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UNESCO-IOM Migration Museums Initiative

The current trend in the development of ‘migration museums’, named differently worldwide, is an interesting phenomenon, as it may contribute to the creation of a new and multiple identity, at an individual and collective level. Like the United States with Ellis Island, Australia, Canada, and more recently the European countries – e.g. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – have been creating such venues to facilitate transmission between generations as well as encounters between migrants and the host populations, by telling their personal story.

While these initiatives also serve the duty to remember, they seem to have three main objectives: acknowledge, integrate and build awareness.

  • Acknowledge: The contributions made by migrants to their host societies; the diversity and wealth of the origin cultures and; the right to a dual-belonging.
  • Include and Integrate: Foster the sense of belonging; enable the communities to feel an integral part of the nation; find common ground and contribute to a national identity.
  • Build awareness and educate on the events that induced individuals - and refugees in particular - to leave their land, thus developing empathy among the host population. More generally, deconstruct stereotypes on immigration.

Given the international scene and the latest events, from the Van Gogh affair in the Netherlands in 2004 to the so-called ‘crise des banlieues’ in France in 2005, there is an urgent need to give the migrant generations (the youth as well as their parents) a voice, in order to foster inclusion, integration and the right to difference. Listening to individual stories may help to deconstruct stereotypes. Memory, History and Narration may also allow to take a step back and to consider the complete picture.

Migration museums also face common challenges, in that they intend to be not only a venue for conservation and exhibition, but also and above all a lively meeting place. The challenge is not so much to bring in the intellectuals, academics, researchers, historians, traditional visitors of museums (the converted) but also and above all to attract the general public, those with preconceived ideas on immigration and the migrants themselves.

  • Can such initiatives contribute to create a new plural identity at individual and country level?
  • How to contribute to the development of a memory and patrimony of immigration? How to call for collections?
  • What is the role of the communities and of the countries of origin in such initiatives?
  • What marketing and communication strategies to develop to reach a wide audience? Indeed, how to bring these museums to the populations?
  • Which educational policies and programmes should be implemented, to attract more students and teachers?
  • More generally, how to impact and induce a change in perception, behaviour and attitude toward the foreigner, the stranger?
  • Would memory and narrations help to forge a better future? How can migrant generations build on the wealth of their origins to increase their self-esteem and better interact with others? How to conciliate integration and cultural diversity?
  • Would an international network provide some first responses to such questions?

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Faced with such questions, UNESCO and the IOM have decided to work together to promote exchange of information and experiences on the history of immigration and the memories of migrants, notably through helping to set up and develop museums in receiving countries. This kind of museum would, in particular, help collect, safeguard, highlight and make accessible to the general public certain elements relating to the history and culture of immigration, and to the process of integration of migrant communities.

The first stage of the UNESCO-IOM project was a meeting of experts and representatives of around ten receiving countries, to foster exchange of information and experience. The meeting took place in Rome, Italy, from 23 to 25 October 2006, at the Headquarters of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO. Attending the meeting and sharing information and experiences were experts (from Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) who looked at the current status of existing museums and museum-related plans in progress (see the agenda.)

This meeting gave the unique opportunity to start an international network of specialists, including representatives of existing migration museums, receiving countries wishing to have such museums, as well as the main immigrant communities, and representatives from the world of education and science (read the final statement and the final report)

A special website has been opened at www.migrationmuseums.org

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To indicate us publications on the role of migration museums in migrant integration and cultural diversity, or the details of a migration museum to add in the below-mentioned draft list, please contact Paul de Guchteneire at p.deguchteneire@unesco.org.

Museo de la inmigración

Immigration Museum (Melbourne, State of Victoria)
Migration Museum (State of South Australia)

Memorial do Imigrante

Pier 21
Immigrants to Canada
Virtual Museum of orphans immigrated to Canada

Immigrant Museet - The Danish Immigration Museum

Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration

DOMiT - Dokumentationszentrum und Museum über die Migration in Deutschland e.V.

Cobh Heritage Centre

Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center


The Netherlands
The House of Cultural Dialogue

Museu da Emigração e das Comunidades

San Marino
San Marino Study Centre on Emigration - Museum of the Emigrant

South Africa
Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum

MhiC - Museo de Historia de la Inmigración de Cataluña
Arquivo da Emigración Galega


Re Cultural Diversity:

National Museums of World Culture
www.smvk.se / www.varldskulturmuseet.se

The Multicultural Centre

Migrations Museum

The United Kingdom
19 Princelet Street
Indian Presence in Liverpool
History of London’s diverse communities
Moving Here
Museum of Bristol

The United States of America
Ellis Island Museum

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  Launch of a New Website for the Migration Museums Initiative   Launch of a New Website for the Migration Museums Initiative
21-03-2007 (UNESCO) - UNESCO and the IOM have decided to work together to promote exchange of information and experiences on the history of immigration and the memories of migrants, notably through helping to set up and develop museums in receiving countries.  More...


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