Addressing refugees’ challenges and resilience during COVID-19

Around the world, refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented folks are suffering from the social, economic, political, and health effects of COVID-19. In both the Global North and Global South, longstanding structural inequalities (for example, inequalities in healthcare, income, education, housing, water and sanitation) disproportionately impact refugee communities and increase their precarity.

At the same time, it is necessary not to overemphasize refugees’ vulnerability, seeing that images of ‘dependent’, ‘unimaginative’ and ‘victimized’ refugees can also be a source of hierarchical relations and structural exclusion. Importantly, when we only focus on refugees’ vulnerabilities, we neglect that refugees have directly experienced, and developed strategies to deal with, crisis, chaos, danger, uncertainty, anxiety, insecurity, fear, loss, waiting, isolation, loneliness and separation from loved ones.

Refugees’ resilience could, thus, serve as inspiration, and contribute to establishing creative strategies and solutions to struggles provoked by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, stories of refugees’ resilience also present the potential to challenge and unsettle taken-for-granted exclusionary images of refugees as either victims or threats, and, instead, position them as resilient (co-)producers of knowledge and expertise.

Scholarship for Change is an expression of engaged scholarship, an effort to practice solidarity during the pandemic. It entails taking time to build spaces of (online) dialogue with refugee communities, with an eye towards forming long-term relationships of reciprocity throughout, and (hopefully), post- COVID-19. These relationships will inform opportunities, as well as challenges and limitations, of engaged scholarship in times of isolation. Thus, Scholarship for Change is also an ongoing process of mutual learning between engaged scholars and refugees.

With this in mind, Scholarship for Change aims to contribute in the following ways: first, the project is conducted in close collaboration with our refugee community partners in each context, and responds to specific challenges addressed by them. Second, through processes of co-creation, collaboration, and curation, we will document stories of refugees’ challenges, strategies and resilience, which can both inspire creative solutions, as well as challenge and unsettle taken-for-granted exclusionary images of refugees.

Scholarship for Change consists of three context-specific sub-projects:

Together with our refugee community partners in each context, we will agree upon ways to share their stories with a broader audience, depending on the participants’ wishes and the types (and media forms) of the stories created. The stories created in the Dutch context (Art for Change) will be shared on our website in the coming month. The stories of the other two contexts will be shared at a later time, and in a way that suits the particularities of each context-specific project.