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Stepping up in times of crisis

Scholars at Risk

SFU’s donor community strengthens support for threatened scholars and students across the globe.

“National University of Kyiv Mohyla-Academy suspended all lectures. My students now are joining Ukrainian army. #Ukraineisunderattack #StandWithUkraine” tweets Ukrainian literary scholar Mariia Suvalova.

Cited in Times Higher Education, Suvalova succinctly articulates the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on those in higher education: scholars halt teaching and seek shelter while the next generation take up arms, risk their lives, and fight an unprovoked attack to protect themselves, their families and fellow citizens. 

Alongside the August 2021 resurgence of Taliban power in Afghanistan, Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine underscores a critical call for the international community to step up and do what they can to protect those caught in the crossfires of international warfare, conflict and political repression. 

For countless citizens, it is a matter of life and death. Millions of young children, youth and scholars have fled their home countries. For many bright students and scholars, opportunities for resettlement and higher education are out of reach, leaving them in significant danger and unable to pursue their academic and professional goals, for the betterment of our world.

A united front

Closer to home, SFU and our generous community partners have a long history of being a united front when it comes to supporting threatened scholars and refugee students. 

Since 1981 SFU has supported refugee students coming to the university through World University Services Canada (WUSC) and in 2017 SFU joined Scholars at Risk (SAR), an international network of institutions and individuals working to provide sanctuary and assistance to threatened scholars around the world. 

Most recently, supporters like the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, the Giustra Foundation, and others have provided nearly $150,000 in support to bring scholars at risk to SFU. These meaningful contributions are providing sanctuary and assistance to threatened scholars and students around the world.

Calculating the "cost of peace"

Entrepreneur and global philanthropist Frank Giustra has been involved in refugee resettlement for years through the work of his foundation and as a founding member of Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative. He has also written powerfully in “The Cost of Peace” about why it is important for philanthropists to support humanitarian aid and the global refugee crisis.

“Aside from the horrific human cost and the gargantuan economic costs, there is another important reason why more philanthropic funding should be directed to peace and security: Without peace and security, you can forget about advancing any of the other social issues that philanthropy is trying to address.” 

Giustra says “the cost of peace represents mere pocket change when compared with the cost of war,” and asserts “It’s time the philanthropic community directs more of its funding to this crucial work.”

Generosity and reciprocity

Funding from external supporters comes in addition to $350,000 from faculties and departments across the university. From professors, students and staff to our community partners, many people throughout SFU are committed to delivering this vital funding. 

Shaheen Nanji, executive director of SFU International, and a point person for SFU’s partnership with SAR, highlights the reciprocity involved in the university’s support of threatened scholars and students.

“By offering placements to threatened scholars and students, SFU not only provides crucial landing spots for those seeking to leave a dangerous situation against their will, but the university is enriched by the incredible expertise, perspective and potential of these outstanding scholars.”

Nanji notes that beyond paying for the programs and services, “the university recognizes the importance on providing wraparound supports to ensure new scholars and students are able to settle and achieve their aspirations as soon as possible.

Thanks to this generous support from donors, and the hard work of many faculty and staff at SFU, we have been able to receive five scholars and students from Afghanistan and are working with them to reunite them with their families and help them settle.”

Sustaining the work

Although SFU is seeing the impact of donations so far, our work in this area is far from over. Further funding is greatly needed for this vital initiative to continue and to safely relocate scholars and students whose lives are at risk. 

All donations collected through our partnership with SAR will go directly to individuals, helping to cover costs including support for resettlement in Canada, plane tickets, salary, benefits, professional development, and settlement costs for scholars or tuition, books, living costs, and settlement expenses for vulnerable students. It also prepares SFU to provide support in other critical ways—from mental health and health care services to relocation costs and support for family members.

Learn more about SFU’s initiative to support threatened scholars and students.