The Odysseus Academic Network coordinated by the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) launched a new initiative at the 16th edition of its annual Summer School on European Immigration Asylum Law and Policy. This was part of the ‘Solidarity with Refugees’ campaign launched by the ULB, and was conceived of in response to the current asylum situation in Europe.
The objective of the ‘Scholarships for Refugees’ initiative was to provide a number of recent beneficiaries of international protection in Europe with the opportunity to gain knowledge of European immigration and asylum law and policy. This was aimed at helping refugees integrate in Europe, notably by allowing them to engage with European academics, and continue their studies, which may have been interrupted due to forced departure from their home country, as well as to allow them to discover Brussels and the European institutions.
The Odysseus Network launched a fundraising and crowdfunding campaign. Over 50 members of the public donated to the crowdfunding campaign.
This funding covered registration fees for the Summer School, transportation costs within the Schengen area and living expenses.
The Odysseus Network also received valuable support in kind from The Josefa Foundation, which hosted 4 students at the Josefa House in Brussels; and the ULB, which also hosted students in its university accommodation facilities as well as providing lunch at the university canteen.
In order to notify potential applicants about this opportunity, a number of refugee-assisting NGOs in Europe as well as universities and academic institutions, were contacted, with particular reference to the EUA refugees welcome map. The initiative was also selected as an inspiring practice by the European Commission.
The Odysseus Network assessed the eligibility and motivation of the applicants before offering a refugee scholarship to 10 students, one of whom was unfortunately unable to attend. A summary of their profiles is below:
- Countries of origin: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Syria and Palestinian Syrian,
- Countries of refuge: Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania and the UK
- Granted refugee status between: 2012-2016
- 2 female and 8 male
‘Refugee Voices’ event at the European Parliament – 11 July 2016
An event was hosted by Barbara Spinelli MEP at the European Parliament, with a contribution from refugee author Yazan Rajab, to allow willing beneficiaries of the refugee scholarships to present their perspective on asylum issues in Europe. This insight offered a valuable divergence from the academic, legal and theoretical content of the Summer School, which deeply enriched the debate on the Summer School’s subject matter. A brochure introducing the beneficiaries of the Scholarships for Refugees programme can be found here.
Following an introduction and welcome by Barbara Spinelli; Professor Philippe de Bruycker, founder and coordinator of the Odysseus Academic Network, described the ‘Scholarships for Refugees’ initiative.
The discussion opened with a speech by Mr Yazan Rajab, who recently co-authored the book “Nooit meer bang zijn” (Never be Afraid) and has recently been recognised as a refugee in Belgium. He gave an account of his experiences in his country of origin, Syria, his journey to and through Europe and as an asylum-seeker and refugee in Belgium. He also shared some of his expectations and hopes, notably to continue his education, a project which will be realised in September when he will begin studying at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel under its Refugees Welcome programme.
The audience then heard speeches from 8 of the refugee beneficiaries. These focused on various themes such as: refugee identity and perceptions from the receiving societies, the media portrayal of refugees, self-empowerment, integration, political engagement and access to higher education for refugees.
Some selected quotes from speakers at the event are provided below :
“It was your grandparents before us. Now it is us that are refugees, but it could be you”
“We are at a time when humanity is in danger… and if we are not together, I am afraid we will all be in trouble”
“Refugees are often deprived of their identity as people unconsciously think that they have no values, are primitive, are inexperienced and are incapable of doing anything”
“Refugees do not need sympathy, but opportunities – nobody talks about their potential and their contribution to society”
“The study of refugees is often studied as subjects and outsiders rather than being included as participants, colleagues or insiders”
“We need to think about the terminology used: it is not a refugee crisis, but a crisis of refugees…caused by political problems and leading to humanitarian problems”
The Odysseus Network had the privilege of hosting refugee students at the 16th edition of its Summer School. Based on the feedback received by the refugee scholars as well as other participants and speakers, Odysseus believes that this was an enriching and valuable experience for all concerned.
The success of the initiative in its first year has strengthened the intention to repeat this project next year, if sufficient funding can be found.
The Odysseus Academic Network would like to thank all of the donors of this initiative for their support.
If you are interested in finding out more about it, or in supporting us in future years, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org