The UEL Archives are committed to exploring civic engagement and outreach opportunities to enable greater accessibility to our collections and to facilitate interactions with our materials. On the 16th January, 2015, the University of East London (UEL) launched the Civic Engagement Fund, the aim of which was to provide funding for projects that would support, promote and reinforce connections between academics, staff and communities.  This is aligned to one of the key objectives in the UEL Corporate Plan for 2015-2020, to explore new opportunities to build partnerships that benefit our students and communities, facilitated by UEL staff.

An initial report of our project is available to read below along with access to the first two parts of our launch event video, which include the speaker presentations and panel discussion.

Democratic Access or Privileged Exclusion: Civic Engagement through the Preservation of and Access to Refugee Archives

In February 2015, under the auspices of the UEL Library and Learning Service, and focusing on the preservation of refugees and migrants lived experiences in London, a bid for civic engagement through Refugee Council Archives at UEL and the Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB) was submitted by two CMRB members and associates, Paul Dudman and Dr Rumana Hashem. The project entitled, Democratic Access or Privileged Exclusion: Civic Engagement through the Preservation of and Access to Refugee Archives, sought to use existing Archives held within the UEL Library as a basis to forge new partnerships between students, academics, archivists and community groups.

The aims and objectives of the project included:

  • To engage with local communities to establish a Living Refugee Archive and to promote and enable accessibility and engagement with our existing collections. The existing collections have been documented through the collection of oral histories.
  • To encourage student engagement through the contribution of oral histories and archival materials.
  • To pilot a Refugee Living Archive website to incorporate digital content collated as part of our Oral History Project which could lead to a continuation of the project beyond the initial timescale outlined in the bid.
  • To create the Refugee Archives and History Group to facilitate continued discussions and civic engagement activities, and to help encourage interaction between archivists, community advocates, historians, practitioners, researchers and the migrant communities themselves to understand how the refugee experience can be preserved and documented.

Launch Event Video Part One:  Talks by Guest Speakers.

Awarded with an internal fund from the UEL in early 2015, we have undertaken several consultation meetings with communities, academics, students, archivists and practitioners within the field of refugee and migration studies. As part of the project objectives, we also collected oral history narratives of refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in London which are being preserved and made accessible through Living Refugee Archive, a website that has been created for the preservation of refugee life narratives. The research was a collaborative outreach project between the UEL Archives and the CMRB, and the fund was to be finished by the end of July 2015. Within this time, we have collected five oral histories of non-EU asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants and held a workshop with academics, archivists students, and third sector activists working in the field of migration and refugee policies. The project has ended with the establishment of this Living Refugee Archive website.

The project has raised important questions, such as, who accesses refugee archives? Are refugee archives well-represented in relation to the preservation of lived experience of refugees and migrants? If not, why is this? Who get excluded from refugee-archives, and in what ways? How could we improve access to refugee research archives? On 13 July 2015, in the half –day workshop at the launch event of the project, the project leaders had presented their research outcome in which they discussed how Archives can be useful to the preservation of “memories” of migrants and refugees. We, along with other speakers, argued that oral recording and preservation of lived experience of refugees and migrants are best ways in which social and political history of under-documented and unheard communities could be constructed. This has generated a discussion on how to make archives as accessible, inclusive, representative and democratic which was followed by breakout sessions and a stimulating roundtable and open-discussion between activists, academics, and archivist and refugee participants. The workshop has addressed ethical concerns to the preservation of oral histories and the showcasing of refugee narratives.

Launch Event Video Part Two: Presentations by Project Leaders.

This pilot project has led to an extended international project in October 2015. The later initiative was made possible by an award of International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM)’s Seed Funding 2016.  Through this seed funding we have built new links and established an international Working Group that seeks to document and preserve original history of forced migration at national and international level. The working group include three members of CMRB, including Professor Georgia Dona, Paul Dudman and Rumana Hashem, and and 18 international members, including refugee scholars from MENA region and a former UEL academic Dr Anita Fabos, currently based at the University of Clark, USA. The Working Group is dedicated to generate new thinking and networking for developing forced migration archives and to help with the creation of knowledge on, and the collection, documentation and preservation of forced migration history. We recognise that there is a need to work on how knowledge in the field of forced migration is created/ produced and maintained. The goals for this Working Group are, therefore, to bring together researcher, academics, librarians, archivists, activists, advocates (including NGOs, charities and community groups) who are either interested in the history of forced migration and related fields, or are interested in the care and preservation of the archival and library collections that help to preserve the often hidden voices of the migration journey.  You can join the Working Group through this link-

Launch Event Video Part Three: Discussions and Visit to Archives.

With a focus on networking on genuine narratives of forced migration and refugees, this project addresses the growing critique of the divide between experts and migrants and refugees themselves. We would like to take steps to ensure that the documentation of testimonies associated with the migration journey are actively preserved, and made accessible to individuals, groups and communities – nationally and internally, within and outside academia. The oral histories collected through the pilot project are accessible here on Living Refugee Archive.  A short research article summarising the project outcome is available here.  Further research papers are forthcoming.