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Science in Exile podcast: how research by one displaced social scientist is uncovering the realities of labour market integration for highly skilled migrants

ISC Presents: Science in Exile features interviews with refugee and displaced scientists who share their science, their stories of displacement, and their hopes for the future.

The series has been developed as a contribution to the Science in Exile initiative, and will feature members of the project’s steering committee as well as other scholars involved in the initiative. The aim is to give a platform to displaced scientists to share their first-hand experiences, and to raise awareness of the issues faced by refugee, at-risk and displaced scholars.

You can hear the series first by following ISC Presents on your podcast platform of choice, or by visiting ISC Presents.

In this episode of the Science in Exile series we hear from Esmeray Yogun, a sociologist whose research focuses on the integration of highly skilled migrants in the labour market. Yogun is originally from Turkey, but was forced to leave for France after having been identified as a political activist.


Esmeray: Being the displaced scientist, it is terrible. At the same time it seems like the picture is like perfect because you will meet with lots of different people, this new adventure, yes! But did I want it? No. But I am here – I am a displaced scientist. 

Husam: I am your host Husam Ibrahim and this is the Science in Exile podcast. In this series, we get an insight into the lives of scientists who are in exile, and we discuss how the past, present and future of science can be preserved across borders. This podcast is a part of an ongoing refugee and displaced scientists initiative run by Science International, a joint project by The World Academy of Sciences, the InterAcademy Partnership, and the International Science Council. On today’s episode, we have Esmeray Yogun, a Turkish academic and social scientist. She currently works as an executive secretary at the European Sociological Association in Paris, France. In 2016, when she was still living in Turkey, she signed a petition in reference to the Kurdish Turkish conflict, which led the Turkish government in declaring her as a terrorist and sentencing her to prison. As a result, Esmeray was forced to migrate from her home in Turkey. 

Esmeray: I think it’s better if I a little bit talk about Academics for Peace because that’s the core of my story . And this Academics of Peace – actually, it goes back before the petition – it is founded in 2012 and it’s especially to support the Kurdish prisoners and their demands for peace in Turkey. But in 2016 there was this ‘We will not be a party of this crime’ petition. And after signing this petition what happened actually is that it was declared to the public, to a press conference. The signatories who’s number at the time was already around 2,338. So, what happened is that hundreds of them immediately have been fired from their jobs and their passports have been cancelled, confiscated. And if they are looking for the jobs and positions at the University in Turkey, they are prevented from finding jobs or several were physically and verbally threatened. So, then everything has changed. The signatories, including me, have faced civil death through the cooperation of the government, the commissions of higher education and the university managements.  

As a result, I had to leave the country because there was a case. And at the court I gave my statement to the judge, and then the case was including a seven and a half year imprisonment because of the terrorist propaganda… Crazy, you know, it’s crazy! Of course, I immediately want to leave the country.  

It was a trauma, actually. Because you know you’re really sure that you have to do something and you’re determined to do something, but when it becomes too real and then when you lost your life, you lost your job, when you see that it is becoming serious and you need to leave the country, it’s a violation, you know. It’s real violation against you, against your colleagues, against the other signatories.  

For example, I remember that one of the colleagues, he knocked on my door and then he said ‘sorry, but in the public places, I’ll not say hi to you anymore’, like in the canteen, the cafeterias. You know why? Because I was a terrorist now. Can you imagine?  

You cannot make your life anymore in Turkey, I had to leave. As I said, when you have trauma, during the trauma you’re not behaving like a professional because it wasn’t a part of my career plan. My career plan was that I was going to stay in Turkey, have my associate professorship and continue my life there. Of course, I am not against to be abroad but it wasn’t going to be this way, you know? It was not going to be forced migration. I could leave my country, of course, no problem. But it was not going to be like this. It was not going to put your whole life in one backpack and then leave your home.  

Husam: When you realized that you had to migrate from Turkey, how did you decide that you wanted France to be your host country? 

Esmeray: I was so stressed, and I started thinking ‘ok, where I can go? How and what I do?’.  France was not really at the top of my list because before coming here I was not able to speak French. But, you know, in 2017, November, the post is funded in France and there was an opportunity to apply and look for the host institution. And so, it was one of the alternatives that I had, so I applied and then it worked.  

Husam: You’ve told me that you identify yourself currently as being a displaced scientist, how would you define that status? And how does it make you feel?  

Esmeray: What I am here – I am displaced scientist and do I want to carry this ‘displaced’ like a title on my head? No, I don’t want. I’m a scientist and I’m a human being. And now my life has really built everything on it because I have to go that direction and I feel like each time I am trying to step out, life is putting me back in there because it’s my reality now.  

Husam: How has your work as a social scientist been affected? You’ve focused your research on migrant labour market integration. Since your time in Turkey, you’re continuing to do research on labour market integration of highly skilled migrants. Could you tell me a little bit more about your research?  

Esmeray: It’s about active labour market policies of the government and policy comparison. It’s about the displaced migrants, especially the highly skilled ones like us and the labour market integration in France. I am trying to understand what are the barriers of these active labour market programs, what are the obstacles of the active labour market programs.  

You are living the war and then you’re coming, but there is another war, and it’s an economic war. It’s not against the Justice and Development Party maybe like in Turkey, but here it’s another struggle, another pit, another problem. We call it the integration. First of all, of course, the labour market integration and the second is social integration. And surely the language is the centre in France. 

And so, I decide about this and my background idea approach was actually – it’s about, let’s say the connection between the university, the State, and the business world and market world, which is known as the triple spiral. You can support this triple spiral, which means that if you can make the integration well, integration of the business world with the universities and then you can enrich actually by this triple spiral. So, it’s very essential to have educated scientists and innovative approaches in different areas of the labour market. 

So, at that point, I think it’s important to highlight the displaced scientists as – they are a trap for the government’s or they are the opportunity for the government. It is ready workforce. Can you imagine it’s 50,000 euros just for one PhD? And then you are receiving lots of [migrants] from the Middle East, from the undeveloped countries as a Europe country. And then, if you cannot really well integrate them into your market, you’re just wasting these people. To create the knowledge- base, France it’s necessary, the government has to understand the value of this sleeping treasure. 

Husam: So what’s the current state of labour market integration for highly skilled migrants in France, and in Europe, according to research? 

Esmeray: In France, there are lots of labour market integration studies, but the problem is there are not educated research on highly skilled displaced migration. Because when we are talking about the migration it is not the highly skilled first of all, and if it is highly skilled, it is not displaced. 

But it doesn’t mean that we cannot prove the discrimination in the labour market. There are lots of interesting studies. For example in France, I remember a bunch of the academics they apply for the job with the more Arabic names and with more western names. And there was a very significant difference between getting the job invitation. And if you have like an Arabic name, you know, it’s really difficult to get even a job invitation despite [having] sent – it was research – very overqualified CVs.   

I would like to give a little bit of terminology again, that brain drain is an immigration of territory educated residence for permanent or long stays abroad, which is mostly followed by decreasing in economic growth or brain export or brain mobilization. Now, lots of European commissions they are talking about this mobilization to make it happen actually. And so, the characteristics of the labour market integration of the refugees, actually the integration is very slow and lower employment rates – I’m talking about the EU – and lower rates than the natives. So even for the same job, I can say that, you know, if you’re an immigrant you’re making less money than the native. And female migrants and refugees get relatively low labour market outcomes, especially in the short run. And economic market conditions of the host country at the time of the entry can really affect the integration duration and speed of integration.  

For me it’s very important to indicate two terminologies – deskilling and reskilling. This is as a result of the weak integration policies. You know, the deskilling, for example you’re a medical doctor from Syria or Turkey and then you accept work as a health expert, the support expert, like a technician. It’s still in the same sector, but you’re really deskilled by the market. Why? Because to get the job, what you’re thinking [is] ‘Okay, at least it is better than nothing.’ 

Let me finish the reskilling also. Reskilling is, for example, you have a master PhD degree, but I do the second PhD here for the accreditation of my diplomas or the skills. So, we call it the reskilling. It is again really expensive and bad because it is again the result of the weak integration policies. There is no reason to deskill them, no reason to ask them to go and to re-educate to get another diploma which is unnecessary. And it is really against the knowledge society, you know? The knowledge society, you cannot go with the reskilling and deskilling because those both are wasting time, wasting the economy.  

Husam: What would you say are some ways of increasing the speed of labour market integration for highly skilled migrants? 

Esmeray: So, my idea was to have a kind of public employment service for the highly skilled migrants to be the linkage between the candidate and the job opportunity.  

But the problem is, if you’ve been teaching at the university since 20 years then maybe the competence, the skills, the knowledge, you have to work on [them] a little bit to make a value for the business or the employer. So, there you need the programme.  

That was the basic idea of my project, actually. One is the creation of the job pool from the information getting from the employers and which is a great opportunity for them and for the social responsibility. And the other part was to be in contact with the candidate itself, that’s the highly skilled migrants in France, and to prepare them for the real job market. Actually, in Canada, in New Zealand, two years ago there was another project – in Bulgaria also – I saw that it is working. You just need to put the right elements together and then make them work.   

Husam: Thank you Esmeray Yogun for being on this episode and sharing your story and research with Science International.  

This podcast is a part of an ongoing refugee and displaced scientists project called science in exile. It’s run by science international, an initiative in which three global science organizations collaborate at the forefront of science policy. These are, the International Science Council, the world Academy of Sciences and the InterAcademy Partnership.  

For more information on the science in exile project please head over to: Council.Science/Scienceinexile

The information, opinions and recommendations presented by our guests do not necessarily reflect the values and beliefs of Science International.


The information, opinions and recommendations presented by our guests are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the values and beliefs of Science International, an initiative bringing together top-level representatives of three international science organizations: the International Science Council (ISC,) the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), and The World Academy of Sciences (UNESCO-TWAS).

Header photo: Masakazu Matsumoto via Flickr.

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