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The Irish Naval Service rescues migrants from a boat in the Mediterranean Sea in June 2015.

The Irish Naval Service rescues migrants from a boat in the Mediterranean Sea in June 2015.

Irish Defence Forces

European Union helps match refugees with science jobs

Since the beginning of the year, more than 500,000 refugees fleeing civil war and unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere have sought safety in the European Union. Yesterday, the European Commission said it will do its bit to help the scientists among them find research jobs.

Under a program called Science4Refugees, launched today by E.U. research commissioner Carlos Moedas, the commission says it will help match refugees with universities willing to hire them. Refugees and asylum-seekers with a science background can upload their resume on a dedicated page on Euraxess, the E.U. research careers website. Meanwhile, universities willing to help can get a badge from the commission as “refugee-welcoming organizations” and advertise jobs, internships, or training programs as refugee-friendly.

Rebuilding their lives and careers can be difficult for refugees, a Syrian computer scientist recently told Science Careers in a Q&A. Science4Refugees aims to “help refugee scientists and researchers find suitable jobs that both improve their own situation and put their skills and experience to good use in Europe's research system,” says the Euraxess website, which is inviting institutions to join in

Several universities have already said they will sign up, including the University of Strasbourg in France and the University of Leuven in Belgium, says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, a group of universities that expressed its support at the Science4Refugees launch yesterday.

The program follows other efforts to support refugees at the local or national level. An article published last week by Euroscientist, the website of the researchers' organization Euroscience, listed such initiatives. For example, the Fraunhofer and Max-Planck societies said last month they would launch a pilot project to ease the integration of refugee scientists in Germany.

In the United Kingdom, the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), which in the 1930s helped scientists escape the Nazi threat and continue their career abroad, is now helping persecuted scientists from Syria in particular. Unlike Refugees4Science, CARA checks the applicants’ background and references, helps them find a host university, and can provide additional funding. (One hundred and nine U.K. universities are members of the CARA network—in principle, they “actively … consider hosting a persecuted or at-risk academic, with a fee waiver and possibly other support,” according to the Cara website.)

Refugees4Science will not give preferential treatment to anyone during university recruitment or application procedures for visa or work permits, the commission says. “It is about making sure that people know about vacancies, can have more work experience and be involved in the community. But they will have to compete with everyone else,” Deketelaere says. CARA’s Executive Director Stephen Wordsworth says this approach raises questions. “Anything that helps is welcome,” he says. “But it’s unclear how many people can benefit" from the commission's plan.