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)

Graduate student researchers: Sakena Alalawi, Kristell Jimenez, Lauren Sorenson (UCLA); Emma Cummings (LUCAS)

Project Overview

Records and ICT at the Boundaries of the State: Refugee Needs, Rights and Uses   (the Refugee Rights in Records Project) , 2017-2018.

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.   

This will be accomplished through three concurrent activities: 

1. analysis of current UN and national government, aid agency and media reports; 

2. interviews and forums with refugees and their advocates, aid workers and officials about their experiences with records in selected locations in Europe and the United States; and 

3. identification and analysis of records requirements for refugees in/from affected jurisdictions in the UK, European Union, Turkey and the United States. 

Project Events

"The Role of Archives in Addressing Refugee Crises," presentation by Anne J. Gilliland and James Lowry, The National Archives, March 29, 2018. Kew, Richmond, England.

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. but places are limited. For further information and registration, please contact Csaba Szilagyi,

Publications and Presentations


  • Refugee Rights in Records Symposium: Summary and Research and Development Questions Arising, Report on the Symposium held at the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives, January 10, 2018.
  • Gilliland, Anne J. "Evidence and  Exigency: Reconstructing and Reconciling Records for Life After  Conflict.” In Emerging Trends in Archival Science, Karen F. Gracy, ed.  (Rowman & Littlefield (December 2017), pp 1-26.
    Gilliland, Anne  J. "A Matter of Life and Death: A Critical Examination of the Role of  Official Records and Archives in Supporting the Agency of the Forcibly  Displaced," Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, 2  (2017),
  • Gilliland,  Anne J. “Networking Records in Their Diaspora: A Reconceptualization of  "Displaced Records" in a Postnational World.” Chapter 11 in Displaced  Records, James Lowry, ed. (Routledge, March 2017), pp. 180-195.
  • Gilliland,  Anne J. and Hariz Halilovich. "Migrating Memories: Transdisciplinary  Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching About Diasporic Memory, Identity and  Human Rights in Archival Studies," Archival Science (2017), DOI:  10.1007/s10502-016-9265-9
  • Gilliland, Anne J. "Permeable Binaries,  Societal Grand Challenges, and the Roles of the Twenty-first-century  Archival and Recordkeeping Profession," Archifacts, (December 2015): 12-30.