Professor i marinbiologi, Åbo Akademi

Professoriblogissa otetaan kantaa yliopistojen ja tutkimuslaitosten ajankohtaisiin asioihin.


Needs be strangers [1]

Spurred last summer by the scenes of millions of refugees fleeing from war and persecution, and knowing that amongst them were many scientists and scholars, a group of us in my institute decided to see if there was something we could do to help.  We made contact with an NGO working with the war-refugees in Finland, which collects information on their skills, education and experience, and tries to find appropriate places for them to find their footing in the society in which they have sought sanctuary.

Our limited budgets, plus all the constraints of labour law in Finland, mean that we can’t offer paid employment, at least during the initial period when such persons are with us. But the most important ways we help are not financial. We offer a secure and welcoming environment in which people whose lives have been upended by conflict and hatred can reintegrate into the family to which they belong: global academia. We all possess multi-partite identities: nationality, religion, gender / sexuality / family, politics, passions for sports or the arts. But for most people, their career is the most defining component of their identity. And for those of us in science, it isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation.

We have begun by taking in our first refugee postgraduate and postdoctoral scientists, assigning them by mutual choice to research teams where they naturally belong, based on their skills and interests. We afford them the status of visiting scientists. In granting this title we seek to honour them in the same as any other international participant or collaborator in our projects. In some senses they deserve even more recognition, as people for whom the right to freely pursue scientific enquiry or teach a body of knowledge from the standpoint of honest objectivity is not just a matter of professional choice or integrity, but of life and death.

Some might say that, at this difficult time for Finnish academic life, with academics, technicians and administrative support staff being fired or pensioned off at an unprecedented rate in institutions all over the country, we should focus on the welfare of those who have given years of selfless service to our own community. But our community is global. The right to pursue scholarship and science free from the threat of being hacked to death is something we must defend at all costs. Those forced to flee in rubber boats for their lives, or to escape from being obliged, at gunpoint, to deliver a curriculum based around someone else’s pernicious ideology, need our help. If we don’t act to protect them, our own freedoms are immediately under threat too.

[1] William Shakespeare (ca. 1600) Sir Thomas More Act 2, scene 4 (unpublished). See

Photo: Helsingin yliopisto/Linda Tammisto

Bahaulddin Rawi 18.05.2016
I am one of the refugees in Finland, living in Turku. I would love to get to know the cultural life here and enlighten my career with something new.

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