UCL Department of Geography


Refugee Communities support for Displaced People

8 October 2020

Refugee Hosts’ project at IWM exhibition

Refugee Communities support for Displaced People

The UCL Geography Refugee Hosts project is part of a major new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum from 24th September – 24 May 2021.

The exhibition, 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.

Refugee Hosts’ contribution to the exhibition includes photographs, poems and stories gathered over the course of four years of research in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Europe.

They tell of the incredible care and support mobilised by communities responding to displacement, including by refugees themselves, to challenge common perceptions that they are inevitably a burden.

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 documented in an online ‘Community of Conversation’.

While contributing to the research, some of the workshops also provide a space for communities to come together. As Elena explains:

“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.

"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 applying policies of 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, see: Reflections from the Field Series, or visit our About the Project pages.

Refugees: Forced to Flee is supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.