Market women in Camp Kala, Zambia (Photo credit: Andrew Apter)

Living in Limbo: The African Refugees Documentation Project

African refugees and displaced persons have grown dramatically over the last two decades, representing crises of governance, global warming, and infrastructural deterioration throughout the continent. Increasingly, these camps are shifting from temporary holding centers providing vital shelter and subsistence services to semi-permanent communities where people live their lives and pursue their careers. The goal of this project is to analyze refugee communities in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda in ways that identify African initiatives that create opportunities for growth and sustainable incentives for resettlement, reintegration and repatriation.

With over 65 million internally displaced peoples and refugees worldwide, we are facing the highest levels of human displacement in history. International media often focuses on dominant narratives that reinforce a western perspective on a “peripheral” crisis. Yet, the majority of the world’s refugees remain within the “Global South” and over a quarter of the total refugee population resides in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Scholarship focusing on strategies implemented by African governments and their partners has increased, but this growing body of research does not effectively dispel the prevalent misconception that refugees remain passive recipients of aid when they are in fact active agents of change and innovation.

The African Refugees Documentation Project will draw upon case studies in Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya, African countries that have accepted refugees from three “waves” of regional violence since the late 1950s. Extending “out of Africa,” we will follow the global pathways of migration through refugee resettlement programs in the Middle East, Europe and North America. In each of these settings, motivated by necessity, refugees implement different and innovative ways of thinking, acting and creating. To understand their worlds and develop tools to help them flourish, it is equally imperative that scholars and practitioners from diverse disciplines address their solutions as points of departure. With this guiding principle, our seminar series will engage experts from STEM fields, professional schools, social sciences, humanities, and institutions outside the university, such as the National Geographic Society and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In the past, we have hosted the High Commissioner, Dr. Filippo Grandi, for a signature lecture and roundtable discussion, a facilitated a seminar series consisting of three quarterly panel discussions (Fall: Infrastructure and Sustainability; Winter: Political Representation; Spring: Narrative). Panel discussions were followed by professionalization workshops that focus on training students around themes such as “Launching a Career in International Human Rights and Refugee Justice,” “Constructing Refugee Narratives,” and “Conducting Ethnographic Refugee Research.”
This collaborative seminar and workshop series underway since 2019, seeks to rethink the contemporary refugee crisis in Africa and beyond by approaching it as a social and historical formation with the potential to solve the very problems it represents, and targets building a community of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners across and beyond the UC campuses for a multicampus working group and research initiative.

This initiative has built bridges between Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology, Urban Planning, and the Anderson School of Management.


Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2019