Refugee Hosts’ Research challenges perceptions at new IWM exhibition exploring 100 years of refugee experiences

Refugee Hosts’ project is part of a major new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London from the 24th of September – 24th of May 2021. Refugees: Forced to Flee explores why people flee their homes and take certain items with them; how they make their journeys and find safety; and the challenges that can be experienced when re-settling.

To find out more about the exhibition, click here.

The Refugee Hosts’ project’s contribution to the exhibition includes photographs, poems and stories gathered over the course of four years of research in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Europe and the video below, featuring Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh discussing Refugee Hosts’ research, images and stories drawn from our research sites and reading poetry by Refugee Hosts’ writer-in-residence, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh.

These stories tell of the incredible care and support communities responding to displacement are able to mobilise, including refugees themselves, challenging negative perceptions that they are a burden. As Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, the project’s lead, notes: “There’s an assumption that citizens are hosts while refugees are dependent recipients of aid. But, particularly in areas where there has been protracted conflict, those host communities can be formed of previously displaced people who are themselves refugees.”

The project explores the relationships between these communities and displaced people through interviews and participatory workshops, which are documented in an online ‘Community of Conversation’.

As well as contributing to the research output, some of the workshops provided a space for communities to come together. “In one of our workshops in Jordan, a man from Syria spoke of how his pregnant wife had been unable to leave with him. She subsequently died in childbirth. He said his wedding ring reminded him both of the past – his marriage – and his present distance from a child he may never meet,” says Elena.

“The group was formed of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees and Jordanian citizens. It was a powerful moment when they came together to try to help him manage this enormous loss.” Hostility towards refugees is not always inevitable, says Elena, and the project aims to highlight the importance of community response in terms of policies on intervention. “We see people in situations of extreme precarity come together to help each other. Sometimes an international response by a large organisation can destabilise these networks of care,”

To find out more about Refugee Hosts’ research in Lebanon and Jordan, please see our Reflections from the Field Series, or visit our About the Project webpages.

Refugees: Forced to Flee is an exhibition featuring cutting-edge research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Featured image: (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, 2019.

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