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Dr Anan Haidar: “The Philipp Schwartz Initiative offers me the opportunity to continue my academic career”

Name: Dr Anan Haidar
Lives in: Cologne, Germany
Country of origin: Syria
Period in Germany: since 2014 in Wermelskirchen and Cologne
Educational and research institution: Institute for International Peace and Security Law at the University of Cologne
Occupation: Legal scholar, currently a fellow of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative  of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Dr Anan Haidar (39) was born and raised in Salamiyah, a city in western Syria. She graduated from Damascus University School of Law with a Bachelor’s in Law and then a Diploma in Criminal Justice. She was appointed as a teaching assistant at Damascus University in 2001. In addition to her work at the University, she took the Bar exam to practise law in Syria, specialising in criminal cases.

In mid-2004, Anan Haidar travelled to England in order to study at the University of Reading, first obtaining a Master’s in Advanced Legal Studies, then a PhD in International Criminal Law. She returned to Syria in late 2010 and started work as a lecturer at Damascus University School of Law. She left Syria in July 2014 and fled to Germany. Awarded a Philipp Schwartz scholarship in mid-2016, she is now continuing her academic career in Cologne.

The Philipp Schwartz Initiative ...

... was established by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2015 with support from the German Federal Foreign Office. It provides universities and research institutions in Germany with the means to host threatened foreign researchers for a period of 24 months on a fully funded research fellowship. Since summer 2016, the fellowships have enabled these scholars to continue their work at universities and research institutions in Germany.

Threatened researchers from any academic field and any country of origin are eligible for a Philipp Schwartz fellowship if they

  • have completed their doctorate or a comparable academic degree (PhD, CSc or equivalent)
  • at the time of applying, have not been resident outside their own country for more than three years; researchers who hold German university entrance qualifications (“Bildungsinländer”)  are not eligible
  • possess the language skills required to successfully conduct their research projects
  • have a proven track record in their chosen field  (e.g. publications)
  • have the potential to be integrated into the (research-related) job market.

The Humboldt Foundation imposes no restrictions with regard to country of origin or current location if the threat can be confirmed in accordance with the programme guidelines.

Philipp Schwartz Initiative

How did you find out about the Philipp Schwartz Initiative scholarship programme and how were you able to make a successful application?

Anan Haidar: I found out about the possibility of a Philipp Schwartz scholarship from the International Office in Cologne, which put me in touch with Professor Claus Kreß, a specialist in International Law and International Criminal Law, who is also the Director of the Institute for International Peace and Security Law at the University of Cologne. Without his great support and the good cooperation and coordination between the Institute and the International Office, my application would not have been successful.

Tell us about your research project in Germany.

Anan Haidar: I would like to revise my PhD thesis, entitled “Regionalising International Criminal Justice with Particular Reference to the Middle East”, and deepen my arguments in certain areas. My aim is to publish my thesis as a book or a series of articles in the Cologne Occasional Papers on International Peace and Security Law, which are edited by Professor Kreß.

A second element of my research project will be to write a new paper examining the Arab approach to international criminal justice and the possibility of prosecuting crimes under international law committed in Syria.

Simply to have a safe place to live without fear

Did you have any specific expectations of your time in Germany?

Anan Haidar: I knew that Germany was coping with a massive influx of refugees so my expectations were fairly realistic. I simply wanted to have a safe place to live without fear.

Have these expectations been met?

Anan Haidar: Before moving to Cologne in July 2016, I lived in Wermelskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia. There, I not only had a safe place to live: I also had very nice neighbours who were very kind and helpful to my family and me. We are still in contact. The majority of people I have met are kind and friendly.

What exceeded my expectations most? Undoubtedly the help and support I have received from Professor Kreß and the staff working at Cologne University’s International Office, in particular Dr Müller, and of course having the scholarship from the Philipp Schwartz Initiative as a result of this wonderful support. The scholarship has given me the opportunity to continue my academic career, for which I am very grateful.

Starting life from zero

What do you see as the greatest challenges facing you in Germany?

Anan Haidar: The main challenge is having to start our lives from zero, learning the German language and finding work. We want to live in dignity and not feel that we are a burden. We want others to accept us and recognise us as individuals and not strangers.

How has living in Germany influenced your professional and personal life?

Anan Haidar: After I lost all hope in Syria and left, living in Germany gives me fresh hope of being able to live a normal life in safety with my family – my husband and my son, who was born on 30 April 2015 in Germany.

The Philipp Schwartz Initiative scholarship is helping me to get back on track and continue
my academic career. Starting life in another country brings many new challenges. The culture, the language, the people – everything is different from what I know. But I believe that living in Germany can enrich my life.

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

Anan Haidar: It is quite difficult for me to have clear plans for the future, because I am just starting afresh. I would like to learn German and keep working hard at my job so I can continue my academic career. My hope is for peace to be restored in Syria and to live in peace and dignity here in Germany with my family.

“I do not know what home means”

What do you think about when you hear the word “home” ?

Anan Haidar: It is difficult for me to answer that question. I really do not know what “home” means. I have never felt home anywhere – not in Syria, nor in England or here in Germany.

In Syria, I always felt torn between what I wanted and what was socially and politically acceptable. Although I come from a very close family, I never felt at home in Syria. In England, I was a student and my stay was temporary. It was hard for me to see England as my home because I knew that I would have to leave after finishing my studies. In Germany, I am a refugee and I am still trying to build a life for myself and find my way. It is hard to feel at home if you don’t have a permanent job or any stability in life.

I don’t know what “home” means, but I do know what is NOT home. It is not home if you cannot live as you want. It is not home if your stay is temporary. It is not home if you have no stability. My hope is that Germany will feel like home to me in the future.

What does living abroad mean to you?

Anan Haidar: Living abroad means two things: first, the opportunity to make a fresh start and to live a normal and successful life; and second, the need to work harder than other people because of the many obstacles that I have to overcome, such as the language.

How might a foreign country such as Germany start to feel like “home”?

Anan Haidar: Germany’s welcoming culture, especially from civil society, has helped my family and me as refugees to feel more at home. This also gives me hope that Germany might become our real home once we speak German and find work here. With friends and a stable normal life, I think Germany could become our home in future.

Do you think a change of location can offer personal or professional benefits?

Anan Haidar: Moving to a new country can give people the opportunity to get to know new places, a new language and a new culture, to have new experiences and to make progress in their careers. Travel can help us deepen our understanding of other cultures, and this can enrich our personal and professional lives.

See Anan Hadar´s profile in the community

Interview: Verena Striebinger

January 2017

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