Refugee Council Archive

The Refugee Council Archive initially arrived at the University of East London in the Autumn of 2002, in order to help support the research and teaching being undertaken as part of the postgraduate MA course in Refugee Studies.  An official opening of the Refugee Council Archive subsequently took place on Wednesday 21st May 2003 . This provided an excellent opportunity to promote the Archive and to encourage students, researchers, community groups and refugees themselves to use an Archive which is of both national and international importance. Jeff Crisp, head of the Evaluation and Policy Unit of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees attended the opening ceremony and said of the Archive: `this is a fabulous resource, and it contains some extremely are items unavailable anywhere else in the world. In the field of refugee studies, we are all very focused on all that is happening in the world today, but for full understanding we need to know about our history and learn lessons from the past.’ Fazil Kawani, Communication Director at the Refugee Council observed, `this archive dates back to 1951 and we are delighted that it is now being hosted by UEL. East London has a diverse population including many communities founded by refugees. It is also important as a record of people’s lives; people who have crossed borders and been forced to leave homes, livelihoods and families.’

Details of the launch event were documented in the Guardian newspaper with their article, UEL unveils refugee archive, published on Tuesday 23 May, 2003.

History of the Refugee Council

The history of the Refugee Council Archive can be traced back to 1951 when it was initially conceived by the forerunners of the Refugee Council. The Archive was extensively developed over a period of three decades from the 1960s to the late 1990s. This resulted in the Council establishing an Archive of international importance covering refugee issues from all over the world, but with a particularly strong emphasis on British materials. The Archive is an important resource for the study of resettlement, displacement, flight and exile, refugee experiences and community life, and legal, political and social issues.

A history of the development of the Refugee Council itself can be found here.


Refugee Council Archive

The Refugee Council Archive at the University of East London represents one of the largest collections of materials relating to the study of forced migration and the refugee. It is a source of information and analysis on displacement, flight and exile; on legal, political and social issues; and on refugee community life.

The Archive contains materials on refugees in all parts of the world, with special emphasis on Britain. It was originally housed at the Refugee Council, the lead organization in Britain on refugee issues. For over 50 years the Refugee Council collected official and unofficial reports, books and journals, newsletters, conference proceedings, research documents, field reports, informal data, and working papers. It also developed an extensive library of press cuttings.  In addition to this Special Collection, the Archive also contains archival material recording the history of the Refugee Council as an organisation.

The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives published in 2006 describes the Refugee Council Archive as follows:

“The Refugee Council was established in 1981 by the merger of the British Council for Aid to Refugees (BCAR) and the Standing Conference on Refugees (SCOR). The Council exists to `campaign for refugees’ rights in Great Britain and abroad, and to advise individuals of their legal position as refugees.  The archives of the BCAR and SCOR have been retained by the Council.  The papers of the Refugee Council itself may be classified as comprising the minutes of the Executive Council; official correspondence with government and the United Nations officials, and individual refugee case files.  Further details may be obtained from the Head of Information, but it should be understood that owing to the Council’s limited resources access to the papers are likely to be restricted.” (Reference: Chris Cook, The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives: Sources since 1945.  Abingdon: Routledge, 2006: page 370. Available in the Refugee Council Archive reading room at QU9.2 COO).

The Refugee Council Archive uses a classification scheme initially created by the Refugee Council. This was established solely for the cataloguing of refugee-related materials and the scheme covers most geographical regions and countries. Archival materials are indexed using terms taken from the International Thesaurus of Refugee Terminology produced by the UNHCR and now available online at Major sections of the Archive are organised under topics including:

`country of origin conditions; causes of flight; migration; asylum; assistance; adaptation; special groups and organizations. Materials are organised according to state of origin of refugees in question; the main regions include Central Asia, East Asia, South-East Asia, West Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, North Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, Europe, America, Caribbean , Latin America and Oceania.’

Whilst the Refugee Council Archive at UEL is one of the foremost archival collections relating to the study of migration and refugee issues, it also continues to retain an inter-disciplinary flavour.

`Materials held are relevant to research in refugee studies, demography and migration studies, policies history, geography, law, legal studies, international relations, sociology, social welfare, ethnic and diasporic studies, psycho-social studies, community studies and social studies.’ There are rare documents unique to this collection, published books and journals, a large quantity of published and unpublished articles and reports; conference papers and grey literature; newsletters, research documents; field reports and working papers.

One of our key objectives is to actively collect new items for the Collection and to increase both the national and international coverage of what we hold. We are also continuing the extensive press cuttings service which was established by the Refugee Council and contain a large number of cuttings pertaining to refugee and migration issues. There is now a significant amount of pre 1998 cuttings plus a comprehensive coverage of regional, national and UNHCR cuttings from 1998 through to the present day.

Whilst we are keen to develop the archival collection, we are equally determined to promote and facilitate access to the Refugee Council Archive at UEL for those wishing to use it. Our goal is to not only promote access amongst traditional researchers, academic students, policy makers and NGOs, but to also make a concerted effort to make the Archive accessible to refugee groups and individual refugees themselves. Access to dedicated resources on refugee studies and forced migration can often be difficult for refugees to access so we are hoping to raise awareness of the Archive amongst refugee groups and communities.

The Refugee Council Archive at UEL has links with the Refugee Council, the London Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford , the Info rmation Centre about Asylum and Refugees based at King’s College London and the Archive is also helping to contribute to the Forced Migration Online ( FMO ) project. FMO is also based at the University of Oxford and aims to provide free online access to a searchable database of digitised documents relating to refugee studies and forced migration.