Refugee Week: supporting academics at risk with the Council for At-Risk Academics

Posted on June 20, 2024   by Microbiology Society

This Refugee Week, the Society would like to once again shine a light on the great work of the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara). Cara is a UK charity, originally founded in 1933 to help academics fleeing Nazi Germany, and is still helping to coordinate much of this work today around the world today.

Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara)

In mid-2023, the UN estimated that 110 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. This figure included internally displaced people, refugees, asylum-seekers and others in need of international protection. The number of people forcibly displaced is also currently increasing every year (1).

Cara’s Fellowship Programme offers places and funding to academics needing sanctuary. The programme has been developed in partnership with a network of 135 UK universities and research institutes, who provide financial support to Cara as well as fee waivers and other support to Cara Fellows. Fellowships help academics in danger to escape to a safe place where they can continue their work. Most intend to return home when they can; but they need support in the meantime to maintain and develop their skills and to build the networks that they will need when that day comes.

The last three years have seen a huge increase in the numbers of academics urgently seeking Cara’s help. Crisis has piled upon crisis – Myanmar, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Sudan, Palestine/Gaza – and Cara is still receiving applications from academics at risk in other countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iran and Ethiopia. 160 applications to Cara in academic year 2020/21 became 1,105 in 2021/22. Numbers have since fallen back a bit but are still at an historically high level (over 200 so far in 2024).

Cara helps as many as it can. As a result, the number of those in placements with its partner institutions, many with their families, has already risen sharply. 18 months ago, Cara had just over 100 Fellows in placements. Now the total is around 190 and edging towards 200. And it looks like rising further in the second half of 2024, as at any time Cara’s Fellowship Programme team – twice the size it was three years ago, up from seven to fourteen – is working with another 160 or more applicants at various stages, all desperate to get themselves and their families to safety. As a supporter of Cara, the Microbiology Society is proud to collaborate with Cara to provide funding to academics at risk who work in microbiology.

Since October 2023, Cara has been closely following the crisis in Gaza. Tragically, a Cara Fellow from Gaza who had returned home was killed in January 2024. At the time of writing, the UN estimates that 75% of the population of Gaza, around 1.7 million people, have been displaced within Gaza (2). Amongst those displaced are many academics fleeing for safety – in recent months, Cara has received around 100 applications from Palestine, most of them from academics stuck in Gaza. At present, movement out of Gaza is almost impossible, making it difficult to help. However, Cara is already working on some 15 applications from Palestinians who are outside Gaza, and anticipates receiving many more applications when movement out of Gaza becomes possible again. In preparation for that, Cara needs urgently to hear from universities and research institutes who are prepared to host a Cara Fellow.

If you and your institution would like to help Cara in the work that they do, supporting academics at risk, whether from Gaza, Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine, or anywhere else where academics face persecution or conflict, there are ways you can help. To find out how, please visit Cara’s website. If you are connected with a UK university or research institute, a list of all their ‘contact points’ at partner institutions is available, and the person listed should be able to help you find out more about what your institution is doing. Cara also has to raise the funds it needs for its work each year and, while many universities and foundations are generous supporters, individual donations also play a very important role in Cara’s work. Since Cara’s awards are multi-year, regular donations by direct debit are particularly valuable.

To find out more about the personal impacts of Cara’s work, you can read our previous interview with Professor Adnan Al-Hindi, who received support from the Society through a collaboration with Cara.




  1. UNHCR (2024) Refugee Data Finder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Available at:, Accessed on 12 June 2024
  2. OCHA (2024) Reported impact snapshot | Gaza Strip (9 June 2024), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Available at:, Accessed on 11 June 2024