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Leiden gave me the space to explore different academic worlds

Before deciding on coming to Leiden for International Studies, Maurice Kirschbaum had already studied two years of law at King’s College in London. During his time as a jurist for SOS Jurists, a local legal aid NGO that helps asylum seekers in the Lake Geneva region, he realised he did not speak any of the languages of the refugees or could understand the politics of their cases he had to take to court. “I wanted to connect with people in those situations, so I applied.”

Article by Judith Laanen

International Studies, from which Maurice graduated in 2019, provided the perfect opportunity, and more. “I am very involved in communities. I want to help people”, Maurice explains. He owes a lot to International Studies, he elaborates: “The main way Leiden helped me, was to permit me to explore different academic worlds. One of the best parts of preparing me for this diversifying world, was the choice of different subjects and learning experiences.” He also made formative experiences in the student community in The Hague. “Through protests and political actions. For most people who studied International Studies, that’s the most valuable part. Leiden gave us the space to do that.”

Refocusing BASIS
And he became even more actively involved in the programme, by refocusing the student union BASIS. Maurice wanted to make it more relevant and efficient. “Before, it wasn’t as tailored to our study programme. But International Studies is area focused, which BASIS lacked. We wanted to partner the student union more with our studies. For example, each area had its own committee. We discussed politics, social movements, music, etcetera. We visited the International Criminal Court, went to London for conferences, travelled around the world for MUN-conferences, we went to the final indictment of the Yugoslavia Tribunal in The Hague.”

Youth Voices
One could argue that Maurice’s earlier experiences in Geneva, led up to his need for involvement. “I was born in Jerusalem but I call Geneva my home.” He lived there for 10 years and has worked there during his studies, as a student ambassador for the Human Rights Council. He strongly believes councils like these need youth voices. “The Human Rights Council are old men in stuffy suits that discuss human rights. The first time I spoke there, I was 19. That is similar to what we were doing with BASIS. The idea that youths cannot get things done is something I want to dispel.”

Master’s in Oxford
At the moment, Maurice is in the midst of his Master’s degree in Migration Studies in Oxford in the United Kingdom. Yet somehow, he still finds time to consult for the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. “It means I have to give three speeches a year”, he clarifies. “It’s three weeks three times a year, for the Human Rights Council.” The last issues he talked about were the displacement of the Rohingya ethnic minority that was pushed out of Myanmar, the general protection of minority rights and religious rights in Iran. “It’s pretty heavy, because you also read reports with 580 pages about atrocities.” 

Helping refugees from Syria
Maurice’s current MA research focus is on refugees and repatriation of refugees in post-conflict Syria. In time, he would like to move to Syria or near Jordan, and maybe evolve that into a PhD. “I want to use my Master’s research as a springboard to get there, because it is directly related to it. Why this is so important for me? Because I worked with Syrian refugees before and have studied issues of forced migration. At the end of a conflict, people have to go back. For example, Syrians in Turkey and the situations they find themselves in – a dangerous situation with lack of rights, punishment for leaving such as property that is taken away – is a very understudied topic. Many people focus on Syrians abroad, but there is a big need to focus on efforts what a post-conflict Syria will look like. We have to be ready for when that happens.” And if it’s up to Maurice, he will definitely be a part of it.

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