Refugee Life Stories: Lived Experience as a Reconciliation and Peace Building Tool
The Stabilisation and Recovery Network (Community Interest Company), established in 2016, is a social enterprise specialising in bringing people together to share, collaborate and empower – from the grassroots up to the highest levels of influence. We work through a network of stabilisation innovators with experience enhancing human security, trauma recovery and gender equality. We use our network’s expertise and experience to find solutions to complex challenges in the UK and in post conflict and fragile states. By bringing people together to build and sustain their own networks we create effective platforms to achieve change through:
- peace building and conflict resolution
- influencing good governance and the rule of law
- combating corruption
- countering violent extremism
- empowering women
- identifying economic opportunities for women and young people
This project pilot will demonstrate the power of sharing personal lived experience of war and conflict by a group of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK on attitudes of elite policy makers and grass roots community groups. It will also provide a tool kit for the mobilisation of this approach for promoting community harmony and reconciliation and increasing understanding of refugees and asylum seekers. The Stabilisation and Recovery Network (TSRN) will identify and recruit 24 UK asylum seekers/refugees to build an active network of ‘peace and reconciliation advocates’ to speak to different groups from around the UK. This will be used to test the impact of testimony as the basis for a future larger scale advocacy campaign that will deploy lived experience as a peace building tool.
We will arrange initial presentations to demonstrate the impact of sharing personal stories on general perceptions of the impacts and nature of war, terrorism, and conflict. The asylum seekers/refugees will be recruited from across the UK and presentations delivered regionally. Each presentation will be preceded by an attitudinal survey and followed up by focus groups and interviews.
There are two core objectives for this project. The first objective is the highlighting of the human stories of asylum seekers as themselves victims of terrorism and other forms of violence. The hypothesis of this pilot is that stories of lived experience delivered powerfully and directly by individuals themselves serve to build new narratives of who asylum seekers and immigrants are. There are a number of bodies of research and practice which this project will draw on to test the impact of lived experience on policy makers and public opinion:
- TSRN experience working in Iraq and other conflict zones with practitioners on the ground who bring their lived experience to reconciliation processes, for example in the Iraqi national reconciliation process.
- The Expressive Writing and Listening project which grew out of the Military Writing Network, a methodology for allowing survivors tell their stories without being re-traumatised.
- Oral History traditions which use witness accounts to try to influence public policy decision making, for example Learning from Precedent in Whitehall and the ICBH Witness Seminar programmes.
- Holocaust and other genocide related story telling programmes developed by the Holocaust Educational Trust that support survivors visiting schools and other organisations to tell of their experiences.
- Veterans programmes, including the Military Writing Network and outreach work through the Imperial War Museum, that gives a platform for stories from the First, Second, Korean, Falklands Wars and post-war emergency actions by the British military.
The peace and reconciliation advocates will be mentored through the Expressive Writing programme and supported in piloting strategic communications influencing campaigns using their life stories. The project seeks to build understanding and empathy across specific UK policy making and community groups that the project will engage with. This will test the extent to which this approach results in a shifting perception around who refugees and asylum seekers are, and will measure any change in community empathy.
We will connect with existing refugee/asylum seeker organisations, movements and networks to gather stories and narratives using an Expressive Writing and Listening technique that provides a structure for documenting lived experience without re-traumatising the individual concerned. An integrated desk review will gather together the evidence for how lived experience narratives provide a powerful anti-war message and shift perceptions of the storyteller. Assuming the lived experience testimony has the impact envisioned, the report will include a toolkit for the partner refugee/asylum seeker organisations to use Expressive Writing to document individual stories thereby growing a body of evidence that can be used to counter negative and extremist narratives of the places from which the Fellows have come.
To our knowledge there has been no attempt to collect and communicate the stories and testimonies of refugees and asylum seekers who have reached the UK from recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen in this way. Moreover, it will be the first time a concerted effort has been made to establish the feasibility and importance of story gathering/expressive writing with a defined group of partner organisations and with the individuals identified by them as ready for such interaction. The resulting life story telling based toolkit can be used by these organisations to work with refugees and asylum seekers in spreading stories of the lived experience of contemporary conflict and act as an advocacy model that targets key political and community groups.
STRUCTURE AND TIMESCSALE
We propose that the pilot of this project takes place over a nine month period where the initial six months is devoted to 1) research, 2) relationship building with other organisations supporting refugees and asylum seekers, 3) recruitment of 24 individuals to join the network culminating in a two day workshop to mentor the network participants, 4) developing the writing and expression skills of the participants through the Expressive Writing programme. The final three months will constitute arrangement and delivery of 12 presentations targeting different settings including parliament and policy makers, community groups, sixth form colleges and places of worship. The project will aim to deliver presentation sessions in different parts of the UK. The online film and online toolkit will be prepared during this phase, shared with partner organisations and made available on a website platform. A detailed research report will be published as a final output analyzing the effectiveness of lived experience as a peace advocacy tool and exploring how testimony can help shape and change perceptions of asylum seekers and refugees. The synthesis of these two elements will show how the toolkit can be mobilized at community and policy-making levels to promote anti-militarism and alternative conflict resolution mechanisms. We anticipate using this pilot to make the case for funding, policy and other intervention on a larger, more sustained scale.
Ultimately, the project will produce:
- A final research report drawing together evidence on how lived experience of conflict and exile can be used to influence discourse and policy around military intervention and conflict resolution on the one hand and asylum and refugee identity on the other
- An online toolkit for organisations supporting refugees and asylum seekers to use Expressive Writing as a means of documenting trauma and aiding individual recovery, and to demonstrate the impact of the intervention. This two-fold toolkit will provide a framework of operation along with a practical set of actions to evaluate impact
- A cross cultural, self-sustaining network of 24 peace advocates and organisations supporting them who are empowered to share their personal experience with a range of diverse UK groups. The network will use the impact toolkit we provide / train them in to further spread the use of the techniques
- A strategic communications programme to disseminate the findings of the research, publicise the report and promote the use of the toolkit
- An online film capturing lived experience of war and armed conflict and critically assessing the project outcomes
TRACK RECORD AND TEAM
The project builds upon existing work that TSRN has successfully delivered on Expressive Writing and Listening in Iraq and with the GCC Countering Violent Extremism Fellowship, but aims to expand the utility and efficacy of the model to include narrative on conflict trauma experienced by refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
The Project Director will be Dr Brian Brivati, one of TSRN Director’s, formerly Professor of Human Rights and Life Writing at Kingston University, who has worked on reconciliation processes in Iraq and Ukraine, advised the UN and HMG on dialogue and mediation processes and worked for many years as a contemporary historian using oral history techniques in public policy and human rights contexts. The Expressive Writing programme was designed by Dr Meg Jensen, Director of the Centre for Life Narratives at Kingston University and Dr Siobhan Campbell, creator of the Military Writing programme and is on the Faculty of the Department of English at the Open University. The team will also include an Arabic speaking Project Officer, Laura Cretney, who has experience working with a range of refugee groups and will manage the day-to-day running of the project. Lauren Pett, a TSRN Director will provide overall project coordination.
A small advisory group from asylum, refugee, human rights and oral history groups will be recruited to help shape the outcomes and the methodology of the project. The researcher for the comparative research report will be identified at project inception or be from the project team.
The refugees / asylum seekers will provide their time voluntarily on the network but all expenses and a reasonable per diem rate will be provided. For each network participant, we assume two days for the workshops and a further two possible days on mentoring meetings and presentations.
We have not included an administrative percentage but would need a financial management contribution per quarter. VAT is not included.
Dr Brian Brivati
Director I The Stabilisation and Recovery Network
m: +44 778241157 I e: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Expressive Writing and Listening is a carefully structured method for the survivors of violence to document their experience without re-traumatisation and begin the process of recovery. It has been designed by Dr Meg Jensen and Dr Siobhan Campbell at Kingston University and trialed by TSRN in Iraq.