This project aims to reframe debates about the roles and experiences of local communities and refugees in contexts of conflict-induced displacement in the global South, with a particular focus on displacement from Syria to neighbouring countries in the Middle East.

Through an interdisciplinary, participatory research approach, the researchers developed a more nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise when local communities engage in activities designed to enhance the quality of life of displaced populations. In so doing, the research aims to inform the development of policy, practice and service provision at local, national and international levels.

Meeting these aims continues to be significantly assisted by working closely with a range of project partners and collaborators that include: the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (a network of secular and faith-based NGOs, academics, and local communities); English-PEN and PEN-International; Save the Children’s Humanitarian Affairs Team (HAT); and Prof. Dame Marina Warner’s mobile storytelling initiative, Stories in Transit.

Our Approach

Working closely with local researchers throughout all stages of the project, the team has completed in-depth ethnographic research with nine local communities across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to observe how the members of these communities have experienced and responded to the arrival of refugees from Syria. Through a total of over 450 interviews and a series of participatory research workshops with local community members and refugees, the project has examined their experiences of providing, seeking, receiving and being excluded from different forms of support. The influences of gender, political opinion, ethnicity and religious identity on these processes have been a particular focus. In turn, interviews with over 100 people who work with local, national and international organisations (including UN agencies) are examining their views of local responses to refugees from Syria. This helped the team identify the extent of national and international support for local community responses for refugees.

The obligation to fit the ‘humanitarian narrative’ frequently results in the silencing of refugee experiences and the framing of refugees as suffering victims; this has long acted as a barrier to understanding refugee communities and their perceptions of diverse encounters.

To challenge these assumptions, creative writing workshops with refugees and local communities offered a critical space for participants to simultaneously document, trace and resist experiences of and responses to displacement. In addition to reflecting on their own journeys and personal encounters, participants also explored how their stories connect – in time, style and motif – with those of others, from the present and the past. By presenting these connected stories to a wide range of audiences in the Middle East and the UK, the project aims to challenge the image of the individual suffering refugee with evidence of the creative resistance and resilience of different communities and traditions of refugees and hosts.

Click here to read our ‘Reflections from the Field‘ blog series, here to read our ‘Representations of Displacement‘ series, and here to view and listen to our ‘Creative Archive‘.