It will shortly be the anniversary of a day Zahra A., Huma Z., Ahmed Shoaib Joya and Mohammad Mustafa Naier* will never forget. On 15th August 2021 the Afghan government fell to the Taliban. The four alumni of the Computer Science master’s program run by the Center for International and Intercultural Communication (ZiiK) at TU Berlin fled their offices in fear of their lives, went partly into hiding, and from one day to the next lost not only their jobs but also the sense of hope they had carried back with them to their homeland after completing their studies in Berlin.
The TU Berlin Executive Board lost no time in making funding available for emergency grants to enable IT alumni to travel as visiting scholars from Afghanistan to Germany. Each grant provided by TU Berlin covers a period of six months and is worth more than 1200 euros per month. This makes “Bridge IT – Integration program for IT alumni at risk at TU Berlin” the largest self-financed project at a German university to provide support for Afghan academics.
“Our support does not end with the arrival of alumni in Germany. The people who have been able to travel to Germany through the Bridge IT program continue to need our support. It is important that they are able to enter the labor market here or else pursue an academic career. We want to support them in this. This is part of what being a university means: forming networks, not only to share knowledge but also to provide help in exceptional circumstances. This sense of community and alumni is very much alive here at TU Berlin,” says TU president Professor Dr. Geraldine Rauch.
A total of 62 persons have benefited from the funding. 43 were already in Germany. A further six alumni are currently preparing to leave Afghanistan or are waiting in another country to continue their journey to Germany. Including family members, this means that some 220 people will be able to travel from Afghanistan to Germany with support provided by TU Berlin.
The Center for International and Intercultural Communication has been involved in development work in the IT sector in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and its activities include coordinating the development of a number of IT centers. The Center is headed by Dr. Nazir Peroz, who has striven tirelessly with his former colleagues to build a bridge to Germany to help TU Berlin alumni to escape from Afghanistan. The organization of support measures is the responsibility of the Department of International Affairs.
The scholarship holders now have the chance to find work as IT specialists or continue their academic careers in Germany. Support is coordinated by the newly formed section Transnational Education and International Knowledge Transfer within the Department of International Affairs. In addition to general continuing education programs, such as language courses, and advising offers focusing on issues such as residency, two programs are being developed focusing on funding for academic careers and help with finding work in the German labor market. “We have already been able to successfully recruit supervisors for doctoral studies and one scholarship holder even received a PhD scholarship from the Hilde Domin Programme of the German Academic Exchange Service,” says Dr. Ulrike Hillemann-Delaney, director of the Department of International Affairs. “However, we are looking for other evaluators to officially take over the role of supervisor.” To finance the accompanying program, funding of 146,400 euros was successfully obtained from the DAAD and the Department of International Affairs at TU Berlin plans to design further integration measures through post-qualification and continuing education programs for academics in and from crisis regions as well as apply for funding for this purpose.
* Note: Some names have been abbreviated.
“As a student back then in Germany, I discovered a different world and my time at TU Berlin changed me. Previously, I had seen studying as a chance to improve my own personal situation. But during my studies, I came to realize that things can only get better for me if they also get better for the people in our society. This was my great dream when I returned to Afghanistan in 2021: I wanted to bring about change in our country. On the day the Taliban stormed Kabul, I had been working as an IT specialist for six months in the presidential office of the government in Kabul. Our task was to develop a digitalization strategy for Afghanistan. I am very grateful for the help provided by TU Berlin and in particular Nazir Peroz in getting me to Germany. But I really miss my family and it is a real struggle to overcome my feelings of homesickness. I am lucky to have good contacts to other alumni from Afghanistan. Talking to them really helps me. Finding work in Germany is not so easy. Many employers are looking for practical experience and that is what I don’t have. But I am continuing to look for work as I need to earn money here to support my family back home.”
Mohammad Mustafa Naier:
“My last position was director of public key infrastructure in the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology where my responsibilities included developing an IT infrastructure for all state organizations in Afghanistan. I also worked as an assistant professor for computer science at Kabul Polytechnic University. My great dream was to develop a national data center for Afghanistan. I had already achieved some success with this in my position as director of public key infrastructure. The situation in Afghanistan prevented me from realizing this dream. However, I am now pursuing another of my dreams: working in academia. I want to do a doctorate. It is important for me to support young people in Afghanistan and help ensure they get a good education. At the moment they have no prospects and feel very discouraged. I still have a lot of contact to my old students and support them where I can. I am also involved in developing a German-Afghan online university education platform with the aim of networking German and Afghan students.
“I am happy to have the opportunity to live here in safety and peace. When I had the chance to come to Germany thanks to my TU Berlin grant, I was certain I would never wish to return to Afghanistan. However, when I arrived here I immediately missed my home country. I definitely want to return as soon as the situation improves. I fear for my family and their safety. The situation is particularly bad for women. They are not allowed to study or work. They are stripped of their freedom and live in constant danger. I am currently working as a volunteer in an online program where I teach programming to students from all over Germany.
Once I had finished my master’s I returned back home. I took up work there, but I could not continue as a result of the change of regime. I can imagine doing a doctorate, but first I would like to gain practical experience working in companies and put what I have learned during my studies to practical use.”
Ahmad Shoaib Joya:
“I never thought that I would return to Germany as a refugee. After completing my studies at TU Berlin in 2021, I returned to Afghanistan to help my country. I worked in a number of IT projects in the Office of the President in Kabul. There were many young people in our team who wanted to do something and who had plenty of ideas and motivation. We believed in the strength in our country and democracy. That changed overnight on 15 August 2021. Everything we had built up was destroyed in just a few short hours. We lost our jobs from one day to the next. Afghanistan is isolated. Whenever anything happens there, the world does not get to hear about it and there is no longer any exchange with other countries and cultures. It is my generation’s task to change this. We have to help provide a good education for young people to bring democracy to Afghanistan.”