Speech Goodwill Ambassador UNHCR Maya Ghazal

On Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 April, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is organising an online conference to present the results of the UNISTAR (University Staff for Refugees) project. The project aims to develop tools and information sets for higher education staff to use who work with refugee students. The opening address will be delivered by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and Syrian refugee Maya Ghazal. Vice-Rector Internationalisation  Professor Romain Meeusen said, "UNISTAR is a project which has delivered a blended learning course with modules for staff who work with refugees. This conference brings the conclusion to the European UNISTAR project.  The online course has been designed and tested, and can now be offered widely to all interested universities."

The conference is the closing event of the UNISTAR project. In it, a blended learning course was proposed that would allow higher education institutions to create a safe and inclusive environment for recognised refugees and students with migratory backgrounds. UNISTAR offers modules for university staff to better support refugee students in  education. Four modules were developed: Becoming a Refugee, Refugees on Campus, Well-being on Campus, and Inclusive Teaching and Diversity. UNISTAR is an EU-funded Strategic Partnership project. The VUB International Relations Office has been coordinating the UNISTAR project, in collaboration with four European universities (Vilnius, Alcala, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, and Alice Salomon Hochschule), the UNHCR, and one European Universities network (European University Foundation).

The aim of the event is to present the UNISTAR project and its results, launch the final version of the course, present the course modules and provide a platform to reflect on the topics covered in the course. The conference will also ensure that participants are given specific insight into the course’s modules during the workshops that are organised. The online event has seen an increase in participating from staff and academics due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The plan is for the online course to be sustainable and be made available in several languages in the future.

Maya Ghazal

Maya Ghazal is a Syrian refugee and was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in 2021. In 2015, Maya Ghazal fled Damascus and at the age of 16 began a new life in the UK under a family reunification programme.  As outlined on the UNHCR website, she taught herself English and managed to resume her interrupted studies. Through a combination of hard work and determination, she is now studying for a degree in aeronautical engineering and pilot studies at the University of London. At the age of 21, Maya fulfilled her dream of becoming the first female Syrian refugee pilot and now has her sights set on obtaining a private pilot's license to become a commercial pilot. Sharing her own inspiring story, Maya advocates for refugee inclusion, access to education and job opportunities.

Student Refugee Programme and INCampus programme

For several years now, the VUB has been committed to integrating refugee students into mainstream education. In response to the migration flow in Belgium, which peaked in 2015, the VUB set up the Welcome Student Refugee programme for students who want to continue or start their academic studies. The programme provides the necessary guidance in the various processes of study choice and administrative processes.

The InCampus Programme is a preparatory track of one academic year for refugee students who have the necessary discipline-related knowledge but still need additional guidance with Dutch or English language skills, knowledge about the education system, cultural orientation and information about VUB services available to them.

More information can be found here