From Manchester to Belarus

Julie met Frank Pleszak at Polish Heritage Day back in May, and was fascinated to hear about the hidden histories he has uncovered, whilst researching his father’s experiences as a Polish refugee in the Second World War. Here he talks about his family, his research and his ongoing relationship with his father’s land.

I was born in Manchester and have lived and worked here all my life. I’m proud to be a Mancunian. I love it when people ask me where I’m from and I can say Manchester.

But my surname clearly isn’t local. My mum was from Salford but my dad, who died in 1994, was Polish. He never spoke much about his early life, I know he’d fought in Italy at the famous battle of Monte Cassino but it wasn’t until after his death that I began to think about why he was here in Manchester, why he’d been in Italy, and why he hadn’t gone back home to Poland after the war. I had no idea of the monumental series of events, together with World War Two, that had created me a Mancunian.

At the house my dad lived in until his arrest in 1939

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Voices of Kosovo in Manchester… and in Kosovo

The welcome was magnificent, unexplainable. Not just our first steps off the plane at Manchester Airport, but also the processing of all the refugees. And yes, it’s true, the English removed the rags of oppression and truly brought smiles for the first time to our kids’ faces – our kids, who had seen nothing but violence, burnings and killing.

Bedri Hyseni, Voices of Kosovo in Manchester archive

Oral histories are a significant feature of our collection. We currently have in the region of 400 interviews covering a range of experiences, from the life stories of Windrush immigrants to recollections of the 1945 Pan-African Congress.

image shows a bunch of yellow flowers, a large blue book with 'voices of kosovo in manchester on the cover and a photograph of a woman, displayed on a table

Image courtesy Manchester Aid to Kosovo

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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. Continue reading

The Refugee Experience Book Reviews: Bad News for Refugees

With the Syrian refugee crisis dominating the news at the moment, Jo Manby has been looking back at her archive for reviews of books, available in our library, that look at the refugee experience. Read the others here and here.

This review is adapted from an original piece published in the Centre’s journal Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World.

Book review: Bad News for Refugees by Greg Philo, Emma Briant & Pauline Donald (Pluto Press: London; Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2013)

A forensic examination of the media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom and the negative effects this has not only on the public’s perceptions of these groups, but on the everyday lives of immigrants, both new and established. Alternative perspectives are delineated, and the study is aimed at those concerned with the consequences of misleading media accounts on vulnerable communities in British society.

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The Refugee Experience Book Reviews: Educated for Change?

With the Syrian refugee crisis dominating the news at the moment, Jo Manby has been looking back at her archive for reviews of books, available in our library, that look at the refugee experience. Read the others here and here.

This review is adapted from an original piece published in the Centre’s journal Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World.

Book review: Educated for Change? Muslim Refugee Women in the West by Patricia Buck and Rachel Silver (Information Age Publishing, Inc.: Charlotte, North Carolina, 2012)

An unexpected outcome of war and migration has been an increase in Somali girls’ and women’s educational opportunities, when historically their literacy levels have been ‘among the lowest in the world’ (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 1998) (p.xv). Authored by Patricia Buck and Rachel Silver, co-founders of Matawi, a nonprofit NGO that works to increase educational opportunities for girls and women from the predominantly Somali Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, this anthropological work examines the impact of ‘new-found access to schooling ….. in the everyday lives of Somali refugee girls and women’ (p.xvi).

Source: UK Department for International Development. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Source: UK Department for International Development. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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The Refugee Experience Book Reviews: Border Watch

This week the government announced that the UK will take 20,000 Syrian refugees between now and 2020. This has prompted Jo Manby to look back at her archive for reviews of books, available in our library, that look at the refugee experience in Britain. Read the others here and here.

This review is adapted from an original piece published in the Centre’s journal Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World.

Book review: Border Watch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control by Alexandra Hall (Pluto Press: London and New York, 2012)

This ethnographically researched volume uncovers the hidden day-to-day world of the immigration detention centre from the perspective of the officers. Its premise is that an understanding of the effects of the act of detaining individuals relies upon an awareness of the intimate details of how exactly the ‘secure regime’ works on the level of ordinary, everyday experience and interaction.

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Expressing the Refugee Experience

For Refugee Week (16 – 20 June) our Widening Participation Officer Sam ran a refugee arts day for three local secondary schools here at Central Library. I spent an enjoyable morning getting covered in acrylic paint, supporting artist Amang Mardokhy’s painting workshop.

Image of Amang Mardokhy teaching an art class

© University of Manchester

Painting by Amang Mardokhy

© Amang Mardokhy

Amang is Kurdish, from Northern Iraq. He came to the UK in the early 2000s, fleeing Saddam Hussein’s regime. At the start of his workshop he told the students a little about his personal story, including his experience of being an artist under a repressive regime and the difficult decision to take his family, including his five year old son, in search of safety. But he talked more about his artistic motivations, to express the suffering of the Kurdish people and explore global experiences of war and displacement. The students produced postcard-sized paintings reflecting on the contrast between peace and war; safety and danger, beauty and ugliness, plenty and poverty, belonging and loss.

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