refugee rights in records project

Project Participants

Anne J. Gilliland, PI, Professor, UCLA Department of Information Studies

James Lowry, Co-PI, Lecturer, Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies (LUCAS)

Kathy Carbone, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA Department of Information Studies

Kristin B. Cornelius, Visiting Researcher, Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge


Current graduate student researchers: Sakena Alalawi, Kristell Jimenez (UCLA), and Ember Taylor (LUCAS)

Past graduate student researchers: Emma Cummings (LUCAS) and Lauren Sorensen (UCLA)

Project Overview

In late 2016 the United Nations (UN) estimated that the numbers of forcibly displaced persons had exceeded more than 60 million people worldwide. The UN identifies several categories of forcibly displaced people: refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and returnees. Displacement crises raise complex interacting issues about nation-states, laws, borders, human rights, citizenship and identity, security, resource allocation and information and communication technologies (ICT). Integral to this complexity, documentation and particularly official records are pervasive and fundamental yet somehow rarely conspicuous.  While much attention has been focused on official verification of identities and citizenship of displaced persons, vetting them for security risks, reunifying families, and determining whether they qualify for asylum and resettlement, less work has addressed issues that they confront in accessing, carrying and producing the kinds of authoritative documentation that they require to be successful in these processes. In their flight or displacement, they may be unable to carry necessary personal copies of records; records may be removed from them at borders by hostile authorities, destroyed or lost; and babies born along the way may not be issued with birth certificates. Moreover, in coping with the exigencies of war, genocide and ethnic cleansing, forced migration and asylum seeking, refugees often use strategies such as altering documentation; using others’ documents; providing false information regarding names, birth dates and places, familial relationships, occupation, religion and ethnic identity, and prior military service; avoiding registering themselves as migrants or registering the births of their babies in order to get to another country that they feel will offer better opportunities; or simply destroying their own records in order to avoid being returned to their place of origin.   


This project, supported by UCLA seed funding, first aims to identify and make visible ways in which official records (including bio-records), bureaucratic practices and other more "irregular" forms and uses of records play crucial roles in the lives of displaced people as they travel across state boundaries, interact with governments and aid agencies in camps, asylum hearings, immigration vetting, claims for social services and so forth, and eventually resettle into new countries and interface with their bureaucratic systems or return/are returned to their places of origin. Secondly, it seeks to identify and understand from the perspectives of refugees, governments and aid agencies, the roles and implications of ICTs such as cloud services, social media and cellphones for the creation, movement, preservation and accessing of records. With this knowledge in hand, it then aims to identify ways in which professionals and agencies involved in archives and record-keeping in affected countries might contribute and collaborate through digital systems design to identifying and locating, protecting, validating, securing and certifying such records; and also to identify potential policy recommendations supporting specific refugee rights in records.   


Project Reports, Publications, and Presentation

Upcoming Project Events

  • Symposium on Refugees, Documentation, and Archives, RMIT University, Melbourne, 30 August 2019
  • AERI 2019, Liverpool University, July 8-12, 2019
  • Rustat Conference on Blockchain in the Real World, June 13, 2019
  • Symposium, Rights in Records Project, UNICAMP, São Paolo, Brazil, June 2019 (tentative)

Previous Events

  • Symposium on Refugees, Documentation, and Archives, Malmö City Archives, Sweden, 21 November 2018
  • Simpozij Ljudska prava izbjeglica u zapisima, 15. studenoga 2018. u 9,30 sati, Znanstveni zavod Hrvatskih studija Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, Znanstveno – učilišni kampus Borongaj/Refugee Rights in Records Symposium 15 November  2018 at 9,30, University Department of Croatian Studies, University of Zagreb, Borongaj Campus 
  • Symposium on Displacement, Diaspora and Documentation,  UCLA Center for Information as Evidence and the Middle Eastern Rights Association, University of California, Los  Angeles, October 19, 2018.
  • Refugee Rights in Records Symposium, School of History, Humanities Institute of Ireland, University College Dublin, August 9, 2018.
  • Personal Record-Keeping: Protecting Your Rights through Records Workshop, University of Liverpool, July 3, 2018.
  • Anne J. Gilliland, Krystell Jimenez and Lauren Sorensen, "The Role of Archives in Addressing Refugee Crises/Records and ICT at the Boundaries of the State," panel,  AERI 2018, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, July 2018.
  • Rights in Records for Refugees Symposium, co-sponsored by UCLA, LUCAS and the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives at Central European University, 10 January, 2018 in the Blinken Open Society Archives, Budapest, Hungary.Gilliland, Anne J., Krystell Jimenez and Lauren Sorensen, "The Role of Archives in Addressing Refugee Crises/Records and ICT at the Boundaries of the State," panel,  AERI 2018, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, July 2018.