Positive Nature editorial on nascent German efforts to to incorporate Syrian refugees into the education system

Refugees

Last month I had posted about fellowships for refugee scholars by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany. This week’s Nature has an editorial that lauds German efforts in this direction and highlights the potential benefits both to the country’s scientific endeavor as well as in countering the rising xenophobia:

To integrate hundreds of thousands of traumatized, mostly Muslim, war refugees into Western society is a massive social challenge. But, contrary to what some critics seem to assume, early signs show that the young refugees — and under-25s make up around half of the influx — will not be inclined to accept social welfare and sit back idly for long.

Robbed of their hopes and dreams at home, many will grasp the opportunities offered.
And many will be eager to learn. If admitted into Germany’s well-oiled education and science system (and into its booming labour market at large), they can be a boon rather than a burden to the country’s knowledge-based economy.

German universities and science organizations are aware of the responsibility to these displaced people and the opportunity they represent. The messages they send in favour of openness and plurality — defining features of any honest science — are laudable at a time when xenophobia is on the rise elsewhere.

Thanks to several programmes and initiatives launched by the German science community in recent months, refugee students can access university education and doctoral-research opportunities, and qualified refugee scientists and scholars can participate in advanced science at research institutes across Germany. These initiatives are much-needed and deserve every respect.

Another article in the same issue highlights the role social scientists can and are playing in helping with the refugee crisis:

Social scientists studying the flow of refugees into Germany want to discover something themselves: how many of the incoming people are, like Khamis, well-qualified, motivated and eager to learn — a boon for the economy. These migration researchers say that Germany has become a case study in the difficulties of suddenly integrating a large group of culturally diverse foreigners into a society; the nation has registered nearly one million asylum-seekers this year, more than half of them from Syria. It is the highest such influx in Western Europe.

After a short-lived wave of hospitality in September, when chancellor Angela Merkel promised that Germany would be a welcoming host to the persecuted, many citizens and some right-leaning politicians have begun to voice concerns, painting a picture of a Muslim-dominated parallel society of poorly trained recipients of social welfare.

Research may be able to counter the rising tide of xenophobia and aid the urgent process of resettling refugees by revealing more about migrants’ skills and cultural values, says David Schiefer, a Berlin-based psychologist with a German advisory body on migration and integration who is planning interviews with refugees. “We need to give these people a voice,” he says.

An extensive program and set of resources devoted to this would be extremely valuable:

In a strategy paper seen by Nature, a group from seven Max Planck institutes, in response to a call for research ideas by the society’s president, Martin Stratmann, has outlined a variety of research needs around humanitarian migration, from international law and human-rights issues to health and gender studies.

Marie-Claire Foblets, director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, plans to ask a culturally diverse group of refugees — including guest students at the University of Halle-Wittenberg — for accounts of their lives and experiences. Other questions, such as those concerning refugees’ citizenship and civil rights, the potential lure of extremism, and the fate of children who might be staying with radicalized parents, will require the involvement of law experts, criminologists, educators and others, she says.

Read the full article here (you may need subscription).

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