Grantee: 2012 - present

Funded: PhD fee contribution, fee waiver

Soraya* is an academic from Syria.  After performing well in her BA in English Language and Literature, she was selected by her institution for a scholarship which would enable her to begin a career in academia and undertake postgraduate study overseas.  For the next two-and-a-half years she was employed as a Teaching Assistant, leading seminars and marking students’ assignments.  However, as the Syrian uprising began in early 2011, it became increasingly dangerous to commute from her family home in Damascus.

In September 2011, Soraya began an MA in English Literary Studies in the UK.  That summer and into the autumn, protests in Syria had spread nationwide and the government’s response became increasingly heavy-handed.  Soraya started a blog in which she criticised the regime; when the authorities discovered this, her father was detained and her brother was forced to flee the country.  Although her close family still remain in Damascus, they are in constant danger and under immense psychological pressure as the fighting continues.  A number of members of her extended family have been killed.

Soraya continued to study despite the rapid deterioration of the situation at home.  In May 2012, after the UN Security Council condemned the government’s use of heavy weaponry on civilians in Homs, the Syrian Ambassador to the UK was expelled and the embassy in London was closed.  Soraya, along with other Syrian scholarship students, found herself unable to access her funds, which until then had covered her tuition fees and living costs.  At the same time, the EU increased sanctions against the regime, including Syrian public bodies and the central bank, making it increasingly difficult to transfer money from Syria.  A number of Syrian academics, including Soraya, feared what might happen to them if they returned home, forcing them to seek asylum in the UK.

Soraya completed her MA in September 2012 but was not able to graduate as the university was holding unpaid tuition fees against the Syrian regime.  She was allowed to begin a PhD in January 2013 and chose to focus her thesis on gender and politics, two areas of research that she would not have had the opportunity to pursue at an institution at home.  A short while later she approached CARA for financial support, and in June 2013 the UK Programme’s Allocation Committee agreed to award a grant of £2,000 towards her tuition fees.  The UK Programme also facilitated a waiver of her remaining fees from her institution, a member of the CARA Scholars At Risk UK Universities Network.

Soraya has continued to excel in her studies and in spring 2014 passed her PhD upgrade assessment.  She also attended the LSE Scholars At Risk Reconnect with Research  Summer Programme, benefiting from enhanced English language support with an academic focus for displaced scholars.  Following a successful second application to CARA for continued funding, the UK Programme has facilitated a further waiver of her outstanding fees and rent, which would previously have been covered by her scholarship. 

Before the Syrian Crisis began, Soraya was guaranteed a stable career at a leading Syrian university.  Now, unable to return home for the foreseeable future, she has been forced to re-evaluate her plans.  However, thanks to the support of CARA and her institution, she is well on track to establishing herself as an early career academic in the UK.

*Soraya is a pseudonym.