Opening the Archive The Refugee Experience

The Manchester Refugee Support Network archive: A right to history

You might think there is something contradictory about a refugee archive: archives are the permanent repositories of physical history, whilst refugees are transitory and homeless – those who have lost their history.

But the archive of the Manchester Refugee Support Network (MRSN), recently deposited with us following completion of a major heritage project, challenges this assumption. Not least in the sheer amount of material; 12 boxes of physical material and more than 30,000 digital files, charting the 20 year history of this remarkable organisation. From governance, services and partnerships to cultural programmes (such as the Refugee World Cup and Manchester Refugee Cultural Festival), campaigning activities and the many community organisations that made up the network.

photograph of archive items in a display case, including Manchester Refugee Cultural Festival brochure and te How to set up a Refugee Organisation guidebookBuilding this archive and depositing it with us, here at Central Library, creates permanence and acceptance, carving out a place in history for Manchester’s many refugee communities.

You can see a selection of this material in the Radical Thinking section of the Library’s interactive exhibition, including the remarkable ‘Refugee Charter for Manchester’.

Photograph of the refugee charter document with subtitle 'Define us not by our differences but by the principles that we share'This document was created in 2006 following consultation with refugees and asylum seekers about the specific challenges they faced as: ‘…people of courage, ingenuity and perseverance who have been forced to come and seek refuge in Manchester’. It sets out 20 ‘fundamental rights of the refugee’ in terms of healthcare, housing, education, employment and community/social cohesion. The tone is concise and positive, but it packs a punch:

Immigration policies often run contrary to other government objectives including reducing rough sleeping, encouraging employment and creating an inclusive society

This matter-of-fact language points to the very real and very raw experiences of those seeking refuge, and by implication, society’s failure to meet their basic human needs:

Recognition of the emotional needs of refugee children and the importance of a safe and stable environment in order to assist in their development.

For me, this document expresses all the complexity of the refugee experience in Manchester; issues that can be explored in much greater detail in the archive itself.  Perhaps there should also be a point in the Charter about the refugee’s right to a place in the history.

You can read more about the Refugee Charter on MRSN’s website here.

The MRSN archive will be available to researchers in the new year; details will be posted on the Collections pages of our website.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

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