Understanding migrant stories

  • April 18, 2024
Understanding migrant stories

Noor Shahzad and Safwan Aziz Khan have set up the Migration Collective to foreground migration stories

While looking at the pull and push factors and quantitative data analysis is important, the itineraries and trajectories and individual journeys of irregular migrants need to be focused on as well for a deeper understanding of the factors that impact migration but are understudied.

Noor Shahzad

Two Gates Cambridge Scholars are collaborating on a new research, story-telling and advocacy enterprise which aims to record journeys of migration, amplify the voices of migrants and build empathy for the growing number of people who are displaced or have to leave their country.

Noor Shahzad, founder at Migration Collective, became interested in the stories of migrants when she saw homeless South Asian men in Trieste, Italy who she learned had travelled there through the Balkans. “This was the first time I had heard the word “dunki” which colloquially refers to irregular migration to Europe. I went back home wanting to learn more,” she says.

Due to the dearth of research on migrants from the Global South, she and other researchers set up the Migration Collective to reclaim the narratives surrounding migration which paints migrants in a negative light. The Migration Collective [MC] aims to renegotiate the space that migrants’ stories have in the larger overarching narratives about migration.

She says: “Social sciences and humanities have mostly borrowed from economics to frame the narratives of migration. While looking at the pull and push factors and quantitative data analysis is important, the itineraries and trajectories and individual journeys of irregular migrants need to be focused on as well for a deeper understanding of the factors that impact migration but are understudied.”

She adds that currently researchers and designers at MC are working on digital maps to represent the patterns of irregular migration in an accessible way. Safwan Aziz Khan, an advisor at MC through his consultancy work, has been involved in and seen up close the plight of refugees in Iraq and North Africa. He says: “The Migration Collective is a first of its kind initiative based out of Pakistan. Pakistan is a country of migrants with constant internal and external migration which is not documented or researched. At MC we hope to fill the gap and provide avenues for research about issues pertaining to migration.”

He adds that while the collective is currently focused on Pakistan, it is developing its contacts with researchers around the world, given the global nature of the migration issue.

The MC has the following three initial programme areas within the broader theme of migration – Waiting for Europe, conflict-driven migration and climate migration. It aims to produce research-based written stories and audiovisual content (Instagram stories, podcasts and documentaries) which will give migrants a voice.

The Migration Collective website, launched in January, is already partnering with organisations including the Mahbub Ul Haq Research Centre, Citizens Archive of Pakistan, Habib University, Saeeda Waheed Gender Initiative, the University of Cambridge’s Centre for South Asian Studies, the Cambridge Centre for Global Human Movement, the Overseas Development Institute and others. The aim is that these will amplify the work the collective is doing as well as provide opportunities for research and other institutional collaborations.

Noor [2016] and Safwan [2016] were both MPhil students and Gates Cambridge Scholars in 2016, Safwan in Public Policy and Noor in Modern South Asian Studies. Noor is a researcher, who most recently worked as a research associate at Habib University in Karachi where she looked at migration through a comparative literature and historical viewpoint. Safwan is a public policy graduate from POLIS and has been working for The UN Refugee Agency. His work involves designing and implementing social assistance schemes for forcibly displaced population, previously in Iraq and most recently in Libya and Tunisia.

*Picture credit: Ali Mudassar

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