Global Development Institute Blog

This blog originally appeared on the Manchester Migration Lab website

Blog by Ria Sunga, PhD Candidate, History, The University of Manchester

The World on the Move Conference was an excellent opportunity for me, as a PhD student, to listen to colleagues and scholars talk about their research. If there was one word I could use to describe the conference it would be: inspiring.

I just returned from some archival research, which to be honest, was exhausting. I returned to Manchester feeling a bit burned out and needed some motivation. This conference was just what I needed. Not only did I learn about the research taking place at the University, but I was also able to meet and discuss with students and researchers from other institutions. The diversity of topics and participants represented the global nature of the field we are all immersed in. Here in Manchester, ideas and conclusions converged to create a dynamic conversation on migration.

I’m in the early stages of my research on refugees and history. Listening to those who have dedicated years to studies in the field of forced migration and history gave me new perspectives and insights to consider. Scholars like Joy Damousi and Yaron Matras reminded me that there are many more persons left out of the discourse, such as women and children, and ethnic minorities. Displacement has its roots from war and conflict, but Laura Hammond discussed the irregular causes of migration too, making the reasons for movement more complex than many choose to see. The conference also provided a venue to discuss future research. Peter Gatrell presented on his upcoming book, Common Ground, which focuses on immigration to Europe. His historical approach links the past to the future of this area of study, leaving me to wonder how methods, concepts and approaches can evolve during my own research.

What resonated with me was Joy Damousi’s presentation on child refugees throughout the 20th century. She traced the history of how children were displaced amidst war and conflict, starting with the Armenian Genocide until the Cold War. Children, she said, have been left out of this history and her research illuminated their experiences in a time of violence. She also discussed the generosity of individuals who helped them, mainly from her research on Australia. I enjoyed the snippets of the lives of certain persons, like Esme Odgers, who left Australia to care for these children. This made me realise how often history tends to forget those who worked tirelessly in the spirit of humanitarianism to reach out to people they don’t know – the kindness of strangers. It’s these personal histories that inspire me to research on refugee assistance and protection.

Refugees’ voices need to be heard. Roisin Read’s presentation on the journey of refugees in Africa have also enlightened my perceptions of the different experiences and negotiations that refugees and displaced persons make. Yolanda Weima challenged the notion of ‘peace’ and how returned refugees in Burundi defined it. Peace, I believe, is a critical lens to use. Most of what I’ve encountered in my consulted literature were discussions on violence, which caused many to flee their homes. Peace, however, can further deconstruct ideas on resettlement, belonging and asylum. These terms are complex and dynamic – there is no one way to define them.

As a student, relatively new to refugee studies and history, this conference was a great opportunity to see various research that are critical about policy, refugee representation, humanitarianism and refugee voices. It’s inspiring to know how many more facets of migration and movement there are to explore, discuss and learn about. These are the views from not just one part of the world. They reveal the global nature of migration and its evolution, which challenges accepted norms and perceptions. Indeed, my own perceptions have changed throughout my studies. It is also humbling to know that such research can have impact, leaving me to think about my own work and how I can create some impact. As I embark on another chapter of archival research, these are the thoughts I take with me.

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.