Press release – December 10, 2021
The Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) will henceforth house the Flemish Department of Scholars at Risk (SAR). The establishment of SAR Flanders confirms and strengthens the commitment of Flemish universities to provide shelter to foreign scientists who are threatened in their home country and thus forced to continue their academic careers elsewhere.
SAR is an international network of more than 540 members in 42 countries and was established in 1999 with the aim of providing safe accommodation for endangered scientists from all over the world and protecting the right to freedom of thought. Their annual publication Free to Think provides a sobering overview of the intensity and frequency with which academic freedom is violated in many countries. “Our universities have a pioneering role to play in guaranteeing academic freedom and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, we have to acknowledge that these universal values are coming under increasing pressure, ”says Rik Van de Walle, chairman of VLIR.
In close cooperation with human rights organizations, SAR identifies the scientists in need of protection. After a thorough screening of the candidates, the organization is actively looking for a possible reception institution. SAR works closely with its network members, including 12 national divisions in Europe. The five Flemish universities are all also individual members of Scholars at Risk and have increasingly offered shelter to endangered scientists. For this academic year, Prime Minister Jan Jambon will award a grant of 205,000 euros to VLIR, which will enable the universities to increase their reception capacity. “The support of endangered scientists gives shape to the value-driven foreign policy of the Flemish Government. I, therefore, make the protection of human rights an absolute priority. Where possible, the Flemish Government will always take and/or support initiatives that contribute to respect for human rights, ”said Jan Jambon.
“Two years ago, we developed the human rights test, a self-regulating compass that allows our universities to detect the risks of human rights violations in their collaborations in a user-friendly way,” said Koen Verlaeckt, VLIR’s secretary-general.