IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


IOE research tells young refugees’ stories in Imperial War Museum exhibition

24 September 2020

UCL Institute of Education (IOE) research project Becoming Adult features in a new exhibition exploring 100 years of refugee experiences at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Afghan refugees in Iran. Photo credit: EU/ECHO Pierre Prakash via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The exhibition ‘Refugees: Forced to Flee’ launches today (24 September) and looks at the countless lives that have been affected by conflict from the First World War to the present day, resulting in people running from their homes.

Refugees: Forced to Flee features cutting-edge research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The exhibition combines new research and real-life experiences with photographs, oral histories, documents and objects.

Stories from the First World War, Second World War and its aftermath, 1990s Bosnia and present-day Afghanistan will be compared to expose the similarities encountered by those who leave, move and re-settle.

The Becoming Adult project, led by Dr Elaine Chase and funded by ESRC, investigated the experiences and wellbeing outcomes of unaccompanied child migrants growing up in the UK and Italy as they make the transition to adulthood. It looked at the formal processes of claiming asylum and the impact of current immigration policies on young people’s lives.

Dr Chase said: “There’s very little policy focus on what happens when these children turn 18 and their situation becomes more precarious. They can lose eligibility to housing support, social care, education and, if appeals fail, they can be deported. Our research traces the outcomes for some of these young people.”

The research findings are expressed through ‘Dear Habib’, a short animation telling the story of a young migrant who arrives in Britain from Afghanistan at the age of 16. It shows the painful losses he experiences and how he lives in constant fear of being returned.

Dr Chase added: “Many have experienced trauma, but this project shows the poor wellbeing outcomes are often a result of the systems and structures they’re forced to navigate. There’s a disconnect between policy intentions for these young people and their lived realities. We need to look at alternative ways to regulate status – and question the idea that they are ‘returnable’ to a country they may have left years ago.”

Refugees: Forced to Flee runs until 24 May 2021. 

Habib has just published his own story in ‘The Doorman of Urozgan’. A book by Elaine Chase and Jennifer Allsopp ‘Youth Migration and the Politics of Wellbeing: Stories of Life in Transition’, detailing the findings from the study, will be published by Bristol University Press in November 2020.