This website aims to encourage the public to question commonly held perceptions about refugees by looking to the past for guidance.
In the UK many of those seeking asylum, including children, suffer destitution, detention and deportation; many have to rely on charities for financial as well as emotional support due to restrictions on employment and access to benefits.
Successive British governments claim to treat 'genuine' refugees sympathetically, whilst identifying and where possible deporting those who are regarded as having no claim for recognition under the terms of the UN Refugee Convention of 1951, to which Britain is a signatory.
Media portrayals of refugees and asylum seekers as 'scroungers' and 'bogus' encourage the public to see refugees as a burden rather than an asset.
According to a survey carried out by Oxford University in September 2011 six out of ten people in Britain believed that seeking asylum was the main motive for people seeking to come to the UK, whereas in fact only four per cent of all migrants arriving in the UK were asylum seekers. (Most of those applying for admission to the UK were students.)
Nearly six out of ten people interviewed wanted to see a sharp drop in the number of asylum seekers. Please see the Migration observatory website for further information.
A publication, Tell it like it is the truth about Asylum by the UK Refugee Council presents simple facts and figures designed to correct much of this misinformation.
In 2008 according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) around 25 million people were officially registered as having been uprooted from their homes, by war, civil conflict, persecution or the justified fear of persecution, environmental catastrophes and other causes, and forced to flee elsewhere for safety. This figure included 11.4 million refugees who were living outside the borders of their own country and 13.7 million who were internally displaced within their own country. Around 43 per cent of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons were in Asia, 34 per cent in Africa and 11 per cent in Latin America. Fewer than 10 per cent were to be found in Europe.
This website adopts a historical perspective to raise questions about current asylum policy and refugee stereotypes, and to encourage people to think about alternative approaches. By considering assistance to displaced populations after 1945, we hope that visitors to the site will examine how views or refugees are created and disseminated, how refugee camps originated and why they persist, and the impact of policies on refugees’ physical and emotional wellbeing.
Our Research Project
Historians at the University of Manchester and University of Nottingham have conducted in-depth research into the causes and consequences of population displacement in Russia and Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
We focused on this period because the dramatic upheavals in Europe at the end of the war – the mass movements of soldiers/prisoners-of-war and civilians, along with abrupt territorial changes – affected millions of people who were ‘out of place’.
Many such people were in dire need of assistance. Governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations took action to repatriate or resettle refugees and Displaced Persons, or to integrate them locally in the late 1940s.
In 1951 more than a dozen member countries of the new United Nations signed a Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This Convention continues to govern the international protection of refugees.
We believe that historical case studies such as this provide a valuable means of interpreting contemporary issues concerning the causes of flight, the categorisation of people as refugees and asylum seekers, the incarceration of refugees and Displaced Persons in camps, the experiences of refugees, and so forth.
Jenny Carson and Peter Gatrell (University of Manchester)
Siobhan Peeling and Nick Baron (University of Nottingham)