As organisations across the world mark the United Nations’ International Migrants Day (18 December) the OU shares stories by staff and students of their experiences and the lives of migrants.
Earlier this year Sarah Crafter, Professor of Cultural-Developmental Psychology at The Open University won EU funding for a research project aiming to enhance the lives of migrant children and young people in education.
The Networking the Education World: Across Boundaries for Community-building (NEW ABC) project is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. It brings together 14 partners across nine countries to develop pilot schemes and address specific linguistic, cultural, social, emotional and challenges that children and young people face when they access the educational system or are left out of it.
How migration impacts the every day
Experts work with migrant and non-migrant students, unaccompanied minors, young asylum-seekers and refugees. Alongside, they engage with schools and teachers, local civil society organisations, NGOs, teaching and intercultural centres, communities and families to develop school and out-of-school formal learning resources.
Sarah Crafter’s work is primarily focused on how the experience of migration impacts on everyday lives of young people.
On the launch of the research project, Professor Crafter said:
“Young people are facing some big challenges in their lives at the moment and our approach is to develop young person-led innovative activities.
“We hope to create resources for both the young translator, and those who connect with them during interactions, to build feelings of trust, value, belonging and acceptance – recognising these young people sometimes juggle these roles, which vary considerably and are bound to grow at a time when community translation services have been cut significantly.”
The Open University hosted Professor Crafter’s inaugural lecture on 30 November 2021, where she explored what it means for children and young people to be ‘brokers of care’ in the context of migration.
The Open University’s (OU) research project, COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins also began in the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, led by Professor of Sociology, Marie Gillespie. It aimed to investigate how diverse migrant groups like asylum-seekers, refugees, migrant workers and undocumented people have responded to COVID-19 and invited these groups to share their experiences through poems, songs, music, photos, short videos, written testimonies, diaries and artwork.
A project that went “from local to global”
Formed and funded by the OU, the COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins brought together nine other international partners and NGOs, including the International Institute of Social Studies and University of Wales, creating a varied team of experts in international development, sociology and creative writing. Together the group used the project to build a digital archive, which represents and debates the realities of life for the most marginalised people during the pandemic.
From March 2020 to June 2021, over 1,000 contributions from 22 countries were curated, attracting 19,000 website views and 150,000 impressions on Twitter.
An anthropologist and ethnographer by training, the focus of Professor Gillespie’s research and teaching has been on migrant cultures and communication, with a particular focus on South Asian and Middle Eastern diasporas.
On the project, Professor Gillespie commented:
“COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins started very local and went global with displaced people from around the world contacting us about what matters to them. They see in the project a safe, welcoming digital space where people can share their experiences – the inequalities but also the massive creativity that the pandemic unleashed.
“It is a living, growing archive of the extraordinary time we have all lived through and a rare platform for the voices of refugees to be heard and their lives made visible that has grabbed the attention of those who visit our website.”
How the pandemic exposed inequalities
COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins highlighted discrepancies in the treatment of forced migrants at the margins of Europe, Asia and Africa, with contributions from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; LGBTQ+ migrants in Kenya; asylum seekers of Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi and Eritrean backgrounds in Greece; and Venezuelans, Kurds and others living in British cities. This breadth of resource provided analytical comparisons for the researchers involved to make use of.
Looking to the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, research undertaken by Nicola Yeates, Professor of Social Policy found that migrant health and social care workers are facing the highest risk of harm or death.
The study was carried out in collaboration with Public Services International (PSI), the global federation of trade unions representing 30 million public service health workers across 154 countries.
Professor Yeates commented:
“Our research is a stark reminder of the significant contributions of migrants to the pandemic response, as well as how migrants are disproportionately affected by Covid-19.”
Flight from Syria to new studies with the OU
As well as shedding light on the experience of international immigrants through academic research, the OU also offers supportive and inclusive education opportunities for students who have immigrated.
Rasha Mourd has recently discussed her experience studying through the OU in Ireland after fleeing Syrian conflict.
Having settled in Northern Ireland, Rasha is now studying towards a Bsc in Computing and IT, after hearing about free access modules that the OU offer for refugees and that she would be able to study flexibly online.
“I decided to complete my study at The Open University as it is an amazing opportunity to study in this country and because I knew if I study at the university that will reflect positively not only on me but on my family and the whole community also. Completing study was my dream for a long time but difficult circumstances obstructed me to do that.”
Rasha’s goals for studying her degree are to find a good job when she finishes, to help her children in their studies and for them to be proud of their mother:
“Studying at the OU has boosted my confidence and I have discovered that I have the determination to achieve my personal goals despite some obstacles such as trying to find time for studying and looking after my children at the same time.”
“I recommend anyone to embark on an OU course to go ahead and do not hesitate to take this step as it will be the first step in the way to success and achieving your goals.