- Field work from refugee route in the Balkans resulted in exhibition at Tate Liverpool that went worldwide
- Key academic behind the project insists that refugee crisis is a ‘humanitarian crisis’ that needs to be maintained as an ‘important conversation’
- The new Centre for Migration and Forced Displacement opening in March 2022 at Aston University will pursue that goal
The ongoing refugee crisis should be viewed as a collection of stories and experiences of individuals desperately seeking safety in other countries.
That is the key message behind a project led by researchers from Aston University who discovered for themselves the people making the hazardous refugee journeys.
Dr Amanda Beattie, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Aston University, spoke about her work as part of the 'Society matters' podcast series, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.
The episode, sub-titled 'Understanding refugee journeys', discusses how Dr Beattie and her colleagues visited Serbia, Macedonia and Greece to learn about refugees’ plight first-hand.
She said: “What’s really important is you can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the refugee crisis. To say we have a refugee crisis is to move away from an important conversation: it isn’t a refugee crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis.
“The one thing that has remained throughout all of this is a commitment to understanding that these are experiences that are happening for individuals not necessarily by choice. To understand that behind the story, behind the images that we see, they are people and these are their stories and their experiences.”
Dr Beattie explained that in 2019 she spent time in a refugee support centre on the Greek island of Samos. She said: “I didn’t have one conversation in that month where someone said they chose this journey because they wanted to. It was something of necessity, it was a desire for greater security. It’s not done because they want to, it’s done because they have to because they are not safe.”
Dr Beattie, a Canadian who joined Aston University in 2008, began her work on global migration after she herself was deported from the UK. She said: “To say I got angry would be an understatement, but after I won my appeal I got time to think through what the experience taught me.”
She said the experience revealed the “privileges” that she had compared to those less fortunate, so refocused her research, previously on international thought, towards migration studies, and in the process a research collective, comprised of Aston University and the University of Liverpool academics focused their work on the so-called Balkan Route.
Dr Beattie said: “We spent a lot of time listening to individual stories, talking to activists on the ground, and understanding that there was a message in the UK media at the time that the refugee crisis was over. When we got back we felt a really strong need to explain to people within higher education, but also the wider public, the information we had learnt.”
The result was an exhibition at Tate Liverpool entitled ‘Refugee Journeys Through the Balkans Route: A Crisis No More’ which shared refugees' experiences with visitors. Following on from Liverpool, the exhibition went to Sweden, Canada and New Zealand.
It included a map detailing the refugees’ routes together with numerous photographs and videos. Visitors were also invited to make a patchwork map of the region by creating their own individual patchwork square.
Dr Beattie said one image she took of a child’s shoes “always pops up in my mind”. During a visit to a day centre where refugees could wash and get fresh clothes, the team was told there were never enough shoes. Those most “coveted” were crocs or flip-flops because they never got drenched and dried out quickly.
“I took this picture of this child’s shoes because it reminded me of the shoes that my son had at that particular age,” Dr Beattie said. “It makes it just a little more human.”
A new Centre for Migration and Forced Displacement will now be launched at Aston University in March, with initial funding coming direct from the University.
Dr Beattie said that one of the main aims of the centre was to “grow a scholarly community” of people interested in migration to “come together and continue these conversations”.
She added: “The one thing I continue to marvel at when we take this installation somewhere, or are invited to talk about our work, is the need to have conversations, because through the conversations and through the stories comes understanding.”
|Episode 5 in series 2 of the ‘Society matters’ podcast and all previous episodes can be found here:|
- Notes to editors
About Aston UniversityFounded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.
Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world.
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