Aston University Research on Refugee Journeys

Research on refugee journeys to Europe


Refugees and migrants often flee their home countries due to life threatening circumstances such as persecutions or human rights violations. They often become subject to numerous forms of violence at borders and camps in European countries. This violence is often used tactically as a form of border control in an aim to prevent asylum seekers and immigration.

The violence and inappropriate camp conditions lead to further problems including detention, restrictions for asylum applications, destitution, lack of medical care, and public health concerns, which have been made acutely worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What we did

An experienced group of researchers from Politics & International Relations, and the Aston Centre for Europe (ACE) at Aston University, together with a colleague from the University of Liverpool, was assembled. The research began in 2015, investigating how people’s movements and journeys are obstructed through the deployment of border policies, violence and infrastructure.

The team conducted significant field research which led to a total of ten field trips to Serbia and Greece documenting the experiences of refugees. They were able to show stories of refugee journeys through exhibitions, policy briefings, evidence submissions to Parliamentary inquiries and articles on platforms including The ConversationThe Independent and Open Democracy. They also authored five peer reviewed articles in leading journals including Political GeographyCooperation and ConflictGlobal Policy and Antipode.  

The ‘Refugee Journeys’ exhibition research contributed to the changing of public narratives about refugees and highlighted the continued crisis which lacks widespread media coverage.

To highlight the research activities, the ‘Refugee Journeys’ exhibition was presented at the Tate Liverpool Gallery; University of Milan; Centre for Social Innovation, Toronto; Orebro University, Sweden and the University of Wellington, New Zealand. The three ‘Refugee Journeys’ exhibitions were targeted at the general public and gained around 3,500 visitors.


The team’s core research findings were that “journeys taken by displaced people are unsafe and that border crossings are increasingly violent.” It showed that “refugees travelling across Europe are predominantly reliant on activist and volunteer-led aid, and that refugee camps are varied in their quality and safety, with some camps resembling prisons with inhumane conditions.” The team’s research links camp conditions directly to EU border security policies.

The research findings in this project have been presented at briefing events in both Brussels and London. The team submitted evidence to the UK Parliament Select Committee on Irregular Migration, and their research has been referenced in the Committee’s final report. Research has also been utilised by the European Council for Refugees and Exiles in a report about human rights violations at EU borders.

Research from this project has been referenced by organisations including Medecins Sans Frontieres (Athens Field Office) as well as NGOs working with refugees such as Samos Volunteers (Samos, Greece) and the Mobile Info Team (Thessaloniki).

The research carried out by the team has had a tangible impact in increasing public awareness and generating a deeper understanding and empathy of how ‘closed border’ policies create ongoing humanitarian crises in Europe. 

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