MA Student AlHakam Shaar's Remarks at CEU's Opening Ceremony 2017

September 21, 2017

AlHakam Shaar, who is starting an MA degree in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, represented incoming students at the CEU Opening Ceremony on September 18, 2017. His remarks are below. Read more about the ceremony here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Each of us, incoming students, brings our own unique experience to this institution. Let me tell you about mine. For the last three years, I have been Holbrooke Fellow at the School of Public Policy's Shattuck Center, researching my home city of Aleppo, the devastation its people have been through during war and displacement, and their struggle to return and rebuild their homes.

When I arrived here in 2015, I had seen heated debates among Syrians, including friends and family, about getting to safety in Europe. Which countries guarantee my rights to asylum? Which countries have fair procedures to reunite me with my family? But also, where could my rights and dignity be violated and how can I avoid that? I had thought these were mainly intra-Syrian debates, but I was surprised to find that these were some of the most serious questions that researchers at CEU, too, were asking.

When thousands of refugees found themselves stranded in difficult conditions at Budapest's train stations in the summer of 2015, CEU responded. Everyday members of CEU, as part of the wider Budapest community, volunteered at the Keleti, Deli, and Nyugati stations to help those refugees with basic needs from baby diapers to phone charging, but to also engage with them in basic human communication. This is the strong community I am about to join -- as a student with my fellow colleagues.

CEU now offers more scholarships to Syrian and other disadvantaged students. Through projects and events, it has given them a voice and opportunity. Unfortunately, it is such sense of responsibility and academic autonomy, that brought the university under pressure. And it is for this that we must defend it.

As part of my current research on Aleppo, I ask residents about displacement, return and the rebuilding of their lives and communities back home. But what about those who want only partial return, or those whose best bet is to start a new life in their new countries? How are they rebuilding their lives?

As an institution that is independent, bold and in touch with the real problems of the world, CEU, with its Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, couldn't be a better home for my proposed research on the emerging Syrian communities in European cities -- I will be looking at the Berlin example.

I am grateful to outgoing and current members of the School of Public Policy, the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, the university administration and the whole CEU community. And I look forward to meeting fellow students and engaging with them in debates, research work, -- and other fun activities.