The Conference »Refugee Scientists: Transnational Resources« opened today, 13.3.2017, in Trieste. It is organised by The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) for the advancement of science in developing countries, Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale/National Institute for Oceanography and Applied Geophiysics (OGS) and the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI). It will last until 17 March.
The opening panel was composed of Dr. Peter McGrath, Coordinator of the Science Policy/Science Diplomacy Programme at TWAS; Prof. Maria Christina Pedicchio, the President of OGS; Abdelhamid El-Zoheiry, the President of EMUNI; Dr. Matteo Marsilli, a researcher at The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics; Prof. Romain Murenzi, Director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building at UNESCO; Mr. Rinaldo Argentieri of Ufficio del Vicario del Perfetto in Trieste and Mr. Enrico Padula, Head of Office X at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Government of Italy.
The panellists were unanimous in acknowledging the timely discussion of an immensely important issue. Among the record numbers of refugees fleeing their countries are many scientists, researchers, academics, medical doctors and engineers (“refugee scientists”). They represent a significant human capital that benefit host countries and will hopefully benefit their countries of origin again in the future.
Peter McGrath emphasised the immense resource represented by refugee scientists and the fact that their skills are underutilized.
Maria Cristina Pedicchio noted that science refugees are not only contributing to the advancement of science, but also to cooperation between peoples and countries. She expressed a belief that science diplomacy is very effective, even more effective than classical diplomacy.
Abdelhamid El-Zoheiry reminded of the example of Hassan Ibn Al-Haytham, a scientific refugee 1000 years ago, who significantly improved our understanding of optics. El-Zoheiry invited to think of refugees not as a liability but a wealth of resource, who are transmitting not only knowledge, but also tolerance and intercultural understanding, as demonstrated by Cold war scientific cooperation and projects of SESAME and CERN.
Romain Murenzi reminded of the two fronts, on which forced migration from South to North represents a challenge – both the host countries and countries of origin. In the process of strengthening knowledge-based societies it is crucial that societies have sufficient number of scientists and researchers. All possible support – infrastructure, financial, degree recognition etc. – should be supplied to them. Murenzi informed the audience that the status of science diplomats at UNESCO is being reformed and that the recommendations of the conference are well placed to feed into that process. He reminded of the International Migrant Day on 18 December.
Rinaldo Argentieri demonstrated Italy’s commitment to addressing the needs to refugee scientists. Building on that, Enrico Padula placed the necessity of offering scientific infrastructure for migrating researchers among the basic needs and reminded of the need to pay attention to each year in a scientist’s career. International scientific institutions in Trieste have a very important role in addressing the challenge.
A round of introductory lines by the audience pointed to a variety of stakeholders involved in the issue, from more or less recent refugee scientists, diplomats, representatives of international organisations, local and national administrators, researchers of diplomatic practices and the migration phenomena, and media representatives.