PROVIDENCE — Scholars in Afghanistan, especially women, are facing threats from the Taliban and many are trying to flee the country now that the United States has withdrawn, ending the 20-year occupation that began after the Al Qaeda attacks on 9/11, advocates said this week.
“There is tremendous panic among the scholars right now,” said Adam Braver, a Roger Williams University professor who chairs the Scholars at Risk-US Steering Committee. “Educated people, and particularly scholars, are finding themselves under deep threat from the Taliban.”
To help, 217 colleges and universities around the world have committed to host a scholar from Afghanistan, including 112 that expect to fund those positions immediately, said Clare Robinson, advocacy director for Scholars at Risk.
In Rhode Island, Brown University has pledged to fund an Afghan scholar in residence, and the Rhode Island School of Design has committed to hosting an Afghan scholar when funding becomes available, Robinson said.
Based in New York City, Scholars at Risk is an international network of more than 500 higher education institutions in 40 countries that has arranged temporary positions for more than 1,500 threatened scholars and students over the past two decades.
The group has received more than 740 requests for help from people in Afghanistan in the last few weeks, Robinson said. “It’s a huge need,” she said. “To give you some perspective, last year we had 490 requests from all over the world, and now we’ve had 740 requests from just one country.”
Scholars in Afghanistan are very worried. “The e-mails we receive are heartbreaking and heartbreakingly similar to each other,” Robinson said. “They are all seeking urgent assistance for themselves and their families and don’t necessarily have any sense of what the best way out is.”
The applications are coming from a wide range of scholars, including professors but also writers, graduate students, doctors, artists, and journalists. “Nearly all are seeking help for themselves and their families,” Robinson said. “And they are seeking that help urgently.”
In recent weeks, the Taliban have vowed to respect women’s rights and forgive those who fought them, aiming to reassure world powers and a fearful population. But Braver said the pleas from Afghan scholars tell a different story. “It seems like on the front lines these threats are very strong,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty facing the Afghan scholars, Braver said, “It is very heartening to see the global academic community rise up and band together in support of our fellow academics. It is a reminder that one of the responsibilities of people who are free to raise their voices is to raise their voices.”
Robinson said universities are funding a range of positions for Afghan scholars, including research posts, fellowships, and visiting professor positions. The start dates and arrangements must remain flexible because of the difficulties in getting out of Afghanistan, she said.
Brown spokesman Brian Clark said, “We have committed to Scholars at Risk that Brown will fund and host at least one Afghan scholar in residence. We expect to have additional details as we work with the organization over the coming week or two.”
Brown also is working with the New University in Exile Consortium to possibly host a student, or students, displaced by the developments in Afghanistan, Clark said.
Design school spokeswoman Jaime Marland said the school is a member of the Scholars at Risk network and recently indicated its interest in hosting “suitable candidates” from Afghanistan. “RISD is outspoken about the important contributions of international scholars and students to higher education as we collectively work to advance knowledge in a global context,” she said.
Also this week, the Roger Williams University Faculty Senate passed resolutions calling for the administration to host an Afghan scholar, offer admission to 10 Afghan students, and join other colleges in urging the US government to secure safe passage for Afghan scholars, according to professor Mel A. Topf, the faculty senate president.
Roger Williams spokeswoman Jill Rodrigues said the university is hosting a scholar at risk from Turkey this year, but no decision has been made yet about hosting a scholar from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, nearly 3,700 people and institutions have signed a letter to US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, urging US officials to take immediate action to help save Afghanistan’s scholars and students. The letter has been signed by scholars from Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams, and Rhode Island College.
“We are racing to offer assistance to colleagues in Afghanistan who at this moment are desperately seeking ways out of the country,” the letter says. “They may not have worn a uniform or received a US government paycheck, but for the better part of 20 years they have fought alongside US interests for a new, rights-respecting, forward-looking, knowledge-based Afghanistan.”
Scholars at Risk is seeking diplomatic intervention, especially from those countries with direct relations with the Taliban, to encourage “a continuing, orderly, and safe program of voluntary departures and safe passage.” The group is urging nearby countries to offer visas and humanitarian support to scholars and students leaving Afghanistan, and it’s asking European and North American governments to adapt visa, refugee, and immigration programs to welcome those scholars.