Athens and the Struggle for a Mobile Commons

Refugee Hosts

In this piece, Tahir Zaman reflects on how new models of citizenship are up-ending the myopia of state-centric responses to displacement. In Athens, a ‘mobile commons’ is opening up, defined by sharing, solidarity and resistance to a state whose priorities reflect more the interests of international capital than the needs of both refugees and hosts alike. As Zaman suggests, the challenge of displacement, and the failure of state-centric responses to it, is mobilising diverse forms of hospitality (and hostility) toward refugees, often pioneered through the politics of solidarity: in particular, autonomous housing collectives. Our Refugee Hosts project aims to understand the motivations behind such responses – whether they are explicitly or implicitly inspired by faith, shared histories, or new forms of refugee-refugee solidarity – so that we can improve and enhance humanitarian engagements with local communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Athens and the Struggle for…

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Supporting refugee livelihoods or host stability? The two sides of the coin

For many refugees, the humanitarian programmes focusing on “livelihoods” end up having merely an “accessory” role rather than generating sustainable labour.

 

Civil defence members and civilians put out fire at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, July 2, 2017. Picture by HASSAN ABDALLAH/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.

 

Civil defence members and civilians put out fire at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, July 2, 2017. Picture by HASSAN ABDALLAH/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.The livelihood component of humanitarian programmes has taken on ever greater importance over the past few decades. It touches on and integrates various NGO sectors, including protection [1], food security and water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In particular, the strategy of humanitarian livelihoods programming targeting refugees around the world has changed from the care and maintenance of refugees to the self-reliance formula during the 1960s and ’70s.

The challenge of translating the concept of “livelihoods” from English into other languages is noteworthy, particularly with respect to the term’s technocratic implications, and Latin languages have by and large adopted it as a loan wordtout court. In recent interviews conducted with local aid workers in the city of Halba in the Akkar province (northern Lebanon), “livelihoods” was translated into Arabic by using a broader expression, namely “ways to improve life” (subul tahsin al-‘aiysh). Tentative and stunted verbal and conceptual translations of “livelihoods” play a major role in unpacking the standardised and de-historicised way in which livelihood strategies have been exported through humanitarian programming, which has the (paradoxical) purpose of guaranteeing survival on the basis of local specificities.

Regarding the case of Akkar in northern Lebanon, most of the livelihoods programmes currently being implemented among refugees and local hosts are meant to produce temporary, small-scale and – for women – mostly home-based forms of income. According to the Syrian refugees I interviewed in Akkar in February and March 2017, humanitarian programmes end up having merely an “accessory” role: They do not generate any form of sustainable labour and practically turn vocational training into leisure activities. For these refugees, this comes as no surprise. They are aware of the scarcity of job opportunities that Akkar’s economy can provide, of the fickle character of Lebanon’s (mainly de facto) policies regulating their everyday lives and of the legal constraints they face as unrecognised refugees. Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. At present it allows Syrians to work exclusively in the agriculture, gardening, cleaning and construction sectors. These are the sectors in which Syrian migrant workers have historically worked throughout the country.

To analytically understand what refugee interviewees have called the “cosmetic” role that humanitarian programming plays while displacement becomes long-term, the humanitarian discourse around refugee livelihoods in Lebanon – as argued by a UN official I interviewed – has now replaced the “cash for work” formula with the “community support” motto. This is done in an effort to disguise and sugarcoat what the refugee beneficiary may be able to earn and learn in host societies.

The humanitarian intent is primarily aimed at creating and enhancing sources of livelihoods, rather than getting beneficiaries to participate in leisure activities. Nonetheless, the social-affective value of offering physical spaces for collective forms of exchange and temporary learning should not be undercut.

To date, 253,332 Syrian refugees have been registered with the UNHCR in this region in Lebanon. Despite this rather large number, during my latest visit to Akkar I noticed that these individuals were becoming decreasingly visible in the public space. Having moved here since 2011, they are often undocumented, feel unaccepted at the local level and therefore prefer to lead their lives behind closed doors.

Hence, on the one hand, livelihoods programmes have the unintentional positive outcome of providing new experiences of collectivity, where mingling is necessary and legal papers are not requested. On the other hand, vocational training based on small-scale activities and home-based forms of labour aimed at self-sufficiency too often end up confirming unequal economies. Moreover, aiming most of the livelihoods programmes’ to produce self-employment and informal activities, they are mainly promoted to guarantee survival rather than entrepreneurship: Small-scale self-empowerment challenges host governments less and is unlikely to spark local dissent. Furthermore, home-based activities do not call pre-established cultural understandings of gender roles and work tasks into question.

Conversations with refugees and local residents show that the beneficiaries’ expectations of livelihoods programmes are quite diverse and range from having the desire or the desperate need to find a job to approaching training as little more than a leisure activity. The majority of local residents joining the livelihoods programmes affirmed approaching them as potential job opportunities and humanitarian agencies as temp agencies. Although initiated with the ethical goal of rescuing lives and alleviating suffering, humanitarian agencies are increasingly acting as conflict resolution forces; by definition, however, they cannot recognise themselves as job providers, even though they have become an integral part of the local labour markets.

So what is the current role of humanitarian practices in catalysing a symbolic encounter between Lebanese and Syrian nationals if labour can seldom be the ultimate goal and actual achievement? Humanitarian efforts in Lebanon have historically contributed to defining new and old human needs along ethnic and sometimes religious lines. Aid provision to Syrian refugees in the poor Akkar region is no exception as it initially polarised locals and migrants by distinguishing between the needs of the Lebanese and those of the Syrians. Today humanitarian agencies seem to act through compensatory stability mechanisms to deal with social tensions by promoting economic survival for refugees and employment and empowerment among local residents.

Although they provided aid unconditionally and indiscriminately to all Syrian nationals at the beginning of the crisis, humanitarian agencies have gradually targeted refugees and vulnerable hosts in a bid to compensate for the frictions caused by an earlier refugee-centred provision of services in chronically poor areas.

These days, local economic development agendas and humanitarian livelihoods programmes are explicitly intertwined with social stability and cohesion agendas. Rather than having self-reliance as an explicit final objective, the current humanitarian politics of livelihoods in northern Lebanon sets social cohesion and stability as the primary purpose of such programmes by addressing both Syrian nationals and vulnerable Lebanese residents.

Therefore, while tensions and stability are still identified and addressed in ethnically hybrid contexts, humanitarian targeting strategies are decreasingly deployed along ethnic or religious lines and are better inscribed within the area-focused intervention framework. In other words, a geography of vulnerability is replacing an (ethnic and religious) identity politics of need and aid provision. Yet humanitarian cohesion and stability agendas continue to stymie this process by addressing ethnically mixed areas and therefore fantasising ethnocentric regimes of stability.

The protracted nature of the crisis inevitably produces a need to attribute agency to the refugees. Likewise, humanitarians use the language of “resilient livelihoods” by tacitly putting the moral and material responsibility to survive and thrive on the beneficiaries. If humanitarian programmes in Akkar are increasingly self-legitimised by upholding long-term cohesion and the stability of the host society, refugee beneficiaries are also called upon to help maintain such local stability.

Unfriendly legal frameworks and humanitarian agencies sometimes burdened with responsibilities that should be attributed to host governments have been sufficiently discussed. I would encourage practitioners and opinion-makers to look beyond such constraints and to ask how individuals feel when they are provided with new skills, particularly when they are aware they are unlikely to be employed anytime soon. Personal frustration and resignation may offer simplistic and unsatisfactory answers. The fact that some segments of the refugee population reconfigure livelihoods programmes as leisure activities opens up new ways of thinking and idealising the humanitarian system in ageing crises.

[1] “Protection” here refers to the UNHCR definition, that is legal assistance that ensures the basic human rights of uprooted or stateless people in their countries of asylum or habitual residence and that refugees will not be returned involuntarily to a country where they could face persecution.

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“Muslim Women” and Gender Inequality in Australia’s Assimilationist-Multicultural Policies. Participation in Sport as a Case Study

Published on “About Gender” 6 (11), 2017: 324-353.

Available online at: http://www.aboutgender.unige.it/index.php/generis/article/view/383

Abstract

When talking about Islam, the “religionization” of subjects – in particular female subjects – becomes the primary analytical tool to describe power relations within cultural groups and in multicultural societies. Likewise, religionization is widely employed in neoliberal western societies to discuss the very identity and human rights of Muslim women in relation to citizenship and migration policies. In the capacity of minority-group members, Muslim women are hardly ever addressed as fully developed agents of change and self-enfranchisement. Moreover, they tend to be reified as an aprioristically self-standing sociological category and instrument of scientific inquiry. The Australian case provides an exemplification of how both the monoculturalism of assimilationist policies adopted by several governmental mandates, and the over-celebrated multicultural policies allegedly ending racism, have ended up sanctioning the “ungovernability” of Muslims within Australian society (Hage 2011), by addressing gender inequality as an innate attribute of being a Muslim woman. In the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla Riots, which more overtly showed the inter-ethnic conflicts of Sydney, the proposal of ending the gender inequality of “minority women” has been increasingly championed by campaigns grown in an ethnicized community environment. The article investigates – through semi-structured interviews – how Muslim women associations in Australia currently intend to approach gender inequality, and how female soccer players in two different Australian cities tell their identity work in relation to their decision of participating in sport. By fully embracing anthropologist Hage’s argument (2011), this paper confirms, first, that the antithesis between assimilationist and multicultural views is actually a false issue, in that assimilationist policies still reside at the heart of multicultural governance; second, that the antagonistic binary between “liberal host societies” and “oppressive minority cultures” is misleading, since female players’ access to Australian official matches is in practice denied by government policies rather than “minority community” culture.

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White Helmets, Not White Collars

The Independent

Source: the Independent.

White Helmets, Not White Collars

By .

Last autumn, Max Blumenthal’s commentary on the White Helmets in Syria went viral in the international media. At the same time, the 2016 White Helmets movie and the “Hollywoodization” of civilian search and rescue operations became objects of discussion and even suspicion in the intellectual realm. Accused of being “hyper-partisan”, the Helmets are portrayed as the Trojan horses of American soldiers in Syria, as they are said to rescue lives while calling for military intervention.

Even though a few months have by now passed since last October, I think it is still worth it to address the couch-based counter-narrative which builds on Blumenthal’s argument. I will therefore highlight the ways in which ‘southern’ humanitarian action is chronically discredited, and how the intellectual critique of heroism in war practically leads to morally deny the White Helmets’ action and outcomes on the ground.

While the White Helmets movie, which was awarded with the Oscar for Best Film Documentary, is an invitation to focus on the factuality of straightforward results — the mere material act and hopeful result of rescuing lives — the armchaired white collars’ tendency to undercut or sneer at ‘southern’ humanitarian action is still hard to die. The act of rescuing, as funded by western powers and trained in Turkey, has been shrugged off as a machiavellic political strategy.

Commentators and large segments of the public audience have foregrounded geopolitical agendas rather than focusing on the abovementioned factuality. This is the unfortunate result of the southern humanitarian discourse that struggles to get morally acknowledged and legitimized on the grounds of unmet neutrality standards.

Whilst I have always struggled myself to believe that there ever is something like apolitical humanitarian action insofar as aid provision becomes part of the conflict itself, such global skepticism toward a humanitarianism meant as a simple “bed for the night”is problematically unilateral from ‘North’ to ‘South’.

Using the same standards to question how political the “bed for the night” is in Saudi Arabia, the UK, or in Syria today can’t be appraised as a post-orientalist discourse, which would surely be much welcomed. Indeed, double standards are rather needed when the White Helmets’ search and rescue operations are only one symptom of a long story of domestic civilian resilience. It comes as no surprise to me that western countries and Turkey have capitalized on the primarily inner phenomenon of the White Helmets. Relying on a large number of civilians who take on different relief and care roles, the NGO cannot be compared in any ways[i] to Saudi Arabia first bombing and then succoring Yemeni refugees; or, again, to the US government providing generous funding for the reconstruction of Lebanon in 2006 after having supported the Israeli systematic aerial shelling. In the debates concerning the White Helmets, some flawed thinking has enabled political agendas to discredit both the agency and the victimhood of war-affected people.

The story of symbolic instrumentalization of human and political causes is way older than me and than the Syrian conflict, and it hurts. I remember the horrified eyes of western acquaintances in Cairo’s Tahrir Square back in 2012 at the view of the Saudi flag in a gazebo of Syrian revolutionaries. The moral denial of a possible social revolution as a result of such unaccepted symbolic connotation came in a similar form at that time.

This approach has given birth to the ‘fence-sitters’ category, which remained politically disgusted and staunch to the ‘this-is-not-going-to-be-my-cause-because-I-don’t-like-my-allies’ tenet.

But let me broach up what remains a thorny issue among the White Helmets supporters, and discuss the ‘Hollywoodization’ of von Einsiedel’s movie. Against the backdrop of the Asadist rhetoric of “terrorists invading the country”, and the often discussed lack of a political and – above all – moral leadership in the Syrian revolution, I find some degree of Hollywoodization not only kind of necessary, but even collectively liberating for some revolution supporters.

In my personal experience, the hurting question “Who are the heroes of this revolution?” frequently knocked on the door of many Syrian friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Many were the emerging figures in the street protests. Nowadays some cultural production is eventually attempting to stigmatize a moral leadership of the revolutionary process – such as the ‘Little Gandhi’ film on the figure of Ghiyath Matar.

In the contemporary era, which seems to be particularly doomed to historical denialism and revisionism — quick and fashionable explanatory tools — we sadly ended upneeding public heroes in order to finally believe in wars and facts. Plot and fabrication theories have marked the Syrian events to such an extent of making me hope for a return to compassionalism, despite all of its well-known problematic sides.

Nonetheless, there’s a story that the White Helmets movie doesn’t tell: that of the complex inner structure of the Helmets, which is not only limited to search and rescue operations. There are many jobs other than medical relief that people came to do within the Helmets, using the skills that they used to have prior to the war. Cooks and drivers are less ‘spectacularizable’ roles, yet they also constitute the functioning core of the White Helmets organization.

In a Syria at war chronically pictured as civilian-less, contrarily, civilian resistance has long pre-existed the Helmets: local committees and councils, street protests against the government as well as against the self-declared Islamic State (IS). Similarly, protests in Idlib that have been claiming civilian resilience with no need for military interventions. They’re all stories which have been barely told.

The spectators’ tout court rejection of the diabolic psychology of war has sterilely remained the only predominant approach to understand violence. Do you remember theSyrian “rebel” who ate a piece of heart of a Syrian army’s soldier back in 2013? An image, again, which managed to highly discredit the civilian efforts for social and political change.

As others have already argued months ago, I’m afraid Max Blumenthal, by conveying the image of “Qaedist Helmets” celebrating victory on the corpses of Syrian soldiers, has been watching war for too long from his couch — like myself and surely the most of you — but without having any clue of what war may imply.

So what I advocate for is a post-Hollywoodization approach to look at the White Helmets. In this sense, the movie is a public invite to acknowledge nude factuality, which we tend to miss as spectators enraptured in the megaphonic magnificence of our intellectual considerations.

What I rather see in the White Helmets movie is simply people rescuing other people, in whom the rescuers, in turn, often see their dead beloved ones. This way, the nude act of rescuing comes as palingenetic; an atrociously unacknowledged moral claim that, moreover, will not even be able to compensate for their losses.

 

The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect SyriaUntold’s views.

[i] Unlike Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the US-Israel alliance in Lebanon, the White Helmets are neither the oppressive force in the territory of intervention, nor they are funded by forces that directly oppress the addressed areas (which, instead, are Syrian and Russian). Indeed, the western-led shelling has mostly targeted IS-held territories. The misconception that the White Helmets’ presence in the war-affected areas is ambivalent has stemmed from the grounded belief that most of them advocate for a no-fly zone.

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Playing on the Move: Understanding Play, Care and Migration through Inter-relationality

Ethiopia-RTP.jpg
Photo taken by: Right to Play, Ethiopia.
Call for Abstracts, WOCMES 2018
Playing on the Move: Understanding Play, Care and Migration through Inter-relationality
In the wake of the latest migration flows from the Middle Eastern region, mostly the result of economic hardships and protracted political failures, humanitarian and development organisations have increasingly been relying on play and sports as a
back-route to integration and social stability. The values that societies assign to play and sports activities for children and youth are well encapsulated by protection, discipline and education.
In this framework, play and sports, which do not necessarily complement each other, are deployed as vehicles to address broad societal issues, such as marginalisation, war recruitment and economic or political vulnerabilities.
Drawing on the experiences of (un)forced migrations and development or humanitarian practices, this panel seeks to contribute to those debates that maintain play activities and sport are an end per se or to frame them as catalysts for political, cultural or religious formation processes.
The panel is particularly interested in contributions tackling the intersection between development/humanitarian action, migration flows and play/sports activities in Middle Eastern and other societies that have become home to Arab background diasporas.
Lastly, it seeks to provide a terrain of discussion regarding what ludic and physical
activities do to the agency of children and youth, particularly in light of the economic and existential uncertainties and opportunities that human mobility entails. In an attempt to move beyond the definition of development and humanitarian agendas, how do children and youth on the move make sense of ludic and sports activities?
Individuals who wish to contribute can send a 200-word abstract to
Panel convenors: Dr Estella Carpi, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the
University College London; and Dr Chiara Diana, Research Associate at IREMAM-
CNRS, Aix-Marseille Université.
Abstracts will be accepted until 20 November 2017. The selected contributors will participate in the WOCMES 2018 conference which will take place in Sevilla (Spain) from July 16 to July 20.
The convenors are planning to edit an anthology of articles focusing on play and
sports that are meant as development and humanitarian tools in migration, to be
published in 2019.
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Space of Refuge Symposium Report

Refugee Hosts

On Wednesday 15 March 2017, Samar Maqusi, Prof. Murray Fraser (both of UCL-Bartlett School of Architecture) and Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (UCL-Geography and Refugee Hosts PI) convened a symposium on Space of Refuge. The symposium drew heavily on Maqusi’s PhD research in Jordan and Lebanon, enabling a conversation around the roles that space and scale play in determining the opportunities and challenges afforded to displaced people in local, everyday contexts. The insights shared and developed throughout the symposium and the related spatial installation are of great significance to the Refugee Hosts project’s investigation into local community responses to conflict-induced displacement from Syria. In particular, conversations relating to the protracted and overlapping nature of displacement, and the ways in which this is both inscribed  spatially into, and productive of, camps and cities, will continue to be important as we carry out research with/in nine local communities hosting refugees in Lebanon, Jordan…

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Refugee Hospitality and Humanitarian Action in Northern Lebanon: between Social Order and Transborder History

English Version: http://urd.org/Refugee-Hospitality-and

This short essay will discuss the social spaces which, in times of crisis, turn into host environments for refugees and displaced people, and where humanitarian programmes are implemented. It argues that the “hosting spaces” that populate the media and NGO reports which tackle refugee influxes are constructed with direct and indirect purposes. Hospitality, thus, becomes the official rhetoric which governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and international media adopt to speak of the consequences of conflict while preserving their moral aura and a convenient social order. The folkloristic idea of “host spaces”, inhabited by displaced people in the wake of emergency crises, helps domestic political actors and humanitarian agencies to preserve the social order that allows them to continue their activities and implement their agendas.

French Version: http://urd.org/L-hospitalite-envers-les-refugies

Cet article aborde la question des territoires qui, en temps de crise, se transforment en terres d’accueil pour réfugiés et déplacés, et où des programmes humanitaires sont mis en œuvre. Il soutient que ces « terres d’accueil », dont parlent les médias traitant de l’arrivée de réfugiés et les rapports des ONG, sont d’une certaine manière « fabriquées » à des fins directes et indirectes. L’hospitalité se transforme ainsi en une rhétorique officielle que le gouvernement, les agences des Nations unies, les ONG et les médias internationaux adoptent pour parler des conséquences du conflit tout en préservant leur aura morale et un ordre social bien commode. L’idée folklorique de « terres d’accueil », habitées par des populations déplacées à la suite de crises, aide en effet les acteurs politiques nationaux et les agences humanitaires à maintenir en place l’ordre social, ce qui leur permet de poursuivre leurs activités et de mettre en place leurs stratégies.

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Rethinking Lebanese Welfare in Ageing Emergencies

“Lebanon Facing the Arab Uprisings. Constraints and Adaptation” is the newly issued volume on Lebanon edited by Dr Rosita di Peri and Dr Daniel Meier (copyrights: 2017).

Here below the abstract of my book chapter “Rethinking Lebanese Welfare in Ageing Emergencies”, pp. 115-133. You can find here all contributions: http://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781352000047#aboutBook

A cycle of internal displacement and influxes of refugees in Lebanon has led local care providers to cooperate and partner with the international humanitarian apparatus. By using welfare as an explanatory screen of social relations, identifications, and frictions, this chapter highlights the blurred lines between welfare and emergency programmes in Beirut’s southern suburbs after the July War of 2006. This chapter first discusses how social order is sought out in humanitarian and welfare systems of care in order to maintain stability and guarantee their practices. Second, it unearths the individual and societal processes that beneficiary subjects experience in response to policies of provision. Finally, it seeks to assess the notion of nationhood in Lebanon, where the lives of long-term refugees and local communities are increasingly enmeshed, as are the beneficiary categories that they represent.

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Call for Papers: Refugee Self-Support and Local Markets in ‘Host’ Cities

Zaatari.jpg

(Zaatari Refugee Camp, Northern Jordan)

Call for Papers: “Beyond Crisis: Rethinking Refugee Studies”

Refugee Studies Centre, Keble College Oxford, 16 and 17 March 2017

Panel abstract for the theme “Autonomy and Assistance”: Refugee Self-Support and Local Markets in ‘Host’ Cities

As refugees increasingly become part of the city fabric in receiving countries, not only governments and aid agencies become involved in providing assistance and protection: a large range of non-conventional humanitarian actors develop autonomous responses in absence of – or in addition to – conventional assistance. These actors include private providers and informal, self-organised response, initiated by refugee populations themselves and/or local civil society.

Moreover, the direct and increasing participation of non-citizens in the set of political and economic relations has engendered sizeable changes in the markets of the “host” societies, being the lives of (un)forced migrants and citizens enmeshed through space and livelihood sharing. This further unearths the inappropriateness of sorting non-citizens in specific taxonomies of need and legal status.

In this framework, the panel starts with the assumption that humanitarian organisations must seek to adapt their approaches to supporting refugees in cities, which necessarily requires asking challenging questions around the appropriateness and relevance of their contribution to sustainable solutions – and, perhaps even, their very legitimacy to operate in certain urban spheres in the first place.

We look for papers which investigate the co-presence of (in)formal providers, city authorities, and (un)forced migrants in local markets of commodities, services, housing, or labour. Papers can have different focuses and approaches, such as the following:

– The socio-economic implications for refugees of the power relations between local and humanitarian resources in the receiving countries.

– The public and humanitarian policy implications of informal refugee support mechanisms in markets.

– Problematising notions like “self-reliance” and “autonomy” in top-down models of aid provision.

If you are interested in presenting a paper on this panel, please send a 200-word abstract by November 14 2016 to Estella Carpi, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Development Planning Unit (University College London) and Humanitarian Affairs Advisor at Save the Children UK, at  e.carpi@ucl.ac.uk.

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Against Ontologies of Hospitality: About Syrian Refugeehood in Northern Lebanon (October, 2016)

http://www.mei.edu/content/map/against-ontologies-hospitality-about-syrian-refugeehood-northern-lebanon

This essay explores the relationship between Syrian refugees and local Lebanese. In particular, it discusses the dominance of the discourse of ‘hospitality’ in the international media depiction of this relationship and in the humanitarian response informed by it. As this essay will show, these tendencies have resulted in the ‘hospitality’ discourse informing and reinforcing the international response to the Syrian refugee influx into and presence in Lebanon.

More specifically, the essay unpacks the dominant ‘hospitality discourse,’ which rests on three interrelated notions. First, hospitality employed as a social order instrument characterizes the relationship between refugees and local Lebanese as defined chiefly by the latter’s generous offers of sanctuary. Second, hospitality as a media narrative and epistemic construction portrays Lebanon as a country straining under the weight of the refugee burden, depicted as “existential problem.” Finally, hospitality as a local way to respond to the official declaration of emergency crisis has allowed the “hosts” to “other” the refugees and instability threats.

Syrians in Lebanon: A Pre-Refugee Sociology

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 2016, there were more than one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon.[1] However, this massive influx is not the first ‘encounter’ between Syrians and Lebanese.

In the framework of an ambivalent Lebanese-Syrian nationhood in Akkar, which is used to sharing moral, social, and political capital across a historically porous border, hospitality has paved the way for a process of differentiation from people who did notused to be “the Other.” It is legitimate to wonder why this differentiation process, in a sense, needs to happen. Hence, what is the sociology underlying such a need to differentiate oneself from the economy of the Syrian refugee, while paradoxically making space for it? For a partial answer, we need to get back to the conflicted politics of gift and exchange[2] and the tension, put forward by Derrida, that characterizes the never exclusively voluntary act of hosting. Hosts must have power over the domain in which they host, as well as power over the guest.[3] The tension remains, and a people’s collective morality is evaluated according to the accomplishment of charitable acts. However, self-sufficiency—which the earlier Syrian laborers of Akkar certainly did not lack—is still demanded by the hosts. The legacy of the Syrian presence in Lebanon and Akkar in particular (1976–2005), as well as the common nationhood that ties the two peoples together, unearths the inappropriateness of a discourse built on the traditionallimits of hospitality and assimilation, which are in fact generous acts activated within society, “as long as one leaves Otherness behind.”[4]

Historically, Akkari hospitality goes beyond the politics of “spare couches.”

Historically, Akkari hospitality goes beyond the politics of “spare couches.” And to distinguish the non-economic migratory status of Syrian nationals from economic migrants has become even more nonsensical after March 2011, the start of the uprising in the main Syrian cities and the subsequent regime’s repression. Some Syrian nationals, in a sense, were also Akkaris, insofar as Akkaris themselves strived to get access to Syrian welfare, crossing the border to reach the nearby province of Homs rather than driving all the way down to Lebanon’s Tripoli to benefit from a scant welfare system. The lack of hospitals, schools, and means of transportation has long since rendered this region hostile to comfortable inhabitation and detached it from a modern state that was originally crafted as Beirut-centric. Moreover, it has encouraged foreign investments in the third sector rather than reinforcing basic services.[5]

Hospitality, when spontaneously offered in the first months of the Syrian crisis, was in fact conceived and enacted at a grassroots level as a religious[6] and cultural duty, a “sacred commandment of charity”[7] to assign strangers a place in a community whose functioning was already guaranteed by demographically hybrid forces of labor.

Since 2012 international humanitarian organizations have financed some local families to enable them to host the refugees temporarily. This ended up “internationalizing” the tacit and unmediated Syrian-Lebanese relationship. By thus interposing themselves, humanitarian agencies have played a key role in shaping social relations; for example, by ensuring that particular local resources are prioritized over others that are less functional to humanitarian global governance.

With the intervention of the humanitarian agencies and the “neoliberalization” of local hospitality by paying local families to host Syrian refugees for a limited period of time, usually over a maximum period of a year, hospitality has gradually become an aid toolkit item to be temporarily delivered. Yet, the sociological character of local hospitality does not fade away with the “humanitarianization” of the act of hosting, as the Albanian experience of hosting Kosovar refugees has proved.

Scholars and newsmakers have therefore used hospitality as a lens through which to understand the entanglement of Syrian-Lebanese relations over the past five and a half years. As such, it has repeatedly been defined as “limited” due to the massive influx of refugees, with Lebanon referred to as being “under strain.” Socio-economic accounts of the prosperity of Lebanese landlords and employers and the increase in productivity thanks to lower workforce costs have sought to turn the sword tip of blame toward Lebanese greed in an effort to alleviate the Syrian “guests” from the burden of being scapegoated at a national level and becoming targets of disdain for having a “large number of children” and a “different culture and mentality.”[8]

Unpacking the ‘Hospitality’ Trope

The common international media portrayal of the relationship between Syrian refugees and Lebanese tends to ‘hype’ the phenomenon of hospitality.[9] Commentators have sometimes seen the local hospitality phenomenon in Lebanon as turning a vertical power system into a horizontal one, despite the risk of neglecting the feudal societal fabric of northern Lebanon’s hosting villages, which rely on wealthy and powerful families.[10] In this region, the privileges of a few people contrast with the overall inadequacy of services and infrastructure.

Refugee-refugee—also called “South-South”[11]—hospitality has recently entered academic studies and finally re-consigned dignity to unofficial acts of coping with crisis and helping others to cope. The hospitality provided by local refugee communities in Lebanon opens up new spaces of recognition. It sheds light not only on refugees’ agency—which certainly does not wait for “northern” recognition in order to exist in practice—but also on new phenomena of alienation among “uninsured people,” whose self-reliance is inherently unachievable.[12]

Lebanese hospitality is neither simply a case-by-case negotiation to tackle the everyday refugee crisis nor solely a generous or interested act of offering shelter to communities that Lebanese feel proximity to refugees in several respects.

More specifically, Lebanese hospitality is neither simply a case-by-case negotiation to tackle the everyday refugee crisis nor solely a generous or interested act of offering shelter to communities that Lebanese feel proximity to refugees in several respects. Hospitality is also the narrative that local and international media and the humanitarian enterprise weave together. The idea of a “hosting Lebanon”—a country already struggling under the weight of its economic and political crises—is positioned in the space between historical truth and the necessity to maintain social order. In this sense, the idea delivered to the public is that of a Lebanon strained by the “refugee crisis” per se, where the humanitarian structures, in concert with the central government, are efficient actors calming local tensions and flattening historical complexities by promoting accounts of generosity and victimhood.

To clarify how hospitality is also an epistemic construction, it is necessary to highlight how the Syrian conflict and the refugees are conceived and spoken of at an official level. While the US government conceives of Syrian refugees as people fleeing shelling and persecution due to their sectarian or ethnic background, the refugees often mention that no one helped them change their political condition when they were still inside the country. Indeed, international humanitarian agencies traditionally deal with deserving humanitarian victims rather than victims of human rights violations.

“We cannot bear this burden; they should go back to Syria and resettle,” was the political proposal of Antoine Chedid, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States.[13] To make people resettle in Syria by setting up camps inside the conflict-ridden country— “which is 18 times bigger than its Lebanese neighbor,” as Chedid pointed out—is a way of re-domesticating the conflict and the management of the conflict and an attractive alternative to opening borders to the displaced. By contrast, the international humanitarian machine, which represents the Geneva-based international community, has contributed to internationalizing[14] the Syrian conflict through programs and policies. Humanitarianism, which supports local hospitality and renders it sustainable, is increasingly employed as a conflict resolution force aimed at triggering friendships and social ties that surely preceded the crisis. It is therefore employed to pursue international security agendas as well.[15]

The idea of generosity, hospitality, and its limits implicitly accuses the Syrians of having overstayed their welcome, insofar as it foregrounds the chronic predicament of the Akkar region, the decrease in local employment due to the presence of cheaper menial labor, and the increase in the cost of living and housing owing to the newcomers’ influx. Hospitality therefore came to be described as an existential problem for Lebanon. Discourses of greed or grievance, as sparking enduring conflicts and war economies in the Middle East, are growing louder and louder, and have gradually silenced more important narratives.

In a nutshell, at a rhetorical level, Lebaneseness is stigmatized as generous in order to uphold humanitarian practices, which associate the importance of social order with their mission of being a conflict resolution force. At a historical-material level, local communities, whatever their social status, attempt to protect wealth accumulation or basic livelihoods through the act of hosting either for free or for pay to be able to host.

Hospitality on the Borderline between Normality and Crisis

Hospitality and hostility are two sides of the same coin, marking an undecided and ambivalent space between proximity and distance.[16] If hospitality implied an unconditional law, an absolute openness, it would be impossible to organize it into a law or politics;[17] moreover, it would destroy the host’s mastery of the home, which enables hospitality in the first place.[18] Rather than a home, we would be left with an indeterminate space that could offer nothing determinate, and hospitality per se would be ineffective.

That being said, in a country where intermarriage has always used to be a common social practice, why is 82 percent of the Lebanese population now reported to feel uncomfortable with the notion of marrying a Syrian?[19] And why do Syrian nationals claim to be mistreated, to the extent that they are now trying to change their accent in order not to be marked as “Syrian refugees” and undergo discrimination? The process of “othering” the Syrians in Lebanon took place during the process of refugeehood as an improvised way of dealing with the influx and marking the territory as theirs, that is to manage and control “the home.” In a geopolitical scenario officially declared as a “state of emergency,” safeguarding the home comes into play, along with as a responsibility toward the Other, as an in-crisis strategy of local self-determination. This has led local Akkaris to reinvent their relationship to the pre-existing presence of the Syrian nationals in response to the announced crisis.

In this way, in-crisis hospitality has produced spaces to which some inhabitants belong—insofar as their sense of belonging has been reinforced by their act of hosting—while others do not and instead turn into temporary guests. Indeed, before the crisis, Syrian nationals used to inhabit the same space mostly in the capacity of unskilled cheap laborers, marking the continuity of the sovereign Akkari host lord. In this sense, the social construction of hospitality has not only fed the political rhetoric of “Lebanon the bountiful” but has also acted as a societal fragmentation force, undermining the previous relations that these laborers used to hold in Akkar before moving to Lebanon with their own families due to the full-scale conflict.

In other words, as a form of unwilling humanitarianism, hospitality made the traditionally porous borders between Lebanon and Syria socially meaningful. The collective act of producing an outside has served the purpose of Lebanese Akkaris to prevent the spillover of violence and preserve relative social order. The absence of a well-bounded “Syrian community” in Akkar, “melting like sugar in tea,”[20] facilitated the task of “othering” the refugees.

Anywhere it takes place, Derrida’s “hostipitality”—a combination of hospis and hostis, of hostility and hospitality—characterizes contexts in which transit and permanent resettlement slip beyond individual and family acts of decision. The unsustainable limitlessness of hospitality has turned narratives on Akkar’s spirit from those of grievance to those of greed, acting as a force of global compassion toward the Syrian crisis. In settings of displacement and uncertainty, it becomes even more important to re-consign such ambivalence to hospitality, which goes far beyond unconditional receptiveness, regardless of historical conditions and trajectories.

We need an explanatory politics that combines daily struggle with calculation strategies-something both the hosts and the guests (including humanitarian agencies) are familiar with.

 


[1] U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR),http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=122.

[2] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies(London: Routledge, 1990).

[3] Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality (Stanford, CA: Stanford California Press, 2000).

[4] Brian A. Watkins, “Asylum-Seekers, Spare Couches, and the Politics of Hospitality.” Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association, Denver, Colorado, November 20, 2015.

[5] Sahar T. Issa, Irna Van Der Molen, Manal R. Nader, and Jon C. Lovett, “Spatial Variation of Vulnerability in Geographic Areas of North Lebanon”, European Scientific Journal 2 (2014): 261-273.

[6] The Old and New Testaments and the Koran have many references to the commandment to shelter strangers.

[7] Heidrun Friese, “The Limits of Hospitality,” Paragraph 32, 1 (2009): 51.

[8] Author’s conversation with a Lebanese resident. ‘Ebrine, Northern Lebanon, April 2016.

[9] Doreen Abi Raad, “Lebanon strains under weight of refugees,” Catholic News Service, January 7, 2016, accessed October 23, 2016,http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/lebanon-strains-un….

[10] Helen Mackreath, “Cosmopolitanism in Akkar? Why the Role of Host Families Is Significant,” E-International Relations, May 28, 2015, accessed October 23, 2016,http://www.e-ir.info/2015/05/28/cosmopolitanism-in-akkar-why-the-role-of….

[11] Julia Pacitto and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh “Writing the ‘Other’ into Humanitarian Discourse: Framing Theory and Practice in South-South Humanitarian Responses to Forced Displacement,” Working Paper Series No. 93, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2013.

[12] Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending Wars: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Polity Publications, 2007).

[13] Speech delivered by Antoine Chedid at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., October 29, 2013.

[14] Chedid himself rejected the specifically Lebanese responsibility of a conflict that is increasingly becoming regional by pointing out that the crisis is not of their making; rather, it is international. See conference recap webcast athttp://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/humanitarian-crisis-impact-syrian- refugees-lebanon.

[15] Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending Wars: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Polity Publications, 2007).

[16] Heidrun Friese, “The Limits of Hospitality,” Paragraph 32, 1 (2009): 52.

[17] Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides – A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” in G. Borradori, (ed.) Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003) 129.

[18] Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002) 364.

[19] Cathrine M. Thorleifsson, “The Limits of Hospitality: Coping Strategies among Displaced Syrians in Lebanon,” Third World Quarterly 37, 6 (2016): 1079.

[20] John Chalcraft, The Invisible CageSyrian Migrant Workers in Lebanon (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

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