By Shannen Welsh

Nine early career scholars with displacement backgrounds presented their ground-breaking work in the field of refugee and forced migration studies at Research Roundtables held by the Kaldor Centre in September, providing new and nuanced views that pave the way for advancing the perspectives of those with lived experience within the discipline. 

Refugee and forced migration studies scholarship has for a long time suffered from the underrepresentation of scholars with lived experiences of displacement. Structural barriers, disruptions to education, and precarious legal status can impede full participation in academic fora by scholars with refugee or other displacement backgrounds.

The Research Roundtables, part of increasing efforts to address this gap, provided a platform for early-career researchers with lived experience of displacement to present and discuss their research with leading scholars in the field.

Held virtually, the Research Roundtables included participation by nine early career researchers with displacement backgrounds, Ahmad Akkad, Khulud, Emmanuel Chima, Katty Alhayek, Abdi Aden, Thae Oo Khaing, Gabriel Ndayishimiye, Dr Dostin Lakika and Israa Sadder. Esteemed scholars in the field, including Guy S Goodwin-Gill, Heaven Crawley, James Milner and Susan Kneebone, joined as discussants.  

‘These perspectives, rooted as they are in the complex and often messy realities of refugee life, provide a welcome antidote to research that boxes and categorises “the refugee experience” or presents refugees only as victims of processes over which they have little or no control,’ said Professor Crawley, a leading scholar in the field of displacement, migration and inequality, and a discussant at the Roundtables.

The Roundtables were the capstone event for the Kaldor Centre’s Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program, established in 2021 in partnership with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Lund University. The program works to address issues of representation by supporting early-career scholars who have experienced displacement and are researching and/or studying in the field of refugee and forced migration studies.

‘One of the aims of the program was to build a new intellectual community in refugee and forced migration studies that puts those who have lived experience at the forefront of the conversation,’ said Program Coordinator Tamara Wood.

Discussions at the Research Roundtables ranged from questions of academic mobility for displaced scholars to access to education in refugee camps and even to experiences of love in a context of displacement. Among participants, a resounding theme was the discord between existing literature and their lived experiences. 

PhD candidate at Michigan State University Emmanuel Chima presented his research on the Tumaini festival in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. As a former resident of the camp, Chima’s research offers unique insight into the practice of the festival as a means of reshaping the external narrative of the refugee experience in Malawi. 

Chima shared the challenges of finding academic sources that correspond with the reality of his own experiences. ‘It is difficult to fit subjective and nuanced experiences into the model that academia often provides,’ he said, adding that he hoped that by sharing his experiences in this platform, he might contribute to new forms of future advocacy.

Israa Saader is a Master’s Student at the German Jordanian University. Her research on ‘Love in Displacement’ sheds light on refugees’ experiences of intimate relationships during exile. Thae Oo Khaing, PhD candidate at the Australian Catholic University, is exploring refugees’ experiences of education within refugee camps.

The Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program is a six-month program establishing peer mentoring partnerships between early-career scholars with lived experience of displacement and other early-career scholars. Through this relationship, displaced scholars can connect with ‘peer mentors’ for support in achieving their academic and professional goals. 

The pilot phase of the program ran from April to September 2021. Plans are underway for the future continuation of the program. To find out more, see the Kaldor Centre’s program information.


Image courtesy of Bill Oxford/Unsplash.