In-Depth: UC San Diego students, professors work to help Afghan scholar refugees

Scholars at Risk program hopes to raise $125,000
Posted at 5:47 AM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 13:52:09-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - A group of students and professors at UC San Diego are trying to raise enough money to bring scholars from Afghanistan to campus.

The "Scholars at Risk" program will allow refugee students and professors to continue their academic work in a safe environment.

"Our goal is to give scholars a place of refuge," says Dr. Nancy Postero, the co-director of the Migration and Human Rights Program at UC San Diego.

"We've all watched the horrible experiences of people crammed into planes, trying to leave Afghanistan, the terror of being in Kabul. But how many of us have ever met somebody like that?"

UC San Diego International Institute Director Dr. Jade D'Alpoim Guedes says the Scholars at Risk program can save lives because the Taliban has been targeting academics since taking over the country.

"Many of the academics who were employed by universities (in Afghanistan) are really fearing for their own safety," she says.

Dr. D'Alpoim Guedes says academic researchers are often targets of persecution because they teach or research subjects that oppressive regimes disagree with. They also frequently interpret laws and human rights issues differently from their governments.

"Academics are the first people who are targeted by oppressive regimes," she says. "They're the ones that regimes like to make examples of. And this is why it's really so critical that we get these people out of the country."

The International Institute is working with the Afghan Students Association at UC San Diego to raise awareness of the issue and help raise money for their cause.

UC San Diego student Fazl Mojaddedi says he hopes to bring Afghan scholars to campus so his friends and classmates can hear first-hand accounts of what life is like in Afghanistan, rather than the constant war people see on TV.

"Afghanistan is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of history, in terms of people, in terms of resources," Mojaddedi says. "Having a scholar come from there can help lighten the situation. It can help tell us things that we wouldn't have expected."

Dr. Postero agrees and adds that a visiting scholar can help students understand the situation in Afghanistan with more complexity and depth than simply reading about it.

"The way people respond to human rights is not by learning about numbers or seeing big sort of structural questions," Dr. Postero says. "We learn about it, and we appreciate it when we can put a person's face to it."

The University has done this before. In 2018, they sponsored Dr. Dilsa Deniz, a Kurdish woman in exile from Turkey. She spent a year and a half on campus doing research and speaking with students and faculty. Dr. Deniz is now at Harvard, working on a book manuscript.

UC San Diego's Scholars at Risk program hopes to raise $125,000. That would be enough to sponsor one Afghan scholar for about a year-and-a-half, offering them a stipend, a housing subsidy, and funding for their research and continuing education.

Not only does Dr. D'Alpoim Guedes say the money is worth it, but she also says our country practically owes it to them.

"They helped us," Dr. D'Alpoim Guedes says. "These people might not have worn a US uniform or received a US government paycheck, but for the better part of 20 years, they fought alongside our interests. Now it's time for us to return the favor," she says.

"If we believe in supporting democracies in other countries, then we have to support their researchers and their scholars," adds Dr. Postero.

If you would like to donate to the Scholars at Risk program at UC San Diego, click here.