UK charity rescuing academics in danger receives record number of requests for help
A UK charity that rescues academics in danger has warned that the global threat to intellectual freedom is "dangerously high" after receiving a record number of requests for help.
Cara, the Council for At-Risk Academics aims, to save brilliant minds around the world from persecution, political turmoil, military upheaval, war, unlawful arrest, torture and murder.
The charity, which has saved thousands of lives since its launch in 1933, operates largely away from the public eye in order to discreetly relocate academics who face immediate danger.
Its first rescue operations were supported by the German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, and saved hundreds of academics from Stalinist regimes, juntas and South African apartheid.
In the past century, 16 of those rescued – known as "Cara Fellows" – have won Nobel Prizes, 18 have been awarded knighthoods and many others have been pioneers in their fields of study and work. Among the most famous is Sir Ludwig Guttman, founder of the Paralympics and a neurologist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
The charity said its work was under an unexpected and renewed spotlight as the coronavirus pandemic "reinforced the global value of academic excellence" and the vital work of "independently-minded people".
The global focus on academia as scientists work on a vaccine comes as the charity told The Telegraph it had "received the highest ever demand for help" in its 87-year history.
Cara is receiving around five requests a week from academics around the world and seeking help and relocation. Many come from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Hong Kong.
Scientists rescued from war-torn countries such as Syria have been resettled in the UK and are currently working on the effort to combat Covid.
Academics rescued by Cara
Stephen Wordsworth, the Cara executive director, said: "The threat to academics and to the freedom to learn around the world is reaching dangerously high levels. The need for Cara’s support has never been greater."
Mr Wordsworth, a former UK diplomat and deputy head of mission in Moscow from 2003 to 2005 and ambassador to Serbia from 2006 to 2010, added: "We have recently seen a sharp rise in support for authoritarian governments and extremist leaders which, historically signals a strict and often brutal clampdown on free-thinking scientists and academics who pose a threat to their ambitions."
As economies decline and populism grows, leading to increased support for authoritarian and extremist regimes, a growing number of academics are finding themselves in danger and the charity is contending with greater demand for help.
Lockdowns, travel restrictions and the closing of borders because of Covid are compounding the risks facing those needing urgently to escape danger.
One Cara Fellow who was rescued by the charity from Syria in 2013 was brought to the UK to continue his work. He is currently working with a British university team on cutting-edge medical research to meet Britain’s urgent need for new Covid testing methods.
The academic, who did not want to be identified for fear his safety would be compromised, said: "I would never have been able to leave Syria, or stay alive, without Cara’s support. Medicine is my passion and my purpose is saving lives, and one of the greatest threats to our health is Covid-19."
His work at the university has the potential to rapidly increase the UK’s testing capabilities by providing a cost- effective, non-invasive diagnostic tool within face masks. He is working closely with a leading UK microbiologist whose work focuses on innovative face-mask technology. By sampling and analysing used clinical masks, and the microbes which stick to them, the team can detect exhaled viruses in masks.
A second Care Fellow has helped run a Covid clinic at a UK hospital, while a third has contributed to Covid research by doing a webinar on Covid in Gaza.
Mr Wordsworth said: "Our aim is to ensure that governments, institutions and the public understand the importance of rescuing highly-trained minds and the extent to which the UK, and indeed the world, will benefit from bringing threatened academics to safety, so they can continue their work until they are able to go home again to help rebuild better, safer, societies.
"Since 1933 our goal has been to rescue academics in the greatest need, and to protect those who wish to learn and to educate others freely, because better-educated societies are healthier, more stable, and more collaborative."