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Being a Refugee

by | Jun 3, 2020

Many asylum seekers and refugees told us that lockdown is an opportunity for the mainstream population to share some of their experiences. Being a virtual prisoner in the house, frightened to go out? That’s what many refugees have gone through, often for years on end.

Welcome to our first blog!

What’s it like being a refugee, especially under lockdown?

Cov19: Chronicles from the Margins provokes reflecting on our shared as well as our very distinctive experiences under lockdown and beyond. We hope our project and this website will inspire and move you, delight and disturb you in equal measure. Please note, we are at a very early stage of development so watch this space for more.

The preliminary research findings in our first couple of blogs are based on interviews and conversations with some 70 asylum seekers and 20 support group volunteers and workers in South Wales. The coastal, post-industrial city of Swansea is one of our key local fieldwork sites. We are happy to be working with local asylum and refugee support groups. But our project spans many people and places not just in the UK but across the globe. The lives of our research participants, for example, stretch across the Syrian, Kurdish, Eritrean, Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi, Iranian diasporas – families and friends connected via digital diasporas that are assuming a new force and creative energy as our lives go online during lockdown. So, here’s what so many of our research participants told us:

  • Being a virtual prisoner in the house, frightened to go out? That’s what many refugees have gone through, often for years on end. First, in the war zones they fled, for fear of state violence and armed gangs. Second, during the journey in search of safety, many are locked down for days or weeks or months. Third, in the UK, where some are locked in by anxiety, inability to communicate, or experiences of racism. Frightened of enemies which are not ‘invisible’.
  • Being suspended in limbo, in an incomprehensible state, where time stands still, with no control over what is going to happen. That’s what many asylum seekers go through after claiming asylum and waiting months, years, for a decision, unable to start to live, plan, see a future.
  • Being isolated from family and friends. And in a different country. Remember: at the start of the crisis, it was a priority for the UK and other countries to ‘bring back home’ the citizens ‘stranded abroad’. Asylum seekers and refugees are stranded with no home to go back to. It is essential for them to make new networks, to join society, to find community. Not easy under lockdown.
  • Being resilient. Surviving adversity. When everything familiar is changed, or has vanished, finding new ways. Inventing, discovering, making a life despite the unprecedented circumstances. Despite the trauma, the pain, the grief – despite all the obstacles, making a new life.

About Cov19: Chronicles from the Margins

This project was created by a group of researchers who have experience of forced migration and/or have worked and lived with refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented people. We got together just before lockdown in the UK in mid-March 2020 out of a concern for the problems facing those who are marginalised by the ‘hostile environment’ of UK immigration and asylum policies. The public rarely hears about their experiences in their own words and on their own terms. We wanted to change that.

Through participatory, creative methods, we chronicle Covid19 from the margins in collaboration: as co-researchers, co-collectors, co-creators, co-curators and co-producers of knowledge. Since lockdown we have been inviting asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented people in our networks to share their stories. The images, sounds and texts shared with us on smartphones reflect myriad experiences – problems and opportunities, activities and hobbies, new learning and pleasures, hopes, dreams, fears, reflections on time, love, discord, courage, isolation, deprivation and desperation.

We would like to acknowledge the generous financial support The Open University (UK) and the International Institute of Social Studies (Netherlands).