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Why I chose to write about refugees

Our new volunteer, Jonny Moynihan, looks at the way his dissertation on refugee treatment in Kenya and South Africa has led him to work at IRT.

Deciding the Topic

When I was deciding what subject to write about for my dissertation in MSc -Security Studies at University College London, I wanted to choose an area of politics which had been relatively untouched by academics compared to other areas such as the European Union and terrorism.

China and the Uighurs

It led to me wonder about other topics I could choose for my dissertation. I first thought I was going to do it on the link between oil and civil wars. However, it proved to be already vastly researched by academics. The next topic was the discrimination of the Uighur Muslim population by the Han Chinese central government in Xinjiang Province in the northwest of China. Nevertheless, in the end I didn’t end up doing my dissertation on the Uighur population because of the fear of being hacked by the Chinese government and the difficulty of not being able to speak Mandarin, which was a fairly major point come to think of it.

The Refugee Crisis in Europe

On the other hand, searching for another topic, which was both under researched and interesting enough for four months straight, I came across the topic of refugees. I knew virtually nothing about refugees apart from the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law around the world. At the same time, I thought about the refugee crisis, which was happening in the Mediterranean on islands of Italy and Greece. I had seen the refugee crisis in Europe across the mainstream media and realised that there must be the same issue in Africa. The reason for choosing Africa, and specifically Kenya and South Africa, was because they are English speaking countries with large economies and large refugee populations. Thus, I felt I could research something a bit outside of the box of doing something popular like the refugee crisis in the EU.

Dispelling the myths about refugees

I set about understanding as much I could about refugees and their lives along with their experiences in Kenya and South Africa. From the first moment, even in the first few academic articles and google searches, it completely changed my view on refugees and their daily lives of living in limbo, which became my dissertation title. The first few academic articles about refugee treatment in Kenya and South Africa really did dismiss all the myths I was seeing in the media about refugees being economic migrants, coming to the UK just to obtain benefits and ‘steal our jobs’.

Refugee Treatment in Camps

I began to understand that refugees weren’t as David Cameron put it; ‘a swarm’ as he had previously mentioned in a speech, rather that they were just people like you and me, fleeing war and violence to camps or cities in safer countries close to the warzone. I also started to realise that getting to camps wasn’t the end of their trauma of escaping conflict. I learnt about the fact that there is still communal conflict in the camps along with a host of other problems such as gender violence, corruption and inefficiency.

Moving onto IRT

After the process of writing my dissertation and dispelling all of the myths I had previously felt were right, I began to look at charities. At a humanitarian charity, I could put my dissertation research into practice, which led me to volunteer at International Refugee Trust. At IRT, I’m gaining experience about what charities are doing to help refugees in Africa, in states such as Uganda and South Sudan, where even less research academic research is focused.

My Work at IRT

My work at IRT involves writing content for their social media, and using my PR experience to help raise awareness of the current refugee crisis. I also write compelling content for IRT’s website, explaining how their work is so important to bringing thousands of refugees out of poverty. I’m currently working with their project partners on the ground, editing videos showing real stories of the current situation, stuff that the mainstream media simply aren’t broadcasting. I have been working closely with IRT’s Fundraising Manager Jessica Eames and their CEO Steven Smith MBE, learning how IRT works and why my work is so important. Being a volunteer has not only given me insight of the third sector but has been a hugely rewarding experience.