Q&A with Gerard Engel, one of the initiators of the crowdfunding campaign for Dr Yaghi

03 December 2019 10:38

You are one of the initiators of the crowdfunding campaign for Dr Yaghi. How did you become involved?

In a long article in NRC newspaper on 30 March 2019, I read about the experiences of Dr Yaghi and his family and about how he had managed to obtain an NWO grant after years of looking for suitable work. NWO has launched a programme for researchers with refugee status in the Netherlands. It appealed to me: not only accepting the help that is offered to refugees in our country but also seeking and finding suitable work.

It is moving to see how Yaghi and his family have integrated so well in Houten. All four of them speak good Dutch, he has realised an Arabic Dutch Culture House in Houten and the children are doing well in the Dutch education system. But despite spending four years looking for suitable work, this proved impossible until NWO came up with a special fund for refugee scholars.

You not only gave a generous donation but have also had private contact with Dr Yaghi. How did you come up with the idea of starting a crowdfunding campaign?

It seemed to me that a year’s grant, however welcome it might be, is way too short to produce sufficient results in this specialism that you will be able to build upon later. I decided to set aside a small sum to ensure this opportunity is open to him for longer. And I decided to ask others to do the same.

What makes his academic research unique is its enormous value for both the Arabic world and potentially the Netherlands too. I myself am no expert in his discipline, but the academic assessments are very good. That is why I am trying to get his appointment extended. Furthermore, I think that although refugees sometimes initially receive good help in the Netherlands, it should also be possible for top researchers who end up as refugees in the Netherlands to build a future here. Our country should not allow their knowledge to be lost.

What are you hoping for in the coming month?

I hope that we together – people who care about Dr Yaghi in particular and refugees in general, the community of Houten, his colleagues and the Board of the Faculty of Humanities, and any other interested parties – can raise a tidy sum to give him the leg-up that he needs to carry on with his work. Any sum is welcome. And luckily there are plenty of people who want to help, dozens already. It is of great urgency because we need to be certain that his current appointment can be extended way before it ends in February 2020.