Hearing the Refugees’ Voice

Hearing the Refugees’ Voice
27th November 2018 alumni

As the first recipient of the University’s Wiseman Khuzwayo Scholarship, Charlotte Russell will examine the links between migration, trafficking and slavery by speaking directly to those affected


In September 2015, while still an undergraduate, Charlotte Russell travelled to Greece with her mother to help with an unfolding humanitarian crisis. At that time an unprecedented number of refugees were arriving each day seeking safety in Europe. For a month they helped with repairing shelters and distributing food and basic medical care, working with small grassroots organisations.


“It was a steep learning curve and I found it quite challenging,” says Charlotte. “But it gave me a more realistic perspective of human rights fieldwork and that got me fired up to try and do more.” “My mum and I had been through a reasonable amount together and experienced human rights violations ourselves, so were very aware and wanted to give back. I’ve always been inspired by my mum’s attitude and her resilience. My relationship with her has been a real source of inspiration for my human rights work.”


Charlotte went on to complete her degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Applied Human Rights at the University of York. Today, she is preparing to undertake a PhD studying the links between migration, trafficking and contemporary slavery by conducting interviews in refugee camps across Europe, starting predominantly with those on the Balkan route.


She is the first recipient of the Wiseman Khuzwayo PhD Scholarship in Refugees and Human Trafficking from the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation. Starting in October, she will interview refugees about their experiences and whether they consider themselves to have been victims of forced labour and slavery and compare that with how those experiences are perceived.


“It’s an incredible opportunity to come up with your own concept and study something that you are really passionate about,” says Charlotte. “What I want to do is incorporate refugee populations, particularly minors, into the dialogue about how best to protect them and how to ensure better safeguarding policy. I want to try and engage the international community a bit better in having a discourse that encourages a bottom-up perspective.


“There is quite an absence of literature that includes the voices of forced migrant populations themselves, regarding the issues of trafficking, and even less including minors in that. There are ethical issues around including them in that research. It must be handled particularly carefully, but I truly believe it can empower their agency rather than risking re-traumatisation. Having their voice and the voice of people trying to protect them within the same conversation is really key in better safeguarding and improving the way that we tackle this invisible issue of human trafficking in refugee populations.”


Despite the explosion of discourse surrounding the refugee crisis since its impact reached Europe, Charlotte feels that policy making is struggling to keep up. “I want to influence policy makers and alter safeguarding procedures. I want to help reassess the broader social structures by which we undertake those kinds of measures,” she says.


“By contributing the voices of people who are exposed to trafficking, I would be a part of the broader contemporary abolitionist movement that the Wilberforce Institute is doing such an incredible job of pursuing. They are on the international stage and are the contending voice in anti-human trafficking measures. The work they are doing with so many global actors is incredible and I hope that my work will contribute towards their aim.”


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