At Oxford, Scholars Studying Refugees Prepare to Put Their Archives Online

At Oxford, Scholars Studying Refugees Prepare to Put Their Archives Online

The Chronicle of Higher Education-10/16/01



Oxford, England


The University of Oxford's Refugee Studies Centre, which claims to hold the world's largest archive of unpublished literature on forced migration, will make its collection available online next month.


The project involves much of the center's store of some 30,000 unpublished documents, most of which are not copyrighted. It has been developed with a $1-million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in New York.


Among the documents are thousands of internal reports produced both by governments and nongovernmental organizations in parts of the developing world, including East Timor, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Guatemala, Rwanda, and Vietnam, as well as large areas of the Middle East and Central Asia.


The collection is going online as concern about refugees is rising, prompted by the U.S.-led military campaign against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan. Here in Britain, authorities are facing what has been described as a looming crisis involving Afghani refugees attempting to gain illegal entry into the country.


The Refugee Studies Centre's Web project has been in the works for more than two years, says Stephen Castles, the center's recently appointed director. A digital library available to all "will hopefully serve as a natural complement to the nature of our existing work," says Mr. Castles.


Established in 1982, the center gathers official material relating to the causes and consequences of forced migration. It also offers teaching and research opportunities and maintains ties with universities in parts of the world where the subject is a part of everyday life.


Along with the online library, the center is also creating its own Web portal, to be called Forced Migration Online, that will link to other digital resources from around the world.


Researchers at the center admire the quality of American research on migration trends, Mr. Castles says, mentioning studies published by the National Science Council showing "that immigration has been of enormous benefit to the United States, and that America would be a smaller, weaker society without it."


"It's regrettable that no such research has been done in the same systematic way in the United Kingdom," he says. Still, he adds, "much of what we can offer will soon be available for others around the world to use."


Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education