Husam Al-deen Al-Barazy was working as a lecturer in language education at the University of Damascus when the school started getting bombed. He fled Syria last year with his family, and then he and his sister sailed on a cramped boat with 300 others from Libya to Italy. They ended up in the small German town of Düppenweiler, near the French border, where the German unemployment office offered Al-Barazy a job at a laundromat.
It looked as if he wouldn’t be returning to academia for a long time. But then he saw a story on German public television about the Journal of Interrupted Studies—a place where migrants like him who had been forced to flee could submit academic work.
Al-Barazy wrote up and submitted a proposal for the doctoral research he ultimately wished to pursue, on classroom practices for teaching pronunciation and word stress patterns to high-level English learners. In June, the Journal of Interrupted Studies published the article in its inaugural issue, along with five other articles also written by migrants in Europe who had been uprooted by disaster at home. The goal: not just to offer displaced people the rare chance to publish their work, but to change the popular image of migrants.
“Most people have pity [for] refugees,” Al-Barazy says. “But they’re not usually aware of their potential.”
Paul Ostwald, one of the journal’s editors, says that news organizations are partly to blame for negative perceptions of migrants. Most portray the refugee crisis “as a lot of very poor people coming across the borders with basically nothing but a backpack full of blankets,” he says. He and his classmate and coeditor Mark Barclay, both in their final year of undergraduate studies at Oxford University, hope the journal can help create a more nuanced portrait of people coming to Europe with something to offer. They want to “amplify the voices of those people who had been frankly denied their voice,” Barclay says.
The idea has been well received in the academic community. News coverage has led to flooded inboxes for the editors and offers from professors to help review submissions. Now, 140 academic reviewers are ready to help, according to Ostwald. The hardest part, says Barclay, has been getting the word out to refugees who worked in academia in their home countries. News coverage and social media, however, helped bring in nearly 40 submissions for the first issue. The editors say they have enough material and volunteer capacity to put out a second issue around mid-November.
Barclay notes that the Oxford brand may be helping attract students and teachers like Al-Barazy who want to rebuild their reputations. To enhance its image, the journal has sought to maintain an academic look and format, even though it’s often impossible to verify contributors’ academic credentials when their home universities are unreachable. The coeditors based the publication’s look off of existing journals in Oxford’s library. “If only there’d been a journal on how to make journals,” Barclay says with a laugh. “That would have been fantastic.”
The journal also sticks to academic norms in its review process. Although biographies appear in the published issue, the academic reviewers are blind to the stories behind the submissions they look at. “If you receive a paper from someone who’s had a horrific journey across the Mediterranean Sea and has family members back there,” Ostwald says, “you might end up overrating papers or not judging them by their academic quality.”
The six articles in the journal’s first issue mostly cover social science topics. One sits on the fence between analysis and narrative: In “Interrupted Sequences of Normality,” Ameena Abdulrahman, now a teacher in Germany, writes about being forced to move from place to place throughout the Middle East, yet trying to stay connected to the students she taught in each location. Barclay says that although the piece isn’t strictly academic, its examination of education’s role in refugees’ lives makes it appropriate for the journal. Many others submitted harrowing, first-person accounts but were referred to newspapers or other outlets.
As for Al-Barazy, he and his sister keep looking for opportunities in Germany, while their parents remain stuck in Turkey. He is taking computer science courses online through Kiron University, a free online college for refugees. Someday, he hopes to complete the research he proposed in the Journal of Interrupted Studies and earn his PhD. In the meantime, he may submit another piece to the journal. “I’m grateful to be given this opportunity to contribute to humanity,” he says.