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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Scholars Fleeing War-Torn Middle East Find Safety in U.K. Universities

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“There were many incidents when I thought that this would be the final straw; every time I would say it can’t get worse than this.” But the devastation that day convinced her. “I started applying for jobs everywhere … just trying to get out.”

There were unofficial routes, which thousands turned to in desperation, but as a single mother, Alsalloum needed a safe channel. “We were two women, so I didn’t want to take any risks.”

She spotted details about Cara online and got in touch. “When they replied, I didn’t believe it, I still remember the moment.” It took over a year to sort out the paperwork, secure a visa and arrange a place to continue her career at Liverpool on a journey that took her from Damascus to the city she now calls home.

New Challenges From Covid-19

The Covid-19 crisis has thrown up new challenges for Cara at a time when the organization is receiving a record number of requests.

Sudden border closures, quarantine periods and coronavirus testing all add to the cost and complexity of planning a rescue, says Wordsworth.

“People will say sometimes, If you can’t get me out of here I’m going to be killed,” he says. “We work as fast as we can, but there’s only so much we can do to hurry things along, we’re dependent on other people and systems.”

Cara had a 100 percent success rate in securing visas in 2020, but there is no certainty that all will go to plan. A scholar was recently refused a stopover in Paris because the rules changed at the last minute due to coronavirus.

“It’s a great sense of relief and joy when somebody actually gets here,” Wordsworth says.

A Rescue From Mosul

Salam Dawood was able to take up the place Cara secured him to do a Ph.D. in dentistry at the University of Birmingham in December 2020. His journey was delayed by a year after the medical tests he needed to travel to the United Kingdom from Iraq were suspended because of Covid-19.

His situation had become increasingly perilous after ISIS overran his home city of Mosul in 2014. The militants threatened Dawood and his family, placing explosives in their home, then kidnapped and killed his uncle and cousin. He and the family fled, retuning only after the militants were expelled from the city in 2017. But members of the group remain active in and around Mosul, which lies in ruins, with many of its university facilities destroyed by fierce fighting to free the city. (See a related article, “Mosul’s Students Return to a Battered Campus.”)

“After the liberation of Mosul we thought the situation would become better, but it’s no good,” says Dawood, who uses a pseudonym to protect family still at risk in Iraq.

Landing in Heathrow Airport with his wife and two children last year was amazing, Dawood says. “We felt that we are safe and our dream has come true.”

Watching his 6-year-old daughter play in the park, chatting with new friends in the English she picked up at classes in Mosul, he feels confident about the future. “I finally got a place to complete my degree at one of the most developed universities, in one of the most developed countries in the world.”

Benefits to the Host Country

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