Research Project: When the Dust Settles

When the Dust Settles Film

The Project

There are currently 8,000 refugees in the UK waiting for decisions on their family reunion applications. Forced migration and the traumatic consequences of separation, as well as of the obstacles to the reunification process, are well documented, as are the most immediate needs of families, once reunited. The longer-term lived experience of reunited refugee families, in contrast, is poorly understood, despite recognition that family reunion is not the end of a journey, but the beginning of another long road for families to be able to settle and build their lives in the UK, free from persecution. When the Dust Settles is a participatory, mixed media research project that addresses this research gap, by examining the ongoing challenges reunited refugee families face after their first year together in their new home.

Created by Dr Maria Abranches (School of International Development, UEA) and Amy Lythgoe (Together Now), and supported by a British Academy Innovation Fellowship, When the Dust Settles recognises the families’ key role in the project as knowledge-holders and sharers. The project therefore adopted a participatory ethnographic approach and used narrative interviews and participant-led photography to understand people’s post-reunion lived experience. The documentary was co-written with the participant families in order to give voice to the concerns and themes they wanted to share.

While the stories that were shared reveal incredible resilience and the strategies adopted to make sense of the changes that occur in life away from persecution, they also demonstrate that many of the challenges faced after arrival still persist and that new ones are encountered along the way.

Field Locations

The project was conducted in Manchester and Glasgow, UK.

The Team

Dr Maria Abranches, School of International Development - PI Amy Lythgoe, Together Now - Project Partner

Dr Nihaya Jaber – Research Associate

Ayoola Jolayemi – Film director

The Exhibition

Some of the images and accompanying stories created by refugee families living in the Manchester and Glasgow formed a photography exhibition displayed during UEA Refugee Week in March 2023. The exhibition gave an intimate window into the lives of reunited families, and was accompanied by the documentary launch, which highlights people’s hopes and concerns in juxtaposition with everyday life activities like cooking, eating or going to the park. Participants’ decision to share these juxtapositions are meant to reveal the humanity of their lives and contribute to raise awareness of the importance of living together in safety for all families, as well as to offer a counternarrative to the current political focus on reinforcing border control.


Well done for bringing this thought-provoking exhibition to the UEA, and to the photographers who have shared their stories. What a success!

Great project. A very creative way of explaining the sense of leaving your life behind.

I’m an economist and typically tone deaf to conceptual art – but it was so powerful to be in the space between what the refugees have left behind and what they have found. Almost unbearable but also affirming in its humanity and hope. Thank you!

It is surprising and simultaneously inspiring to see that, despite war and persecution, humanity still triumphs. We all find beauty in flowers, our children’s smiles, and good food. We are all connected, we are all human.

There are simple things in life that we all enjoy, and these simple things have a huge impact on individuals.

It is really lovely to see families who have been through so much living their lives and a reminder that we don’t know what the people around us have been through.

It’s always interesting, and sometimes harrowing, to hear people’s stories of how they fled their homes and came to a new place. These little glimpses into their everyday lives and the things that matter to them and bring them joy, are a reminder of human resilience (how we can find pleasure and gratitude in the smallest things) – and a reminder of all the things we all have to be thankful for. Thank you.

An interesting insight into what’s meaningful and significant to different people and their experiences.

You hear and learn so much about the immediate and short-term consequences of people being displaced from their origin country; occasionally you hear about families being reunited and “settling in” to life elsewhere, but beyond that there’s this expectation to simply “move on with life” as though this life changing experience is merely a thing of the past. I feel this exhibition is a wonderful and poignant illustration of how much these experiences can change one’s outlook on life, and how persistently emotional it can be.

I think that this is a wonderful exhibition because all the photographs are so unique and they show how life can suddenly change, and that settling in is always hard but life is usually full of good surprises.

Came to realise the dust never settles.

Great film that really took me into their lives – the difficulties, the moments of amazing – my favourite has to be the dog (just captures that feeling) and the coffee (home in a different home). Thank you!

Absolutely beautifully shot and proportioned film, allowing all voices to be heard. Get it out to schools!

Excellent evening of cinema and photos: great cinematography and content.

Thank you for sharing and making such a heartfelt movie that showcased the real process of reuniting with your family.

What a lovely film! It’s made us and certainly many to think and reflect. Thank you.

Thank you for such a beautiful film and evening. So much to take in and even more after a brilliant Q&A. Thank you.

A stunning film – so thought provoking. Thank you for a lovely evening, the photos are beautiful.

Such a wonderful and poignant film. It has been so thoughtfully done – thank you very much for this interesting and insightful evening. The photos are beautiful too and very emotive.

Mildly triggering for me as one who’s been separated from family – husband and children for over 17 months. Film very well presented.

Amazing documentary, the attention to detail is great and the story is touching.

Great documentary, well done.

What a wonderful idea and very moving and humbling, thought-provoking, to see the photos and film. Thank you, and best wishes for the next steps and stages.


When the Dust Settles is funded by British Academy and the University of East Anglia ADR (Associate Deans for Research) Impact Fund, which originates from the University's Higher Education Research Funding (HEIF) and aims to increase the impact of UEA research beyond academia.