The Open University’s (OU) research project, COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins began as the pandemic engulfed the world in March 2020. 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. To mark Refugee Week (14-20 June), this article discusses the project’s key moments and the impact it has had to date.
Formed and funded by the OU, the COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins involved 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 living, digital archive, which represents and debates the realities of life for the most marginalised people during the pandemic.
Through creative means, the project demonstrated how inequalities experienced by forced migrants have been exacerbated, with many left in desperate need of basic amenities and in poor physical and mental health. The project showed how everyday acts of citizenship and solidarity plugged gaps in provision following the collapse of state support systems, and how many depended on face-to-face services provided by local NGOs for food and psycho-social support.
COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins exposed stark differences 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 has provided vast analytical comparisons for the researchers involved to utilise.
From March 2020 to June 2021, over 1000 contributions from 22 countries were curated, attracting 19,000 website views and 150,000 impressions on Twitter. The main aims of the project have been to promote a better understanding of the issues faced, share support services, promote the recognition of rights and social justice, and ultimately impact policy.
Lead of the project and Professor of Sociology at the OU, Marie 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.”
COVID19: Chronicles from the Margins project will continue to build its collection of videos, recordings, word art, photographs, and drawings. To find out more, please visit: https://www.cov19chronicles.com/
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