Thursday, July 25 2024

Harvard is coming to Athens

Harvard is coming to Athens

What are the driving forces behind population movements? What are the effects of climate change on migration flows? What is the role of the media in shaping the image of population mobility? How are ethical rules for dealing with humanitarian crises defined?

At what stage is the debate on the new asylum and immigration policy in the European Union? This are important global questions, including for Greece, which, due to its geographical location, its membership in the European Union and the shape of its borders, is one of the countries that receive – and will likely continue to receive – large waves of refugees and immigrants.

Harvard, one of the leading universities in the world, is coming to Greece to collaborate with the Center of Excellence for Asylum and Immigration, founded by the University of Athens.

“Given the university’s role and position in the Greek and international academic community, the creation of such a research hub is natural and entirely expected,” Athens University Rector Thanos Dimopoulos tells Kathimerini. “Harvard’s decision to collaborate with this research structure, by jointly creating a summer school that we hope will become a reference point in the field, is no coincidence: It is another sign of our university’s place at the forefront of scientific research and its creative outward orientation.”

“We aspire to make the hub the most important research center for these issues in Southeastern Europe and the wider Mediterranean. It is, after all, the first such major research center in the region,” notes Maria Gavouneli, professor of law at Athens University and the hub’s director.

In recent years about 1.5 million refugees and migrants are estimated to have arrived on the Greek islands, the majority in 2015. On the other hand, Greece has been a country of outward migration for many years, recently contributing to the “brain drain” phenomenon.

“Based on these data and developments, a relatively large volume of scientific studies, research and publications has already been produced, while, in recent years, graduate programs in the wider field of refugee and immigration studies, with English as the language of instruction, have been successfully developed, including at Athens University. Thus, the country is becoming a privileged location for refugee and immigration studies and, more broadly, the study of population mobility,” says Gavouneli.

The mission of the excellence hub is to develop actions and programs across the university, with a direct international impact. The first of the programs is a three-week summer school, in July 2022, in collaboration with Harvard. The presentation of the summer school took place last Wednesday, in an online event attended by Education Minister Niki Kerameus. During the web meeting, Dimopoulos and Professor Jane J. Kim, dean of academic affairs at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, signed a memorandum of cooperation between the two universities. Dr Natalia Linos, head of Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, which offers the three-week interdisciplinary course, presented it during the event.

Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard’s School of Public Health, told Kathimerini that the organization of the summer school on the rights of refugees and immigrants is a dream come true. “Together with Vasileia Digidiki [human rights fellow at the FXB Center] and our colleagues at Harvard, we are excited to work with Greek professors on a groundbreaking educational initiative, with the potential to produce results on one of the most crucial social and political issues of the time,” Bhabha said.

The summer school will take place from July 11-31 in Athens, Nafplio (in collaboration with the Harvard Center for Greek Studies) and the island of Lesvos. It will be open to Athens University and Harvard, but also highly qualified students researchers from other European and US universities. The program is self-financed, but there are also offers of support from a broad range of institutions, foundations and nongovernmental organizations. In addition to lectures, the course will also include internships, roundtable discussions, field visits, simulations of administrative procedures and joint actions with civil society representatives.

The excellence hub is the first joint cooperation between four University of Athens schools and departments: the Law School, the School of Health Sciences, the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and the Department of Communication and Media. “We created the excellence hub to transfer the already considerable knowledge and expertise of our scholars on matters of immigration and asylum into an integrated research structure,” says Dimopoulos. “We have removed the institutional barriers to create a substantial scientific partnership.”