position while in prison.
Understanding the urgency of the scholar’s case, Karen took it upon herself to get the scholar’s residence permit as quickly as possible by assuming power of attorney and submitting all the documents herself. All the while, the University of Agder worked closely with Karen and SAR to ensure the scholar’s swift escape to safety.
Thanks to Karen’s hard work and dedication, the scholar received a visa and made the journey from Iran to Norway.
Neda Soltani, Representative Scholars Rescue Fund (SRF), exiled researcher at Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, born 1977 in Isfahan, Neda Soltani is an Iranian exile.
During the 2009 Iranian election protests, she was teaching English at Azad University when her Facebook profile photo was mistakenly published in many articles about the death of the similarly-named Neda Agha-Soltani, who was shot and killed during the protests. She tried in vain to remove her photo from the Internet and the media. Claims and counter-claims were made, including claims from the Iranian government that she was the same person as Agha-Soltani, and had faked her own death, and others who claimed that she was herself an agent of the Iranian government, impersonating Agha-Soltani to sully her memory.
Within two weeks, she had to flee from Iran to avoid arrest. She was granted asylum in Germany in 2010. As of 2012, Soltani remains exiled from Iran, and is under Germany's asylum. She has authored a book, My Stolen Face, narrating her story of the incident.
Social scientist Meri Uhlig was born in 1973 in Karlsruhe and is currently the Integration Officer of the City.
After working for the Integration Officer of the city of Mannheim she worked for many years for the state government of Baden-Württemberg in the field of integration - initially in the Ministry of Justice and then in the Ministry of Integration. Since 2013 she is the Integration Officer of the City of Karlsruhe. Meri Uhlig is married and has two children.
Creating social diversity and strengthening social cohesion are two sides of the same coin. For Meri Uhlig these two tasks are the core of her profession. It is important that people, irrespective of their origin or economic power, are part of society and find opportunities to actively participate. This also means that people are aware that they shape society and then actively appear. For Meri Uhlig, integration is the interplay of ability, willingness and permission.
Prof. Dr. Caroline Y. Robertson‐von Trotha was born in Glasgow/Scotland in 1951. She is founding member and director of the ZAK | Centre for Cultural and General Studies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).
After her studies in sociology, philosophy, and history in Heidelberg and Karlsruhe she finalized her doctoral dissertation in sociology and habilitated at the University of Karlsruhe (now Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, KIT) in 2004.
Her research focuses on cultural change and globalisation, internationalisation, multiculturalism, as well as theory and practice of public science. She is coordinator of the German network of the Anna Lindh Foundation, member of the Culture Committee of the German UNESCO Commission, and chairwoman of the Academic Council for Culture and Foreign Policy (WIKA) at the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa).
Prof. Dr. Rahel Schomaker, Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Professor for Economics and Senior Researcher at German Research Institute for Public Administration.
As an economist with an additional degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, Rahel M. Schomaker obtained her PhD in 2009 at Muenster University, her venia legendi in 2012 at the German University of Administrative Sciences.
Much of her academic work is dedicated to issues the Middle East. Her research is focused on institutions and their relevance for development and growth, not only on the macro-level, but also the micro-level, as well as on security issues and research related to transition processes in the public administration as well as the governance of migration. Additionally, she works with national and international institutions in consultancy projects.