The Sergio Vieira de Mello Chairs Opening University Doors to Refugees

Universidade Católica de Santos (UniSantos) becomes the new chair of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network
Multi-stakeholder & partnership approaches

The Sergio Vieira de Mello Chairs Opening University Doors to Refugees

Universidade Católica de Santos (UniSantos) becomes the new chair of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network
05 May 2023

The Universidade Católica de Santos (UniSantos) became the new chair of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network (GAIN), launched at the Global Refugee Forum 2019. UniSantos and UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding reaffirming the university’s commitment to research, teaching, and support for displaced students and scholars through the Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Chairs (De Mello Chairs) and the chairmanship of GAIN.

The De Mello Chairs is the flagship initiative identified by GAIN for expansion. They were set up in 2004 by UNHCR to promote academic activities related to refugees and displaced persons in Brazil. The De Mello Chairs network comprises 38 universities across Brazil. Thanks to the work of GAIN in partnership with UniSantos, the network now includes 46 in five countries worldwide, including Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, the United Kingdom and Ethiopia.

Sergio Vieira de Mello was a lifelong diplomat and UN veteran. He started his career with the UN refugee agency in 1969, serving in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia posts. He was a tireless advocate for refugees and went on to assume numerous senior positions on behalf of the UN Secretary-General. On 19 August 2003, Vieira de Mello and 22 colleagues were killed when the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was attacked.

In the spirit of Vieira de Mello. the De Mello Chairs make a difference to asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons by ensuring a whole-of-university engagement in addressing forced displacement, from actionable research that responds to local needs and influences policy- and decision-making to refugee access to tertiary education and academic jobs.

Universities that become De Mello Chairs also contribute to achieving the targets from the 15by30 campaign (15% of refugees enrolled in tertiary education by 2030) by opening doors to refugees through scholarships, facilitated admission procedures and diploma validation. They also promote innovative changes in university policies to adapt to refugee needs by offering language classes, legal aid, and psychosocial support tailored to forcibly displaced and stateless persons. 

The inaugural Chair of GAIN, Professor Geoff Gilbert from Essex University since 2020, formally handed over his role as Chair to Professor Liliana Lyra Jubilut, from UniSantos who from the Global South also brings 25 years of experience working both practically and academically on refugee issues.

Professor Liliana Lyra Jubilut teaches a Postgraduate Programme in Law, is essential in ensuring that Global South scholars and practitioners are better represented in global policy forums. Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, said:

"I am very happy to see the leadership of UniSantos in GAIN. I believe this is a first step to ensure that the Global South is better represented in the Global Refugee Forum later this year and other global policy forums."

Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees

The active and engaged participation of all the De Mello Chairs will be crucial to promoting innovative solutions by academics worldwide who, through GAIN can better support each other’s efforts towards teaching, research and solidarity in support for the forcibly displaced.

"Moving forward, I hope to contribute to GAIN by amplifying and diversifying the network membership and the De Mello Chairs initiative; expanding academic engagement with other stakeholders and with protection towards the implementation of the GCR; enhancing dialogues and exchanges, and, most importantly, promoting academic opportunities, active participation and contributions from forcibly displaced persons, in all their diversity, in academia and GCR implementation at all levels."

Liliana Lyra Jubilut, Professor UniSantos, Chair of GAIN