Blogroll: Recommended Reads

In recent years, more and more blogs have appeared online exploring the historical and political context of the refugee plight, both then and now. There’s also been an increasing interest in the history of Hong Kong, especially via nostalgic Facebook groups or politically active Twitter accounts.

Here’s a few of my recommended (online) reads:

Refugee History

This blog boasts an impressive panel of experts who seek to find evidence-based solutions to the current refugee crisis. Posts cover book reviews, news about forced migration and probing historical essays. Recent articles include: ‘Victims of Decolonisation? The French Settlers of Algeria’ and ‘Belonging and Alienation in the Greek Return to Imbros’. You can follow Refugee History for conference highlights and other academic updates via @RefugeeHistory.

The Refugee Research Network

This excellent and wide-ranging Canadian blog covers several bases, from educational courses on offer around the world (certificates and PhD programmes), a scholars network to an excellent and user friendly research database which pools articles from all corners of the web. Articles are wide-ranging and cover the plight of refugees and displaced persons in Gaza, Kenya and Lebanon, among many other places.

The Hong Kong History Project

Not to be confused with The Hong Kong Heritage Project, this excellent resource should be a first port of call for both budding and experienced Hong Kong history enthusiasts. It features a comprehensive historiography on Hong Kong history compiled by historian Vaudine England, much of it focused on race and identity, as well as guest blogs from PhD candidates around the world.

Gwulo

This blog has been a staple for Hong Kong history researchers since it was first launched in 2006 by the indefatigable David Bellis. With thousands of pages of research sourced and uploaded by David and his team of volunteer netizens, this blog has been invaluable for my own research. Highlights include census lists, GPS maps, oral histories and much, much more.

Far East Currents

This blog is the brainchild of Dr Roy Eric Xavier, whose aim is to: ‘understand the roles that Portuguese-Macanese people played in the development of Macau, Hong Kong and other regions of southeast Asia, and their migration to other countries after World War II’. Roy has interviewed hundreds of Macanese, Portuguese-Eurasians and others who have lived or worked in Macao. Many of these interviews are featured on his blog or are available on YouTube.

China Rhyming

Having read ‘Midnight in Peking’; Paul French’s bestselling investigative thriller about the murder of a 19 year old English girl in Beijing’s ‘bad lands’, I’ve been a fan ever since. His blog, China Rhyming, covers a ‘gallimaufry of random China history and research interests’, and is well worth a read. As French (and Twain) say, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme’.

And finally …

Here’s a few of my favourite Twitterstorians you might want to follow:

@jypersian is an active Twitterstorian, based in Australia, who posts mainly about post-war migration to Australia. @petergatrell is a giant in the field of refugee studies. He regularly posts about his work and other developments in the field. @hongkonghistory, The Hong Kong History Project’s Twitter feed, is a valuable resource for Hong Kong related conferences and general Hong Kong related news and info. Finally, @vischina, administered by Professor Robert Bickers at Bristol University, gives a glimpse into the collection of 20,000+ digitised images of China (1850 – 1950) which have been painstakingly collected by the Visualising China team.

World Refugee Day 2018: Refugee Voices

My sister, an engineer, kindly invited me to an event hosted by her firm to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June 2018. The event aimed to ‘humanise and individualise the stories of those who have been displaced’ and featured three speakers of different nationalities and backgrounds, crossing generational and religious divides. All had suffered from the reverberations of displacement, either directly or indirectly, and each spoke about the complexities of the notion of home, described as a ‘landscape of the heart’ by the keynote speaker, a Syrian refugee.

The first presentation was given by the daughter of a German-Jewish refugee, whose father sought a refuge in Britain after the violence of Kristallnacht and his incarceration in a concentration camp. Once in Britain, he was interned as an enemy alien, possibly on the Isle of White, where most Germans and Austrians were detained. She was raised in a ‘culture of silence’ and described her quest to piece together her family’s past. Although a second-generation refugee, her father’s exile influenced her life, which has been marked by transience. ‘I am not a tree’, she remarked. ‘I have no roots’.

The second speaker escaped the civil war in Bosnia as a child in the early 1990s. She recounted how, aged seven, she and her mother evaded snipers to reach the last UN convoy to leave besieged Sarajevo. They embarked on an uncertain future as refugees, firstly in Croatia, and finally in Italy, where she spent her childhood. Displacement was compounded by a sense of isolation and deep loneliness as mother and daughter struggled to contact relatives back home. Years later, she was eventually reunited with her father, whose experiences of war left him a deeply changed man. Today, living and working in Britain, she reflected on her understanding of home. Where is home? She asked. It is nowhere, and everywhere, laying in the cracks of the places she had fled from and to: Bosnia, Croatia, Italy and Britain.

The final speaker was a prodigious young architect from Syria, one of the few to be granted asylum under the government’s Syrian Resettlement Scheme (it is hoped that 20,000 will be resettled by 2020). He spoke of the repression wrought by the Baathist party, early hopes for the Arab Spring and Syrian uprising, and his six-week detention in a 25 square metre cell, shared with 75 other detainees, many of whom died. He reflected on his personal struggle as a diaspora-activist-architect, his feelings of loss and helplessness, but also anger at the failures of international institutions, including the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, to help Syria and its people. He has tried to find meaning in exile and displacement. What does it mean to be a refugee? As shown by the three speakers, exile transcends language, culture, nationality and religion. As John Berger has written: ‘Ours has been the century of departure, of migration, of exodus – of disappearance, the century of people helplessly seeing others, who were close to them, disappear over the horizon.’     

The Modern Refugee

MACEDONIA-GREECE-EUROPE-MIGRANTSIn light of US President Donald Trump’s entry ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations and the suspension of America’s refugee programme announced on 27 January, it’s more important than ever to understand past refugee movements, displacement and forced migration so as to help inform contemporary policy responses.

Even as far afield as in Hong Kong, Trump’s ruling has left asylum claimants in limbo.

If you’re interested in finding out more about broad-brush refugee history there are a number of excellent websites, films, books and public exhibitions that have helped engage the public on refugee issues, past and present.

A relatively new web resource, Refugee History includes a number of thought-provoking evidence based blogs written by an academic panel. Check out Lyndsey Stonebridge’s timely piece on Hannah Arendt’s refugee status, a woman who is as relevant today as she was in the 1950s: ‘As long as mankind is national and territorially organized in states, a stateless person is not simply expelled from one country, native or adopted, but from all countries … which means he is actually expelled from humanity’. You can also follow the network on Twitter via @RefugeeHistory.

Although the global refugee situation is changing daily, Professor Alexander’s Betts’ Guardian piece, Five history lessons in how to deal with a refugee crisis , written in 2015, is still worth a read today. For a more in-depth analysis, I recommend Tony Kushner’s Remembering Refugees, Then and Now (2006), for an insight into contemporary representation of refugees, and Peter Gatrell’s The Making of the Modern Refugee (2013), praised as a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the recent historical roots of refugees.

The Wiener Library in London is currently hosting an excellent exhibition titled ‘A Bitter Road: Britain and the Refugee Crisis of the 1930s and 1940s’, which explores Britain’s response to Jewish refugees using items from the Library’s collection. The exhibition is due to close on 17 February 2017 so do hurry if you want to catch it.

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Gianfranco Rosi’s ‘beautiful, mysterious and moving film’ Fire at Sea

Finally, for a more contemporary view, the documentary Fire at Sea (2016) is a moving portrait of Lampedusa, the Sicilian Island where thousands of desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East arrive each year for hopes of a better life. The film was described as ‘masterly film-making’ by the Guardian. Unfortunately Fire at Sea is not available on Netflix but can be downloaded from itunes for a couple of pounds. For those who prefer to read rather than watch, I recommend Emma Jane Kirby’s short yet excellent The Optician of Lampedusa (2016), the true story of Carmine Menna who along with a group of friends stumbled upon a sinking boat carrying hundreds of refugees whilst on a fishing expedition. The Observer gives a nod to Kirby’s dedication to the refugee plight as both journalist and author: ‘Shortly after the drownings, Pope Francis spoke of “a day for tears”. Emma Jane Kirby challenges us to do more than cry.’