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Communications of the ACM

Viewpoint

Universities and Computer Science in the European Crisis of Refugees


students at TU Wein

Students at an end-of-year celebration at the Faculty of Informatics of TU Wien, Austria, in June 2016.

Credit: Faculty of Informatics / TU Wein

The current crisis of refugees has divided European countries and societies into those who welcome refugees and those who oppose taking them. In this Viewpoint, we reflect on the role of universities and of computer science in such situations. As a case study, we describe an activity taken at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology): when the crisis of refugees culminated in summer 2015, a group of professors and students of the Faculty of Informatics initiated computer courses for unaccompanied young refugees. This project allowed the refugees to gain computer-related knowledge, and, equally important, to make contacts with local students. Another major goal of the project was to give a clear message that refugees are welcome. Considering the attention received in the media and in the public, we are convinced universities have significant influence and reputation in society that puts them in a favorable position to promote tolerance and to encourage other institutions to act similarly.

When this Viewpoint was written in early 2016, the crisis of refugees due to the wars in the Middle East had become one of the main European problems. The regional governments in the neighboring countries and in Europe are overwhelmed and have not yet been able to find good, or at least feasible, solutions to this problem. Furthermore, this crisis has divided the European leaders and countries. On one hand, several states have been opening the borders for the refugees and many citizens have shown solidarity. On the other hand, a serious increase of intolerance toward the refugees in many European countries has to be reported. Furthermore, right-wing political parties in different regions have gained substantial popularity and have been (mis)using the current situation to reach their goals in elections.


 

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