Effect of COVID-19 lockdown experience on refugees and asylum seekers – Open University

Illustration of people being 2m apart due to COVID-19

An OU research project into the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees during COVID-19 lockdown, finds that many have endured similar situations before.

According to Professor Marie Gillespie, OU Professor of Sociology in the OU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences who is leading the project, this was either in the war-torn countries that they fled or as captives of smugglers and traffickers, as well as while trapped in the UK asylum system.

Professor Gillespie is leading the COVID-19 Chronicles from the Margins project, which is exploring what it has been like being an asylum seeker, a refugee or an undocumented person under lockdown.

The project began in March 2020 and has captured the views of 70 asylum seekers and 20 support group volunteers and workers in South Wales. Early findings reveal that these groups see lockdown as an opportunity for the mainstream population to relate to their experiences, such as being a virtual prisoner in the house, frightened to go out. That is what many asylum seekers have gone through, often for years on end.

“Being suspended in limbo, in an incomprehensible state, where time stands still, with no control over what is going to happen. Being isolated from family and friends. And in a different country. Being resourceful. Surviving adversity. These are all everyday experiences for asylum seekers but which many more of us have experienced in this enforced lockdown period,” said Professor Gillespie.

The project, which is funded by The Open University and the International Institute of Social Studies (Netherlands), involves co-creating a digital archive and exhibition that chronicles the impact of COVID 19 through the use of smartphone tools.

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