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04 March 2024

Student and academic refugees transform stories of displacement into art

Students and academics with backgrounds of forced displacement took part in a two-day creative arts workshop at King’s, to explore concepts around ‘home in higher education’ when seeking sanctuary.

Students and academics with experience of forced displacement visited King's for a workshop
Students and academics with experience of forced displacement came to King's for a creative art workshop

Facilitated by King’s Sanctuary Programme and the University of East Anglia (UEA) Sanctuary initiative, the project united 17 students and academics from nine UK universities, inviting them to explore their experiences of being forcibly displaced and the role that higher education can play when on a journey in search of sanctuary.

They were joined by renowned artists Majid Adin and Dana Olărescu for the participatory workshop, who supported the attendees as they created a series of posters to highlight their lived experiences.

Each of the posters powerfully illustrate concepts of loss alongside hope, and the challenges of access to, as well as the life changing impacts of, higher education. The finished works will be exhibited across UK universities, art institutions, community organisations and schools from March and will be accompanied by a short film.

Enhancing understanding of forced displacement among our students, staff and alumni at King’s is a crucial element of our commitment to serving society. By facilitating this workshop at King’s, we were able to meet inspirational students and academics whose lived experiences will not only help more people understand the complex journeys they have faced, but will also inform the ongoing work we do and the ways in which we strive to create positive opportunities for forcibly displaced people.

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Director of the King's Sanctuary Programme

Posters created by workshop participants

With more than 110 million people currently forcibly displaced around the world, it feels imperative that higher education institutions collaborate to consider their role in creating safety, solidarity, and empowerment for those seeking sanctuary. This project created a platform for those with lived experiences of accessing higher education following forced displacement to create powerful artwork illustrating their lived experience.

Dr Sophie North, project organiser and academic lead for the University of Sanctuary initiative at UEA

Olga, a King's Sanctuary Fellow who took part in the workshop, said: "The workshop brought together people from different backgrounds, religions and perspectives, who all have found sanctuary in universities.

"It was extremely important for me to get to know the stories of the other participants and to understand that I’m not alone in this process. It was also extremely important for me to express my own story and perceptions in an artistic way to get to know my internal feelings and emotions better."

Reza, a participant from UEA, said joining in the workshop offered a profound insight into the collective efforts and dedication of scholars and activists working tirelessly to support refugee education.

“The experience was a vivid reminder of the power of collaboration and empathy in creating meaningful change. Witnessing first-hand the hard work and perseverance of individuals striving to overcome barriers and extend help to those in need was truly inspirational.”

The ‘Finding “Home” in Education’ project was developed in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the University of Essex, Oxford Brookes University, Bristol University, the University of Bath, the University of Cardiff, Newcastle University, Counterpoint Arts, the University of Sanctuary network, Student Action for Refugees (STAR), and the Open Learning Initiative (OLIve).

It was also supported by the Necessity Network, Duolingo English Test and Oxford International, all of whom are committed advocates for education and social inclusion. Their support underscores the shared vision of promoting positive change through the arts and creativity.

Take part in Universities Refugee Week

King's has partnered with universities across the UK for Universities Refugee Week (1-8 March 2024). There will be a number of events throughout the week at King's and other higher education providers to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary, particularly within university communities.

The activities at King's will raise awareness of the global issue of forced displacement and the many ways that King's aims to create positive opportunities for forcibly displaced individuals.

Universities Refugee Week complements Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival held in June to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Founded in 1998 and held every year around World Refugee Day on the 20 June, Refugee Week is a growing global movement. The 2024 theme for Refugee Week and World Refugee Week is ‘Our Home’.

Find out more about Universities Refugee Week 2024 events

In this story

Leonie  Ansems de Vries

Reader in International Politics

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