Big suitcases, tiny Kia

‘It was a warm day in the beginning of July. I had no idea what they looked like. I just went looking for people with large suitcases’, says Jan Blaauw, a member of the committee Scholars At Risk (SAR) which operates at the RUG.

He helps search for a good place at the university for scholars who have fled their own country. In July, he picked up a scholar and his family who had fled, at the station.

‘I saw them getting out of the train with all their property and possessions in big suitcases. They lived out of those suitcases. All the suitcases only just about fit in my small Kia’, says Blaauw. He cannot say much about the identity of the scholar. ‘They want to stay as anonymous as possible. They are scared that if people find out who they are, they will feel sorry for them, and they do not want that’, he explains.

Safe workplace

The committee that he is in is part of a worldwide SAR-network. The organisation is committed to helping researchers who are threatened because of their ideas or position in society. They help them to find a safe, temporary workplace.

The RUG was the first Dutch university to join this organization in 2008. In 2012, the university board decided to no longer commit itself to helping refugees. The RUG stayed a member of the organization but did not want to invest any money in it. After a motion by the university council in 2014, which was signed by all of the council parties, the university board agreed to invest a sum of 20,000 euros per year in order to accommodate refugee scholars.

One placement per year

Every year, around 60 to 70 scholars are placed at different universities worldwide. The Groningen delegation of SAR aims, in principle, to place one scholar at the university per year. ‘This costs around 12,000 euros for an average of nine months accommodation’, says Blaauw.

For the placement, the RUG works closely with the Hanzehogeschool, which is in the same committee. Blaauw: ‘We look at many cases each year, but on average, there is only really one scholar who fits the bill. There is a lot involved in the decision. There has to be a place at the faculty and the person has to be suitable for the faculty. Often, it’s not a match.’

Refugee students 

In addition to the scholar here through SAR, there are 36 refugee students who study at the RUG. Seven of these refugee students started this year, states Mariette Flipse, press officer of the UAF. The UAF is an organisation which helps highly-educated refugees to achieve a suitable position in society. The organisation is also involved in financing the refugee scholar who came to Groningen last July. ‘Both have taken on half of the costs’, says Blaauw.