The Self in the Strange Identity formation among newly arrived Refugees in Great Britain

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Sociology


According to the British Refugee Council, the world today faces one of the most severe forced
displacement crises in modern history (see Refugee Council, 2016). Smoldering disputes and escalating
conflicts in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East have forced more than 65 million people worldwide
to flee their homes and seek asylum and protection elsewhere, often in entirely unknown
surroundings. Most have sought refuge in neighboring countries, with developing regions hosting
about 86 percent of the world's refugees under UNHCR mandate in 2015. Though relatively few
refugees have come to Europe, the United Nations Refugee Agency has reported that more than a
million displaced people arrived on the continent in 2015 by sea alone, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan
and Iraq (see UNHCR, 2016). In comparison to other European countries, Great Britain is known for a
somewhat harsh asylum system. The Red Cross states that there are an estimated 117,234 refugees
currently living in the United Kingdom, which amounts to about 0.18 percent of the British population
(see British Red Cross; see Refugee Council, 2016).
Unlike other migrants, refugees have been forced to leave their home countries due to violent
conflicts and other life-threatening conditions, and usually do not act out of their free will. With the
flight from their homes and familiar environments, and the entry into the strange surroundings of an
unknown country, newly arrived refugees enter a state of high uncertainty. Since the understanding
of the self is highly dependent on factors such as social context, time and space, such a drastic shift is
likely to have an impact on their very perception of selfhood (Brubaker & Cooper, 2000: 18; Paasi,
2001: 10).
During my Master's project, I would therefore propose to study the identities and the identity
formation as well as transformation in newly arrived refugees in the United Kingdom and thereby
contribute to the discussion of self-understanding and identification in the context of flight and
migration, which currently is a topic of pressing global importance.


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