Linking refugees to the diversity strategy
The University of the Aegean addresses issues of diversity as part of their overall inclusiveness strategy. These are realised in the mandate and everyday work of various committees for gender equality, refugees, and people with special needs. In terms of strategic documents, a four-year plan is currently under preparation, which will include the inclusiveness strategy explicitly. The university adopts a catch-all approach, enabling people with a migration background, asylum seekers and those with full refugee status to access all relevant services.
History of the diversity strategy and refugee support
The University of the Aegean has supported refugees for almost 20 years, with an intensification since 2016 due to the rapid increase of immigrant and refugee populations.
Activities and services available to refugees
The University of the Aegean offers a wide range of services to refugees and is involved in many refugee-related initiatives, namely:
- Greek language courses offered voluntarily by members of the academic staff and students from the School of Social Sciences;
- Enhancement of intercultural education with special programmes and activities, both in the university facilities and in the first reception centres for immigrants and refugees;
- Training teachers in intercultural education for courses that concern refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background;
- A permanent refugee and migration observatory with international recognition, as well as research programmes and awareness raising encouraging social integration and coexistence with the local population, such as the “The perspective of a permanent refugees’ and immigrants’ settlement in Greece” programme, funded by the HFRI;
- Continuous cooperation with international organisations for the protection of refugee populations, such as the Protocol of Cooperation between the University of the Aegean and the UNHCR;
- Integration of refugees and students with a refugee(-like) background through the Science4Refugees in Aegean Archipelago (SCIREA) project and participation of the teaching staff in the Scientific Committee for the Support of Refugee Children;
- Participation in the Greek section of Scholars at Risk for the support of refugees with an academic profile.
In addition, the university has signed a special cooperation protocol with local and regional authorities to offer academic and research expertise on the subject.
Coordination, implementation and monitoring
Activities and services have their own particular features, and are implemented by academics, students, postgraduates and PhDs, as well as with the involvement of target group members.
The implementation is mostly monitored through the guidelines and evaluation plans of the various national and international agencies funding the research. The internal quality of the administrative aspects of research is certified by the relevant national agency
and the research design and implementation are certified by the approval of the University’s Ethics of Research Committee
Around 600 students have been supported, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Challenges, lessons learnt and future aspirations
The integration of young people with a refugee(-like) background through the SCIREA project has been a challenging task, as has training teachers in intercultural education.
As for the effects of the pandemic, the process of social integration for the existing refugee population remains on track, with a reduction in the flow of migrants with a refugee(-like) background being observed. The post-Covid-19 era, however, remains uncertain regarding future influxes of migrants with a refugee(-like) background and the problems that might emerge.
Moreover, the Covid-19 crisis raised challenges vis-à-vis teaching and training. The university’s strategic documents and approaches should therefore be adapted, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.