10 Refugee History Archives

10 Refugee History Archives

1. The National Archives as Kew and online

The National Archives holds many records on refugees covering a range of topics. These include:

• international law on refugees

• observer reports on the treatment of refugees

• administrative/policy papers on the relocation and settlement of refugees

These are mainly in the surviving Foreign Office (FO), Colonial Office (CO), and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) records. Home Office (HO) papers also contain records on the domestic treatment of minorities, including refugees, who sought asylum in the UK.

2. UN Refugee Agency archives, Geneva

Established in 1996, the archive even includes material that predates the creation of UNHCR in 1950, documenting more than half a century of field operations around the world, as well as material from our headquarters. The archive occupies about 10 kilometres of shelving space on two basement floors in Geneva. Digital archives, comprising some 10 million documents and growing, are stored and managed on a handful of dedicated, secure servers.


3. The Refugee Council Archive, University of East London

The University of East London’s Library at Docklands has been the home of the Refugee Council Archive for over a decade.The Refugee Archive is currently located n UEL’s Docklands Campus Library. To make an appointment or for more information get in touch with Refugee History’s own archive expert, Paul Dudman (p.v.dudman@uel.ac.uk) or click here.

4. International tribunals and criminal courts, online

While not explicitly archives of refugee history, the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court contain millions of files that are accessible online relating to refugee movements and mass atrocities, including forced migration and ethnic cleansing.

5. Oral histories of genocide and mass atrocities, online  

The Visual History Archive®   based at the University of Southern California is an online portal run by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation’s that allows users to search through and view more than 55,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide. Initially a repository of Holocaust testimony, the Archive has expanded significantly to include survivor and witness testimony from four other genocidal events: Armenia (1915-1923), the Nanjing Massacre (1937), Rwanda (1994) and Guatemala  (1978-1996).

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia host an online archive of oral testimony from many who survived or fled the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

6. Documenting Syria’s civil war online

The Violations Documentation Centre in Syria is a database of all recorded casualties of the conflict. It was set up in 2011 and continues to gather evidence in the face of harassment and raids by the Syrian government’s security forces. VDC document violations from all sides and regardless of the perpetrator, ethnicity, or any other belongings across all Syria. We document all the information including the perpetrator and only distinguish between civilians and non-civilians in addition to the area, date, means of death, the violation, and other statistical characteristics of the victims and the violations.The Syrian Archive is an initiative launched by a collective of human rights activists dedicated to preserving open source documentation relating to human rights violations and other crimes committed by all sides during the conflict in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, founded in May of 2006, is a a group of people from inside and outside Syria, documenting the human rights situation in Syria and endeavouring to report all human rights violations. The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre also works to ensure that human rights violations in Syria are comprehensively documented, with a particular focus on preserving evidence for use in future transitional justice and peace-building. SJAC collects documentation of violations from all available sources, stores it in a secure database, catalogues it according to human rights standards, and analyses it using legal expertise and big data methodologies. SJAC also supports documenters inside Syria, providing them with resources and technical guidance, and coordinates with other actors working toward similar aims: a Syria defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law.

7. The Wiener Library, London

The Wiener Library is one of the world's leading and most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era.  Formed in 1933, the Library's unique collection of over one million items includes published and unpublished works, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimony. From April this year, the Wiener Library now offers researchers onsite access to the archive of the UN War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). This large archive contains a wide variety of documentation relating to the handling of war crimes by the Allied powers between 1943 and 1949, including: lists of alleged war criminals, files of charges brought against them, minutes of meetings, reports, correspondence, trial transcripts and other related materials.

8. The Imperial War Museums archives, online and in London

Search around 800,000 items that tell the story of modern war and conflict, collected by the museum since 1917. IWM’s collections cover all aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict involving Britain, the Commonwealth and other former empire countries. They were intended to record the 'toil and sacrifice' of every individual affected by war. A great thing about IWM’s collection is that they allow you to use their photos in your own work so long as its not for profit and accompanied with a reference to the archive.

9. Refugee stories in the UK, online

Many civil society organisations curate archives of refugee stories to assist with their advocacy and outreach work. The Scottish Refugee Council has an online archive of personal stories of refugees and asylum seekers they work with in Scotland. Refugee Action has a similar online archive here as does the British Red Cross. The Refugee Council UK has a video archive of children’s experiences.

10. Refugees and climate change

The Climate and Migration Coalition exists to challenge the lack of long-term strategies to support and protect people at risk of displacement linked to environmental change.Their site includes testimonies, relevant law and policy documents, and archives of media analysis and is one of the only online resources of information relating to refugees and climate change.

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