There is no doubt that the European Commission has the heart in the right place in matters refugee. In October last year the Commission started the Science4Refugees initiative by virtue of which universities and research institutions can make refugee scientists and researchers aware of open posts available to them through the EURAXESS recruitment platform. Participating institutions are officially recognised as refugee-welcoming organisations. A significant number of institutions have signed up - many universities but also intergovernmental organisations like EMBL. At last count, 332 vacancies were being advertised under the scheme, meaning that qualified refugees are encouraged to apply, but not that the posts are reserved exclusively for refugees. The Helmholtz Association, in cooperation with the German Federal Employment Agency, has introduced a similar scheme, where the ambition is to employ between 10 and 20 refugees per Helmholtz Centre.
These initiatives have lit a torch which the space community should eagerly grab as well! We pride ourselves on our internationalist outlook, and it would flank this outlook well to see Young Graduate Training Programmes for refugees crop up in the space agencies, and to see space agencies and space research institutes be recognised as refugee-welcoming organisations, with vacancies being posted on the EURAXESS recruitment platform as open also for refugee applicants. Perhaps the space industry can band together as well, and create their own initiatives allowing refugees to pursue their dreams in our sector! The standard argument against this sort of initiative is that security concerns militate against. But this is surely not right. Some of the current participating institutions in Science4refugees do security relevant work, but have found ways to deal with the issue, possibly through increased security screening and of course by ring-fencing particularly sensitive technology and information. In fact, these are topics that are not exclusive to refugee applicants, and the space sector has a long record of being able to deal with them.
Another standard argument against helping is that employment in the space sector is such a privilege that it should be reserved for European citizens. Also this cannot be right! We encourage refugees to integrate and be full participants in our societies. This being the case also refugees must have access to the most attractive jobs, and helping talented refugees to fulfil their potential is surely not only serving their interests, but ours as well!
A most probate way to make friends is to stand with them in the time of trouble. Many refugees are expecting to return to their countries when dangers have passed, and many will be likely to become influential there. It would be very good and very opportune if they would look back at their time in Europe with warm feelings and a recognition that we helped them in the best possible way at their moment of need. The space domain has an important role to play in this respect, being hi-tech and iconic, and it is high time that we step up to the plate!