Refugees and communities use photography for peace


Mohammed Hajo, one of the Syrian refugees who participated in the project, with a Turkish child in Istanbul who approached him to teach him how to take photographs. This moment was captured by another Syrian refugee participant of the project.
Mohammed Hajo, one of the Syrian refugees who participated in the project, with a Turkish child in Istanbul who approached him to teach him how to take photographs. This moment was captured by another Syrian refugee participant of the project.

The escalating global refugee crisis – as seen in the current refugee crisis in the border zone between Greece and Turkey - is falling on the Low-and-Middle Income states that can least afford it.

But new research from Lancaster University has identified creative and innovative peace-building initiatives to bring refugee and host community members together using a research methodology, photovoice, designed to empower participants through photography and storytelling.

The project has used photographs as a platform to discover local meanings of peace and to create meaningful relations and common ground between refugee youth and local populations.

This Global Challenges Research Fund and Arts and Humanities Research Council funded research addressed the need for creative and innovative peacebuilding initiatives to bring refugee and host community members together in Istanbul, Johannesburg and Oruchinga Refugee Settlement (Uganda).

Throughout the research, young people were provided with cameras and asked to photograph situations that represent peace for them. The photographs have now been exhibited across Turkey, South Africa, Uganda and the UK.

“The research shows that arts can be a significant ally in the process of building peace and has a great potential to create a bonding experience that facilitates collective engagement, social cohesion, unity and integration,” said Dr Melis Cin, the lead researcher at Lancaster University.

“It has the power of bringing communities into dialogue in (post-)conflict settings and giving the young people a political voice to challenge and disrupt long-standing biases and stereotypes about our own lives and the lives of others and to reflect on what ‘peace’ and living together means for them, which ultimately provided a fertile ground for peaceful coexistence.”

Low and middle-income countries (LMICs) currently host 84% of Forcefully Displaced Population (FDPs) among which South Africa, Turkey and Uganda have the highest numbers.

“These countries are performing a global public good while hosting refugees, but they also struggle to meet the costs associated with the influx of refugees, which places a burden on their economies making it difficult to meet demands and basic needs of both citizens and refugees,” added Dr Cin. 

The project found that creative approaches to peacebuilding can bridge differences, mediate conflicts, and contribute to peace. The key findings of the project are:

  • Photography as an art form can break down barriers between groups, demystify stigma and stereotypes.  
  • Photovoice has proven to have great potential to be a more socially conscious and just form of research than many traditional methods.
  • Unlike the formal routes of peacebuilding initiatives based on cognitive and rational engagement, art methods work more organically and creatively in bringing together people and building the capacities required for peace.
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