Placemaking and mental health in refugee camps: Anethnography of asylum seekers’ lived experiences in the UK

Currently recruiting

Supervisor: Francesca Meloni

Non-accademic partner: Helen Bamber Foundation

Studentship start date: 01/10/2024

Application deadline: 18/02/2024

Twenty percent of the world’s asylum seekers live in camps, where they are held in ‘quasi-detention’ conditions that actively harm their physical and mental health. Such camps are defined as temporary and contingency facilities built to provide assistance to people who have been forced to flee due to war, persecution, and violence. In the UK, newly arrived asylum seekers are increasingly placed in camps such as repurposed military bases with unsafe housing conditions, inadequate healthcare, and limited access to basic services and local communities. While the negative impact of camps on mental health has received media and scholarly attention, much less is known about how asylum seekers can make a place for themselves while living and waiting in camps, and how these placemaking practices influence their mental health and wellbeing. This project defines ‘place’ as a site of negotiation and contestation between people and institutions; and ‘placemaking’ as a set of relational practices through which individuals are not passively shaped by environments but are able to actively interpret and transform the places they occupy. The importance of placemaking has been increasingly recognised in health and social sciences as a key dimension affecting wellbeing and contributing to mental health inequalities. Focusing on asylum seekers’ lived experiences, this study will generate nuanced insights into the role and importance of placemaking for asylum seekers’ mental health in contexts of displacement and encampment.

This study aims to analyse:

1) how asylum seekers living in camps make a place for themselves;

2) how they perceive that the camp living conditions affect their everyday lives;

3) how they perceive that the camp living conditions affect their mental health and wellbeing;

4) what spaces, relationships, and services asylum seekers see as important for influencing their mental health and wellbeing.

The study investigates these issues through an ethnography combining participant observation with narrative interviews and creative methods with asylum seekers and key stakeholders (e.g., health professionals; community organisers). The use of ethnographic and creative methods will enable an in depth description of the complexity of asylum seekers’ everyday experiences and the relationships between placemaking and mental health. The project will be carried out by the LISS PhD student under the supervision of Dr Meloni and Prof Kienzler, in partnership with the Helen Bamber Foundation (HBF), a leading human rights charity providing holistic care to asylum seekers in the UK. This collaborative study will create a solid evidence base to inform the development of policies and practices that can improve the mental health prospects of asylum seekers living in camps. It will produce at least 2 research outputs (e.g., policy briefs, articles in public engagement forums, videos) and at least 2 presentations at advocacy and policy events to communicate the research findings with community organisations, policy makers, practitioners, and researchers.

For more information including how to apply please click here: Placemaking and mental health in refugee camps: An ethnography of asylum seekers’ lived experiences in the UK at King’s College London on