Refugee fears stoke isolation of Syrian researchers

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Copyright: IOM 2012/Ray Leyesa

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[TUNIS] The civil war in Syria has already taken its toll on science, also forcing a major international research centre to relocate last year.

And now, with war in its third year, the reports are emerging of Syria’s scientists being prevented from travelling to conferences as they are refused visas from host countries, in what some think are fears from refugees.

The story began with a casual chat over dinner between me and a researcher who did not want to be named during the Arab Forum for Scientific Research and Sustainable Development last month (20-22 Decembers) in Tunis, Tunisia.

“Syrians are not welcomed anymore, and this means that researchers will not be able to attend science conferences or get any training or education.”

Anonymous researcher 

The researcher told me that a few months ago, he judged a research award for Arab countries, with an award ceremony held in the United Kingdom. The winner was from Syria, but unfortunately they couldn’t give him the prize in person because his request for a UK visa was rejected.

“Syrians are not welcomed anymore, and this means that researchers will not be able to attend science conferences or get any training or education,” he said.

His words reminded me of recent media reports of the UK government “turning its back on Syria’s refugees” and not joining the pledges of 16 other nations to allow more than 10,000 refugees into their territory. 

“Syrian researchers who live in countries like Egypt refuse to go to conferences abroad because they are afraid that the host country will not permit their entry again,” said Mohamed Mrayati, Syrian professor and chief UN consultant on ICT in Saudi Arabia.

He told me that he was denied a visa, too, for being a Syrian.

“I was invited as a key-note speaker for a conference in Kuwait, and though I visited the country many times before and also sent my visa documents one month before the conference, the visa was rejected.”

Mrayati told me that such travel restrictions will limit Syrian researchers’ contribution to research globally and regionally, as they will not be able to attend meetings or collaborate on international projects.  This will likely hinder their publishing and funding opportunities, too.

“This attitude toward Syria and Syrians is not noble,” said Mrayati.