Refugee Hosts announces the publication of a major report, ‘Development Approaches to Forced Displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq’ (by Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Greatrick, Carpi, and Shaiah Istanbouli).

Written by Refugee Hosts

On the 3 November 2022 the UCL-Migration Research Unit at the Department of Geography published a major report on ‘Development Approaches to Forced Displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.’ The report, led by Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, presents the findings of a state-of-the-art literature review of over 260 sources published between 2016–2021, synthesising existing knowledge on 3 factors that are important for refugees from Syria based in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Access the Summary Report below:

A set of 3 Policy Briefs has also been published to disseminate policy-relevant findings and recommendations arising in the full report (available here), including two thematically focused Briefs on Onward Migration (available here) and on Social Cohesion (available here).

The report was commissioned by the Policy and Operations Evaluation department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands (IOB) and is organized into 3 parts:

Part I of the report sets out the evidence relating to onwards migration. Literature relating to the difference between aspirations and capabilities to facilitate onward migration is examined and policy implications are outlined. The literature stresses that aspirations and the capability to act varies according to the characteristics of specific individuals and groups (e.g. gender, age, class, family composition, religion, ethnicity). In turn, literature on drivers of onward migration indicates context-specific factors and highlights why particular groups of people may seek onward migration from a given host country, while the majority of refugees remain in their country of first asylum. The influence of foreign assistance on migration decisions is also assessed. This evidence suggests that coordinated foreign assistance that addresses livelihoods, rights and protections have the potential to enable refugees to build sustainable lives in host countries. However, further research is necessary to fully understand the impact of foreign assistance on onward migration.

Part II synthesises the literature on approaches adopted to enhance social cohesion between refugees and members of host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Promoting social cohesion is of increasing interest to diverse stakeholders, including policy-makers, donors, and humanitarian and development agencies. However, in spite of its popularity amongst policy-makers and practitioners, social cohesion is a contested concept which remains largely undefined and is difficult to measure. Social cohesion literature, policies and programmes have overwhelmingly focused on documenting host perceptions of refugees and host assumptions relating to the ‘impact’ of refugees on hosts. However, the assumption that the presence of refugees leads to negative impacts on members of host communities is not consistent with the evidence. Evidence is synthesized relating to key legal, policy and social factors which support or prevent refugees’ local participation. Part II also summarizes multiscalar factors which variously undermine or potentially enhance the nature and quality of refugee-host interactions and different forms of local participation, noting that these are influenced by ongoing and new forms of discrimination, violence and exclusion.

Part III assesses the evidence relating to refugees’ participation in local economies, and how refugees’ presence is related to changes in national, municipal, and local level economies. While it is often assumed – by donors, policy-makers, practitioners and host community members alike – that the arrival of refugees has a negative impact on local and national economies, the evidence highlights that these assumptions are often empirically unfounded, and that greater attention must be paid to long-standing structural dynamics and the broader impacts of conflicts and humanitarian responses to displacement. This part of the report examines the evidence relating to refugees’ access to formal and informal modes of employment (as entrepreneurs and employees alike), and the diverse factors which may promote or impede safe and dignified modes of economic participation. Noting the challenge of causally linking ‘the arrival and presence of refugees’ to changes in national-, municipal- and city/town-level economies, growth and employment, the final part of the report synthesises evidence on the nature and impacts of policies and programmes developed and implemented since 2016 in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, including a discussion of how changes in labour laws, processes to obtain and renew residency and work permits, the establishment of special economic zones, financial crises and the impact of COVID-19, relate to refugees’ economic participation in local communities.

Featured image: (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

Categories: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Review forum: War and the City: Urban Geopolitics in Lebanon, Sara Fregonese, I.B.Tauris (2019)

I really enjoyed taking part in Sara Fregonese’s book forum!

It was an intriguing discussion I had with the author, Sara Fregonese, and with Aya Nassar, Mona Fawaz, and Alan Ingram – all focusing on war, urbanism, and/or Lebanon – during the Royal Geographic Society Conference in August 2021.

The review has been edited by Olivia Mason, and it is now accessible in the Journal of Political Geography:


I republish my contribution here below, to make it open access 🙂

4. Epistemological reflections on space, violence, and relational identities

4.1. Estella Carpi

War and the City by Sara Fregonese is a powerful piece of work which demonstrates that the built environment can act as a powerful geopolitical agent and that understanding urban space is key to understanding people during conflict. Fregonese frames War and the City as a historical account, but it is more than just a history. Urban warfare is examined through a geographic and an urban lens without reducing the narrative approach to geography or urban studies. Together, the chapters contribute to the creation of an all-around interdisciplinary work. This book effectively illustrates the urban nature of the civil war and inspires reflections on other conflicts and crises characterising Beirut’s history, which may also be considered ‘urbicides’. War and the City shows that making war per se can dangerously come to represent a ‘normal’ dimension of that urbanity.

Fregonese not only effectively describes people’s complex relationships with the geographies of war and everyday violence in Beirut: through this book, we also learn how those become translated into spatialities of enmity, and, therefore, potentially constructive coexistence. In this vein, the book equips its readers with concepts and terminologies which can be employed to understand other war-marked urbanities in Lebanon’s history. One example is the northern city of Tripoli, where in the neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab at-Tabbeneh antithetical polities vis-a-vis the Asad regime’s politics and Syrian politics in Lebanon are emblematically divided by Syria Street.

In the broader body of literature on Lebanon, war, and urbanity, Fregonese’s work proposes sovereignty and power in Lebanon as a hybrid assemblage which shapes the urban battleground; while, in the academic arena, the state has always been the privileged lens through which to understand welfare, crisis, and human choice. This conceptual framework, which Fregonese has developed over time since 2012, has provided more nuanced interpretations of power in action in the Lebanese context.

The book develops themes which lie at the intersection of the macro and micro aspects of urban warfare, going beyond the current theoretical deadlocks. Fregonese demonstrates how sectarian power and identity are the products of grounded mechanisms that happen through space. Thus, echoing important previous views on sectarianism in Lebanon (e.g. Makdisi, 2000), the warring parties are neither fixed categories of people nor predefined ways of thinking and behaving. If sectarian power can shape space and practices of war, the politics of urban warfare is not merely about facts and relations that shape space: those relations are also enabled or prevented by space. In other words, sectarian power shapes the territory, but it is not innately inscribed into it. However, sectarianism as an inherent characteristic of the region is a longstanding belief of many Middle East commentators who have thus actively created a Lebanese exceptionalism in identity-dictated conflict.

Methodologically, Fregonese openly shares the way in which she re-orients the interview process, an important stage which is often silenced, even in ethnographies. For example, she states that she often scaled down her interlocutors from the regional to urban level (p. 10). This politics of writing ensures greater empirical honesty. Epistemologically, by proposing the tragedy, chaos, and fate scripts, War and the City offers a systematic analysis of two key representational tropes, which I identify as ‘impossibility’ and ‘determinism’. In this section of the book, we are reminded of the fundamental role of representations: not only media representations, but also the representations produced by official diplomatic discourse, which is often underestimated in the accounts focused on the Lebanese civil war. Against the misleading role of representations, Fregonese demonstrates that urban spatiality was reorganised to serve war, rather than being captured by expressions such as ‘incomprehensible chaos’. Indeed, more than once Fregonese talks of ‘militia knowledge and practices,’ which do not develop independently from geopolitical dynamics. Scholars rarely employ such terminology when referring to militias in Lebanon or in general. Thus, Fregonese invites us to the feasibility of understanding war by detailing space. The book challenges several accounts which portray Lebanon as an impossible-to-map place, and which propose that the civil war is a conflict that we simply cannot comprehend. Indeed, she challenges the ‘descent into barbarism’ talk (p. 69). The city in wartime is configured as a set of identity-defined enclaves since the spatial basis for heterogeneity was exactly the target of sectarian violence. The latter, at the same time, is also discussed as both causing and being caused by class inequality. In War and the City, in fact, sectarianism is the most discussed form of violence, yet only one among many. For example, looting, targeting the built environment for reasons beyond military necessity, economic inequality, and street symbols such as posters, which embody the “social and material fabric of wartime Beirut” (p. 111), all interact with intersectional forms of sectarian power.

The book marks two epistemological turning points in the study of Beirut and urban warfare. The first point is that while focusing on war, Fregonese puts forward the possibility of urban space as a factor in pacification. Indeed, few are the studies which focus on the so-called capacities for peace while too many focus on tensions in human relations and the need for social cohesion. The urban space contributes considerably to reshaping such relations. Indeed, Fregonese points out that hardly any attention has been paid to the relations between space and peace (Macaspac & Moore, 2022Megoran & Dalby, 2018). However, I wonder whether it would be even more generative to see war and urban research progressing beyond the categorisation of ordinary atmospheres and political orders. This epistemological move would encourage scholars to think beyond the war/peace repertories. In my view, inhabitation, coexistence, and even wellbeing may offer emancipatory conceptual tools to finally move beyond the interpretative grids and the inner workings of official politics.

War and the City is a powerful reminder to those who focus on human relations that we cannot only speak of ‘war-affected spaces’, which is common in narratives of crisis forgetful of the agency of space itself, but also of ‘spaces making war’. In fact, human relations alone cannot make either peace or war: such conditions can only be achieved through the built environment. As a social anthropologist and a recurrent Beirut dweller, I would love to read more about the intimacies produced by the geopolitical frames discussed in the book. However, that would probably have fallen beyond its scope, which instead focusses on the balance between, on the one hand, grand narratives of representation and power and, on the other, the intimate. A connection is built between the grand narratives around the Lebanese civil war, which are called ‘regional conjunctures’ (p. 10), and the relational and ideological lifeworlds of the people. In summary, War and the City reminds those who are interested in social relations that to really understand the latter, we first need to understand the city. Thus, we must take a step back and register the spatiality of such relations and note the effects of spatial transformation. The second turning point is the suggestion that sectarian order, and more broadly societal divides, do not exist regardless of social processes. This invites us to question demographic homogeneity as a way to territorial peace.

By way of conclusion, I believe War and the City should be judged not only by how dexterously Fregonese organises and answers her own questions, but also by the questions she leaves on the table. For instance, how do cities in Lebanon (and elsewhere) manage to challenge, transform, and interrogate such geographies of war? Where did the spatiality of urban warfare challenge war dynamics? Many of the questions generated by Fregonese’s research do not have a once-and-for-all answer precisely because they are subject to enquiry within continuous debates on the layered nature of urban warfare and the Lebanese civil war.

Categories: Lebanon, Middle East | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from the Middle East for Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis (April, 2022)



6 min read

Estella Carpi

28 April, 2022

In-depth: As millions of Ukrainian refugees flee to host cities in neighbouring Poland, reassessing the experience of Syrian refugees in the Middle East can provide vital lessons for sustainable resettlement.

In the two months since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, more than two million refugees – mostly women and children – have crossed over the border from Ukraine into Poland.

These people have sought out shelter in border towns, including Przemysl and Medyka, as well as in the main Polish cities, namely Warsaw and Krakow.

When large-scale military attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure occur, they inevitably result in a rapid exodus of people fleeing into cities and towns in neighbouring countries. In response, the general public promptly praises these refuge destinations for their unconditional hospitality.  

But after absorbing millions of Ukrainian refugees, Polish mayors are now warning that their cities are over capacity as municipal infrastructures are under strain and any sort of shelters, such as gyms, theatres, and local houses, have become overcrowded.

As a result, the media narrative turns to one of ‘saturation’ and of host cities “reaching capacity”.  

Here, lessons can be learned by drawing on the case of Middle Eastern cities that received large numbers of Syrian refugees in the wake of Syria’s civil war. There are two important lessons to embrace: firstly, how the ‘hospitality’ and ‘reaching capacity’ discourse may prevent us from understanding the capacity of cities from a historical perspective.

“Lessons can be learned by drawing on the case of Middle Eastern cities that received large numbers of Syrian refugees in the wake of Syria’s civil war”

Second, the tensions in collaboration between urban and humanitarian actors in crisis-affected contexts often cause resource wastage and political power deadlocks, and cooperation between the two still needs to be strengthened.

The infrastructural pressure that cities experience when receiving new residents cannot be denied. However, there is a problem with the idea of cities reaching capacity: it assumes that cities were doing just fine before refugees arrived.

In the Middle Eastern context, which has a long history of people fleeing conflict – from Palestine, Iraq and Syria, among others – the arrival of refugees is blamed for weakening local infrastructures and depleting resources while, in reality, the pressure from an influx of refugees simply exposes the current status of a city’s capacities and the type of governance in place. 

In reality, especially given the dynamism of the job market, cities are constantly evolving to accommodate people, among whom some are refugees.

If we consider that there are an estimated  84 million displaced people across the world, the fact that refugees tend to permanently relocate to cities is a part of normality; yet, the discourse of hospitality and capacity implicitly keeps refugees as permanent ‘guests‘. 

For example, Turkey has received nearly 3.8 million Syrian refugees since the conflict started in 2011. Due to such large numbers, the country’s refugee hospitality was largely praised, like in today’s Poland.

However, academic studies have shown how the hospitality of the recent past can give way to today’s legitimation of refugee return programmes, which are borderline deportations.

Such ‘invitations’ to return to Syria are justified by the discourse that perpetually keeps Syrians in Turkey as ‘old guests’ after more than a 10-year long displacement.

In this vein, the ‘reaching capacity’ mantra makes such host cities look like they were all functioning perfectly before refugees arrived, and that the return of refugees to their country of origin is the only requirement to rescue urban infrastructure, local labour, and resources.  

Lessons for Ukraine's refugee crisis from the Middle EastUkrainian refugees rest in a temporary shelter at a gym of a primary school in Przemysl, near the Polish-Ukrainian border on 12 March 2022. [Getty]

With many media outlets depicting war refugees from Ukraine as hordes of people who literally ”overwhelm” cities, crisis functions as a litmus test for the city’s normal capacities as well as its malfunctions.

The hospitality rhetoric presently used to comment on Polish cities echoes the wider public’s praise of local hospitality in reference to Syrian refugees, but the responsibility of refugee reception, sufficient welfare provision, and infrastructural support in the countries receiving refugees from Syria was not equally shared by European countries. 

Today we are provided with an image of well-received Ukrainians, while tomorrow they will be said to endanger local labour and resources in their host countries. By doing so, such accounts overshadow the (sometimes longstanding) presence of Ukrainian labourers and their past contribution to national welfare in such countries.

Future social relationships between new and old refugees and migrants and locals never come out of the blue, but rather they are built on long-standing dynamics and socioeconomic factors. The media representation of a massive exodus of Ukrainians into other countries in Europe can thus engender the misconception that there is no social and economic continuity to learn from. 

“Academic studies have shown how the hospitality of the recent past can give way to today’s legitimation of refugee return programmes, which are borderline deportations”

Over the last two decades, with the increasing number of refugees in urban areas, international humanitarian actors, who generally come to provide assistance in the spaces where most refugees reside, have largely been working in cities. This means they have to learn how to work in closer cooperation with urban actors (e.g. mayors, schools, and hospitals) and other local aid providers in host cities.

Moreover, foreign interventions typically bringing in resources and support can alter the urban fabric as well as local relationships. Therefore, international humanitarian actors also need to learn about the social relationships at play in the host city, including its infrastructure or pre-existing services and systems, urban governance, and welfare, as well as informal and community-based networks.

As transient actors, they also need to build their own relationships with the population at large and gain local trust. 

Despite the increasing importance of the urban-humanitarian nexus, research on Syrian displacement suggests that humanitarian agencies often arrive too late to recognise local authorities and integrate urban infrastructure into humanitarian programming when intervening in host cities.

In other words, rather than burdening responsibilities on ‘local knowledge’, it is fundamental that international humanitarian actors enlarge their own knowledge of local urban life. This enables them to understand what form of support may be more viable in the long run. 

In the countries that received large numbers of refugees from Syria, the humanitarian system initially acted with a traditional, short-term, and urgent action-oriented focus. Indeed, foreign assistance providers who came to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon tended to neglect municipal and regional governors, as well as informal providers, who were all able to face emergency crises to different extents.

In the Lebanese context, aid agencies resorted to urban authorities to guarantee their own local legitimacy and to build quicker access to people in need, rather than developing a fine-grained knowledge of the local context.

“The management of Syrian displacement in Middle Eastern cities is a key example of the missed opportunities between urban actors, local service providers, and foreign humanitarian actors”

A deeper mutual understanding between urban and humanitarian actors and their respective approaches to crises have often proved to be lacking, thus losing the opportunity to complement each other.

In countries like Jordan and Lebanon, top-down humanitarian efforts, such as training urban actors and merely asking for their formal approval to operate, have been mistaken for substantive engagement.

As a result, there has been a delay in the meaningful and consistent collaboration between urban and humanitarian systems. More meaningful and grassroots knowledge exchanges could eventually engender more synergy in aid provision. 

In this respect, the management of Syrian displacement in Middle Eastern cities is a key example of the missed opportunities between urban actors, local service providers, and foreign humanitarian actors.

What has happened in the countries neighbouring Syria over the last decade therefore provides many lessons for Polish cities today.

Learning from the survival and reception mechanisms in place at a local and national level is key to the sustainability of host cities in the future.

Estella Carpi is a lecturer of Humanitarian Studies in the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London. 

Follow her on Twitter: @estycrp

Categories: Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Suriye: Devlet ve devrimin gündeliklik karşılaşması

İnsanların yaptıklarının nedenlerine dair anlattığı kimi hikayeler, devletle pasif uzlaşmaya dair ortak duyguları ima eder ve devletin sosyal ve politik mimarisinden maddi kopuşu daha da zorlaştırır.

Görsel: Edel Rodriguez
Görsel: Edel Rodriguez

Bu yazı, özel-kamu, devlet-toplum, itaat-direniş arasındaki belirsiz sınırları ön plana çıkaran literatür üzerinden, Suriye’deki güncel çekişmelerin katmanlı süreçlerini anlamaya çalışıyor. Bu noktada, devlet stratejileri ile gündelik hayatın mahremiyeti arasında bağlantılar kurarak, sıradan vatandaşların hayatta kalmak, ulusal aidiyet duygularını korumak ve “aynı anda hem yurtsever, hem isyancı” olmak için mücadele ederken, devletle ilişkilerini sürekli olarak müzakere ettikleri zemini tanımlamaya girişiyor.

“Devletsiz olmaya karar verirsem, insan olmaktan çıkarım”

Suriye devletinin fiilen (de facto) ayakta kalması, Esad hükümetinin ahlaki tanınmasının bir sonucu değildi. Bunun ampirik kanıtı, Lübnan’da görüştüğümüz ve ağırlıklı olarak siyasi muhalefetin hakim olduğu bölgelerden gelen Suriyeli mültecilerdi. İki yıl boyunca görüştüğümüz bu mülteciler, Suriye hükümetinin dış güçlerin diplomatik eylemlerinden meşruiyet devşirdiğini öne sürüyorlardı. Böyle olmakla birlikte, aşağıdaki ifadelerinden de anlaşılacağı gibi bu kişiler, yaşam olanaklarını ve mesleki kazanımlarını koruma çabalarıyla ve hükümete nefretlerine rağmen yasal vatandaş olarak kalma arzularıyla devletin bekasını dile getirdiler.

Daraya’dan Dima, Suriye hükümetindeki işini bırakamadığını aktararak, “…çünkü çocuğumu büyütmek için tek gelir kaynağım bu ve bir kere işsiz kalırsam, umutsuz ve geleceksiz olurum. Gerçekleştirmem gereken bir hayalim ya da ulaşacağım bir hedefim olmayacak. Devletsiz olmaya karar verirsem, insan olmaktan çıkarım” diyor. Dima, burada devletin sadece toprağı değil, yaşamların biyolojisini de kontrol etme potansiyeline işaret ediyor. Başka bir deyişle, kendilerini devletten dışlayan sivil itaatsizlik yoluyla egemenliğine ve otoritesine karşı çıkanlar bile, toprak yönetimi ve siyasi iktidarda devlet ortodoksluğuyla karmaşık bir şekilde ilişkileniyor. Suriye muhalefetinin şimdi Lübnan’a yerleşen Afamia’lı siyasi bir üyesi “Kardeşimin aksine, ailemi görmek için istediğim zaman Suriye’ye girmeme izin verilecek” diyor. Bu ifadesi, devlete karşı siyasi bir duruş sergilerken, istenmeyen bir vatandaş olarak sınıflandırılmadığı için bir parça gurura tutunduğunu gösteriyor.

İnsanların yaptıklarını neden yaptıklarına dair anlattıkları hikayeler -zaman zaman- kişinin devletle pasif uzlaşmasına dair ortak duyguları ima eder ve devletin sosyal ve politik mimarisinden maddi olarak kopuşu daha da zorlaştırır. Vatandaşların hayatlarını kurumsallaşmış olarak düşünme konusundaki ısrarlı “arzuları”, iktidardakilerin tahakkümüne veya onlardan ayrılmaya ilişkin basit yorumlara karşı ağır basıyor. Dahası, görüşmecilerin yukarıdaki ifadeleri, Suriye’de devam eden kaos ve irrasyonel şiddete rağmen devletin nasıl hala rasyonaliteyi temsil ettiği ve vatandaşlar tarafından fetişleştirildiğini gösteriyor.

Oldukça geniş ve farklı motivasyonlara sahip muhalefeti tetikleyen ve büyük ölçüde Suriye hükümetinin neden olduğu mevcut zorluklar, kişisel deneyimlerde düzen ve uyum için bir özlem üretme eğilimindedir. Ancak, kimi vatandaşlar için ise devletle ilgili karar verme daha kolaydı. Örneğin Haldiyye’den (Humus) A., devletle ilişkilere karşı tavizsiz bir tavır sergiliyor. Askerlik görevinin feshi için Esad rejimi birliklerine ödeme yapmayı reddetmiş (toplam 5 bin ABD Doları): “Şaka mı yapıyorsun! Gerçekten isteseydim burada, Beyrut’ta bunu ödeyebilecek kadar kazanabilirdim, ama… asla. Mart 2011’de Humus sokaklarında protesto gösterisi yaparken beni öldürmek üzere olan devlet ordusunun mali kaynaklarını beslemeyeceğim.”

Esad rejiminin bakış açısına göre, vatandaşlar ve hükümet arasındaki iş imkanları, kişisel iyilikler gibi ilişkiler, mevcut yönetim sistemi içinde yaşama isteğinin olumlu kanıtıdır. Buradan bakıldığında, devletin bekası kasıtlı ve açık bir tanımlama eyleminin ürünü olmaya devam etmektedir. Bununla birlikte, konuştuğumuz Suriyeli muhaliflere göre, insanların devlet kurumlarını reddetme konusundaki isteksizliği, devlet otoritesinin gönüllü olarak tanınması anlamına gelmiyor. Görüştüğümüz kişiler, örneğin ayrımcı idari uygulamalarla vatandaşlarını kenarda tutan devletin, halktan kopuk egemenliğine sürekli vurgu yaptılar. İnsanların davranışları, aktif siyasi iradeye veya devlete sağlam bir sadakat anlamına gelmiyor. Dolayısıyla, görüşmecilerin bu çelişkiler karşısındaki motivasyonu, alternatif bir yaşam sürmenin imkansızlığıydı.

Özetle, sıradan vatandaşlar kriz anında gündelik normalliği yeniden inşa etmekten başka bir alternatif görmediler. Bu bağlamda, yurtdışında yaşayan Suriyeli bir akademisyen, vatandaşların birçok yönden merkezi devletin meşruiyetini beslediğini savunuyor: “Günün sonunda, tanıdığım bazı Suriyeli muhalifler devlet işlerindeki pozisyonlarını terk etmemişken, devrimin neden tam olarak başlamadığını anlayabiliyorum.” Gerçekten de, böylesine yaygın bir otoriter ortamda, devletteki pozisyonlarından ayrılmak, kolektif bir karaktere bürünen muhalif bir protesto eylemi olurdu. Görüşmelerimizde devrimcilerin bazı yabancı destekçileri de benzer şekilde devletle ilişkilerini kesememiş Suriyelilere sitem ettiler. Foucaultcu baskı siyaseti, Suriye devleti ile Suriye vatandaşları arasındaki bu anlaşılması zor ve dolambaçlı ilişkiyi açıklıyor: İnsanlar reddediyor, ancak paradoksal bir şekilde günlük yaşamlarının yapılarında devlet otoritesinin kötüye kullanımını yeniden üretiyor ve büyütüyorlar.

Merkezi otorite ile kesilemeyen ilişkiler

Suriye birlikleri 2012-2013 yılları arasında Suriye’deki Kürt bölgelerin çoğundan çekilirken, bu bölgelerdeki devlet çalışanları Şam’dan maaş almaya devam etti. Bu sadece bir “Kürt istisnası” değildi; “İslam Devleti” halifeliğinin gelecekteki başkenti Rakka da dahil olmak üzere diğer bazı bölgeler merkezi otorite ile ilişkileri sürdürdü; böylece öğretmenler, Suriye Telekom personeli ve diğer kalifiye çalışanlar hükümetin maaş bordrosunda yer almaya devam etti.

Serêkanî’de (Haseke) Suriyeli bir Telekom çalışanı olan Rakan’ın durumu örnek teşkil ediyor. Yekitî Partisi üyesi olmasına ve 2011’den beri hükümet karşıtı gösterilere aktif olarak katılmasına rağmen, 2014 yılına kadar devlete ait şirkette çalışmaya devam etti. Malum kritik ekonomik durumda Rakan işi bırakmayı göze alamazdı zira üç çocuğunu büyütmesi bu işe bağlıydı. Suriye istihbaratı, Batılı bir gazeteciyi ağırladığı bilgisine binaen Rakan’ı çağırdı. Rakan etik bir ikilemle karşı karşıya kaldı: Çağrılarına cevap vermek, böylece olası bir tutuklama ile karşı karşıya kalmak ya da işini kaybetme riskiyle onları görmezden gelmek. Bu ikilemi çözmesi için Batılı gazeteciden (bu makalenin ortak yazarlarından biri), Kamışlı’da PYD’nin (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat) üst düzey bir yetkilisiyle görüşüp, sahadaki Suriye devlet yetkililerinden arabuluculuk talep etmesi istendi. Ancak, PYD yetkilisi, kendisinin de potansiyel bir tutuklamaya maruz kalacağı ve merkezi devlet aygıtı üzerinde hiçbir etkiye sahip olmadığı için yapılacak bir şey olmadığı yanıtını verdi. Rakan sonunda 2014’te, Türkiye’ye göç etmeye karar verdikten sonra işini bıraktı. Bu durum, PYD yetkilisinin Rakan’ı koruma veya ona alternatif bir iş sağlama araçlarından nasıl yoksun olduğunu gösteriyor. Kürtlerin bölgeyi ele geçirmesi Esad rejiminin idari egemenliğini tam olarak aşındırmadı. Devlet, vatandaşların geçimlerini sürdürme ve kişisel güvenliklerini sağlama yeteneklerini etkilemeye devam etti. Rakan, merkezi hükümete ekonomik olarak bağımlı olmaktan ve dolayısıyla onun baskıcı kurumlarına tabi olmaktan ancak “özgürleşmiş” Rojava’dan ayrıldığında vazgeçti.

2012 ve 2013 yılları arasında Suriye birliklerinin Kürt bölgelerinden çekilmesinden bu yana, PYD kademeli olarak merkezi hükümeti asli işveren yerine koyarak, krizden sonra ortaya çıkan kitlesel göçü azaltmaya çalıştı. Kürt partisi bir yandan yerel yönetimi birçok yönden başarıyla ortaya koymuş durumda. Ancak PYD, fiili devlet olduğu topraklarda Suriye devletinin asli işveren olarak resmi rolünün yerini tam olarak alamadı. Merkezi otorite, refah sağlayan devlet gibi davranmaya devam etti. 

Baasçı eğitime mecburiyet

Suriye güvenlik teşkilatlarının şiddeti ile karşılaşan ve daha sonra devlet kurumlarında çalışmaya zorlanan vatandaşların deneyimi, Suriye devletinin nasıl işlediğini ve vatandaşlarının gündelik hayatını nasıl düzenlediğini de gösteriyor. 31 yaşındaki Tawfiq’in hikayesi bu sürece örnektir. Şam’daki “Mazen Darwish Suriye Medya ve İfade Özgürlüğü Merkezi”nin aktif bir üyesi olan Tawfiq, Suriye güvenlik kurumlarında gözaltı ve işkenceye maruz kaldı. 2013 yılında memleketi Malakîya’ya döndü. Arapça ve geçmişten farklı olarak şimdi Suriye resmi okullarında izin verilen Kurmancî dilini öğretmeye hak kazanmasına rağmen, iş bulmakta zorlandı. Başka seçeneği kalmayınca Şam’a gitti ve ulusal üniversitelerde iş aradı. Eğitim Suriyeliler için, düşmanı olsalar bile, Esad rejiminin gücünü gösteren günlük yaşamın bir diğer iş kolunu oluşturuyor.

Ayrıca, çok sayıda üniversite öğrencisi, çatışmalar nedeniyle ara verdikleri derslerine dönmek istediklerinde, devlet eğitim sistemine alternatiflerin yokluğunda, ya Baasçı eğitime geri dönmek ya da mümkün olduğunda denizaşırı göç etmek zorunda kaldılar. 21 yaşındaki bir kimya öğrencisi olan Şeyhmus, savaştan önce kaydolduğu üniversitenin bulunduğu devlet kontrolündeki Lazkiye’de durumun düzeleceğini umarak bir yıl boyunca Derbasîye’de kaldı. Sonunda 2013’ün sonlarında Lazkiye’deki eğitimine devam etmeye karar verdi. “Amuda’da ailemin evinde mahsur kalmak ya da Suriyelilerin ayrımcılığa uğradığı çok daha muhafazakar bir toplum gibi görünen Irak Kürdistanı’na göç etmek istemiyorum” diyen Şeyhmus, nihayetinde Baasçı siyasi doktrinle desteklenen tipik bir eğitim deneyimi edinmiş oldu. Amuda sakinlerinin çoğu gibi, Şeyhmus da 2011 ve 2012’de hükümet karşıtı gösterilere katıldı. Rejim karşıtı olmasına rağmen, yine de bir devlet kurumunda eğitimine öncelik verdi. PYD’nin bağımsız eğitim sağlamak için devlet kurma çabalarında yeterli güce kavuşmasını bekleyemezdi. Bu yazının yazıldığı sırada, Kürt yetkililer yerel nüfus için eğitim kurumları kurmuş değildi hala. Doğrusu, lise sınavları hali hazırda Kamışlı’da yapılıyor ve bu da merkezi devletin öğrencilerin resmi sonuçlarının onaylanması konusundaki münhasır yetkisinin pratikte tanınmasına yol açıyor.

Diğer taraftan, Kendilerini Esad rejiminin siyasi muhalifleri olarak tanımlayan bir grup muhatabımız, halk direnişinin amaçlarını devlet içinden değil dışından devşirdiğini savunuyor. Devlete karşı direniş, devletin kendisinin yaydığı yapısal etki altında, devlet tarafından oluşturulan ahlaki evren ve toplumsal süreçler içinde büyüdü. Bu nedenle görüşülen birçok kişi, devleti Suriye toplumundan açıkça ayrılmış, kendi başına ayakta duran bir varlık olarak tasvir etmeyi tercih ediyor. Bu durum, Suriyelilerin mücadele teknolojilerini geliştirmede iki ana nedenden dolayı nasıl bir krizle karşı karşıya olduklarını gösteriyor: Birincisi gündelik hayatlarında, sosyal alanları üzerinde kontrol ve gözetime devam eden devlet gücünün üstesinden gelmek için mücadele ediyorlar. İkincisi, “çekişme repertuarları” hala genç olduğu için alternatif protesto biçimlerinde gezinmenin tarihsel zorluğuyla karşı karşıyalar.

Mücadele teknolojileri

Suriyeli çoğu aktivistin entelektüel anarşist lakabını taktığı aktivist Omar Aziz, 2011 yılında Şam’ın periferisindeki Barzeh ilçesinde yerel bir komite kurdu. Aziz’in düşüncesi, popüler devrimci aktivite ile insanların günlük yaşamı arasındaki sinerji eksikliğine odaklanıyor. Aziz, -“Doğu” ve “Batı” toplumlarının ötesine geçen- çağdaş protesto fenomenlerinin başarısızlıklarını belirleyerek, ortadan kalkması için mücadele edilen Suriye devletinin otoriter yapılarının içinde yerleşik kalmanın zararlarına işaret ediyor.

Suriye rejiminin Adra’daki hapishanelerinde ölen Aziz (2013), “devrim zamanı” [zaman aththawra] ve “iktidar zamanı”nı [zaman assulta] belirleme olasılığını teorileştirdi. Aziz için “devrim zamanı”, devrimin başarılı olması için insanların günlük yaşamının her alanına nüfuz etmesiydi. Kendi kendini yöneten yerel konseylerin (majalis mahalliya) kurulması, Esad aygıtına pragmatik bir alternatif doğurmak anlamına geliyordu. Bu konseyler, gıda ve malların özerk dağılımını düzenlemiş, evleri hastaneye çevirmiş ve devlet kurumlarının dışında hareket ederek sivil direnişi gerçek bir toplumsal gerçeklik haline getirmişti. Aziz ayrıca, Suriye’de tarihsel bir referansı olmadığı için, insanların varsayımsal bir devlet dışı (ve devlet karşıtı) yönetim gücünü ve temel hizmetlerin sağlanmasını benimseme konusunda isteksiz görünebileceğini de fark etti.

Yurttaşların birbirlerine güvensizlikleri, “statükoyu koruyan” bir çözümü seçmekten daha umut verici bir toplu eylem biçimi olasılığını ortadan kaldırır. İnsanların gündelik hayatlarını geçici alternatif devlet yapılarına sokmak, devletin resmi yapılarını boykot etmeyi kolaylaştırır: Örneğin, elektrik faturalarını ödemeyi reddetmek veya bir genel grev organize etmek. Hizmet sunumunu garanti edebilecek alternatif bir izleme ve koruma yapısının yokluğunda, vatandaşlar günlük yaşamda sosyal, kültürel ve politik kişiliklerini ortaya koyacak –ve hatta bazen hayatta kalmak için- başka olasılıklar tasavvur edemezler. Neticede devrim, öncelikle, sonraki geçiş aşamalarında somut değişiklikleri tetikleyecek, alternatif mekan ve alternatif zamanda işleyen bir mücadele teknolojisi gerektirir. 


Devlet olma hali, tartışmalı süreçlerin, arzuların, uygulamaların ve politikaların iç içe geçtiği karmaşık bir mıntıkada ağ işlevi görür. Çeşitli maddi faktörler, Suriye’de insanların yaşamlarında devlet gücünün mikro yeniden üretiminin nasıl devam ettiğini açıklıyor. Ayrıca, memurlara ödeme yapabilmesi ve kontrol ettiği alanlarda ulusal okulları ve üniversiteleri açık tutabilmesi de (böylece rejim bombardımanı dışında kalan alanlar bunlar) devletin mikro üremesine katkıda bulunuyor.

PYD’nin Suriye’nin kuzeydoğusundaki siyasi deneyiminin ortaya koyduğu gibi, müzakere eden, birbiriyle örtüşen ya da çatışan çok sayıda devletleşme durumunun ortaya çıkması karmaşık bir siyasi olgudur. Yaşanabilir, alternatif günlük formların ampirik eksikliği, devlet stratejilerinin günlük yaşamın mahrem biçimlerinde istenmeyen yeniden üretimini izah ederken; bu, muhaliflerin merkezi devletin ürettiği gündeliklik biçimlerini boykot etmede başarısızlığa yol açtı.

Sonuç olarak, PYD’nin yükselen devlet olma hali, merkezi devlet ile halk direnişinin karşılıklı koşullu pratiklerinin melez alanıdır. Suriye devleti ve rakibi (ya da zaman zaman müttefik) devletçilikler ayrı varoluşlardan ziyade siyasi süreçler olarak işlev görüyorlar. Dolayısıyla halk direnişi devletle ilgili ağlar içinde gerçekleşiyor. Devletin aczine veya bekasına uluslararası odaklanma, gündelik eylemleri ortaya çıkarmak, açıklamak ve değer biçmek konusunda başarısız olmakla kalmadı, aynı zamanda Suriye’de ve dünya çapında günlük muhalefeti uygulamak için yeni yollara ışık tutuyor.

* Bu metin, daha önce Middle East Critique dergisinde yayınlanan “Toward an Alternative ‘Time of the Revolution’? Beyond State Contestation in the struggle for a new Syrian Everyday” başlıklı makaleden Geremol için derlenmiştir.

Categories: Lebanon, Syria | 1 Comment


I am thrilled to announce that my first academic article in Brazilian Portuguese is out in the Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana. It is open access!

Ethnocracies of care and humanitarianism in Lebanon

Resumo. Neste artigo, discuto a tendência do sistema humanitário de fornecer serviços às pessoas necessitadas em áreas afetadas pela crise baseando- se na nacionalidade. Através de dados coletados em pesquisas de campo com refugiados sírios, iraquianos, sudaneses e palestinos realizadas entre os anos 2011 e 2019 no Líbanomostrarei como a hospitalidade pode ser empregada tanto como prática quanto como discurso. Neste último caso, explicarei como isso pode se transformar, de maneira problemática, em uma força de “etnização” na prestação de ajuda humanitária. Como resultado, de um uso conservador do discurso da hospitalidade, apresentarei o conceito de “humanitarismo compensatório” que atende aos habitantes locais como uma consequência da presença de refugiados. Contra esse pano de fundo, finalmente mostrarei como o sistema humanitário atual está longe de ser intergrupal, apesar de seus esforços para tornar os programas nacionalmente mistos. Na verdade, o humanitarismo simplesmente propõe programas mistos para, presumivelmente, dissipar as tensões intergrupais, revelando, portanto, uma neo-etnização das ajudas.

Palavras-chave: etnização; humanitarismo; refugiados sírios; Líbano; deslocamento.

Abstract. In this article, I discuss the tendency of the humanitarian system in areas affected by crisis to provide services to people in need on a national basis, by using Lebanon as a case study. Through the research I conducted with Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Palestinian refugees between 2011 and 2019 in Lebanon, I will illustrate, first, how hospitality can be employed both as a practice and as a discourse. In the latter case, I will explain how it can problematically turn into an “ethnicization” force in humanitarian aid provision. As a result of a conservative use of the hospitality discourse, second, I will introduce the concept of “compensatory humanitarianism” that caters for the locals as a consequence of the refugee presence. Against this backdrop, I will finally show how the current humanitarian system is far from being inter-group despite its efforts to make programs nationally mixed. Indeed, it simply proposes mixed programs to presumably dissipate inter-group tensions, therefore revealing an actual neo-ethnicization of care.

Keywords: ethnicization; humanitarianism; syrian refugees; Lebanon; displacement.

Categories: Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The epistemic politics of ‘northern-Led’ humanitarianism: The case of Lebanon

My new article in Area discusses “professional authority” in the humanitarian field, and proposes a peculiar politics of knowledge in the case of Lebanon.


This article examines the epistemic politics of hegemonic humanitarianism by building on agnotology theories. I unpack the idea of ‘professional authority’ with the purpose of showing how the Global North’s humanitarian agencies thrive on both a technocratic and an unpredictability approach. This epistemic politics is used to absolve humanitarianism of its failures and blame ‘Southern’ politics and technical deficiencies in the Global South.

For the full article (Open Access):


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Educating the host: It’s not just refugees who need ‘integration’ programmes

‘Teaching local hosts the experience of war and forced displacement would help to publicly challenge hate speech and inform compassion,’ argue Southern Responses to Displacement’s researchers, Dr Estella Carpi, Amal Shaiah Istanbouli and Sara Al Helali. Drawing on research conducted during Southern Responses to Displacement’s fieldwork in Turkey, this blog notes the lack of a systematic approach to educating refugee host communities, despite evidence to suggest that it is an effective tool to reduce anti-refugee sentiment and increase understanding and empathy towards the experiences of refugees. This post presents key evidence contributing to our aims of ‘examining refugees’ experiences, perceptions and conceptualisations of Southern-led responses’ and of ‘tracing the implications of Southern-led initiatives for humanitarian theory and practice.’

If you enjoy reading this piece you can access the recommended reading list at the end of this post. 

This piece was originally published by Open Democracy here

Educating the host: It’s not just refugees who need ‘integration’ programmes. 

by Dr Estella Carpi, Amal Shaiah Istanbouli and Sara Al Helali 

All over the world ‘inclusion’ and ‘integration’ programmes for refugees affected by displacement proliferate. But they often remain ineffective in catalysing social cohesion. This is unsurprising when local hosts who receive refugees are not equally instructed and informed about including and integrating migrants.

In fact, inclusion and integration programmes – far from being radical in any way – are not merely ineffective, they are also politically conservative. This is because they fail to capture human mobility as an everlasting process that cuts across all social groups.

In the contemporary history of forced migration, most development and humanitarian programmes have revolved around assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers, emphasising their needs and rights. Civil society associations and activist groups, who, in general, overtly engage in political mobilisation, often end up adopting a similar strategy, focusing only on one side of the coin in advocacy campaigns and assistance programmes.

That being said, informal small-scale information sessions on forced migration and integration activities that require the involvement of local hosts can, at times, be found in cities and towns, but are not incorporated in official education programmes from early years. This lack of a systematic approach to ‘educating the host’ means information is not delivered cogently. Teaching empathy to those social groups who feel aloof from societal issues such as forced migration and from all of what refugee reception involves should be promoted.

Based on data we collected in Lebanon and Turkey over the past four years, as part of the Southern-led Responses to Displacement from Syria project led by Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh at University College London, we found that many of the refugees from Syria we interviewed highlighted the need for local ‘hosts’ to learn the experience of war and forced displacement in order to understand the reasons behind their arrival and to learn how to accept and support refugee newcomers within their societies.

“In the media, the government and local municipalities should work on delivering messages that encourage local people to support Syrians or, at least, prevent them from engaging in different forms of racism. Such messages should particularly target local students,” a Syrian refugee woman we spoke to in Hatay, Turkey, explained.

Indeed, the suicide of a nine-year-old refugee student in Turkey in October 2019 as a result of extreme racism at school was reported, while local and national media were fueling waves of xenophobia across Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Likewise, a large number of refugees from Syria pointed to the misleading belief that they merely constitute a burden on ‘host economies’.

A Syrian refugee man in Gaziantep, a city in Turkey, suggested that “the governments of Arab countries should contribute to educating their people so that refugees are accepted on their lands and integration is facilitated: governments must clarify that refugees do not receive aid at the expense of the host economy”.

Another contended that his cash vouchers are not a gift from host governments, and that conveying this message publicly would ease local tensions. Educating the hosts is often mentioned as an effective tool to reduce anti-refugee resentment and stimulate informed empathy within local society.

A Lebanese student in a northern Lebanese village, confirmed this: “I don’t know much about what happened in Syria in 2011. I only see lots of Syrians here. How will I learn this history if they don’t teach these things at school?” they asked.

In our interviews and experiences in Turkey and Lebanon, international NGOs were especially mentioned as holding a potentially influential role in educating the locals on what it means to actively host refugees, since some large humanitarian and development actors have the capacity to pressure the international media and, sometimes, governments.

The considerations above, coming from refugees, raise the fundamental question of what sort of venues would be safe and suitable for the endeavour of educating the host. In most cities, refugee reception is highly politicised and regularly used as a way for local power holders to create constituencies.

One question is whether human empathy can really be ‘taught’. However, even though the response to such a question is complex, accepting the status quo is not an option.

For instance, the presence of official education programmes on forced migration for the local hosts would help to publicly challenge hate speech and inform people’s compassion with legal and historical frameworks on refugee reception.

Informal activities and events are often organised in cities that receive large numbers of forced migrants, both in the Global North and the Global South.

In Europe, some cities and towns host municipality-led events or initiatives run by collectives aimed at promoting integration through cultural activities or inter-religious dialogue.

In cities like Beirut and Istanbul, film screenings and roundtable discussions on Syria have been organised widely by local activists, with the purpose of sensitising the civil society. Yet, these initiatives quite often do not manage to become visible to all social groups and, importantly, are still missing in the official discourse on forced migration.

Instead, the responsibility and capacity to integrate and be included are exclusively ascribed to the refugees themselves. Paradoxically, the members of the societies that receive refugees are officially defined as ‘hosts’ without actively hosting.

This is not to discard the importance of ‘integration’ and ‘inclusion’ in contemporary societies, but rather to advocate for the healthy coexistence and mutual knowledge between the long-standing and new members of those societies.

The international community must shift the ‘capacity to integrate’ formula from the refugees to the local ‘hosts’, and acknowledge the need for a real plan with long-term, mandatory educational programmes.

Some might see this call for educating the host as an ideological and, thus, questionable move, but the truth is that whether we want it or not, people will keep moving, and the sustainability of everyone’s welfare cannot be but a common affair.


*This research has been conducted in the framework of the project “Analysing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey,” funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582.

If you enjoyed this piece you can access the recommended reading below: 

Cantor, D.J. (2021) Cooperation on refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean – The ‘Cartagena process’ and South–South approaches

Asai, N. (2019) Soka Gakkai International – Faith-Based Humanitarian Action During Large Scale Disaster

Carpi, E. (2019) Local Faith Actors in Disaster Response and Risk Reduction – ALNAP Webinar

Carpi E. (2018) ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ assistance provision beyond the grand narratives: Views from Lebanese and Syrian providers in Lebanon

Carpi, E.  (2018) Does Faith-Based Aid Provision Always Localise Aid?

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Looking Forward: Disasters at 40

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Exploring refugees’ conceptualisations of Southern-led humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Histories and spaces of Southern-led responses to displacement

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Faith-Based Humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) Refugee-Refugee Humanitarianism

Olliff, L. (2019) Refugee diaspora humanitarianism and the value of North/South distinctions in research on responses to forced displacement.

Omata, N. (2019) South-South Cooperation in International Organizations: Its Conceptualization and Implementation within UNDP and UNHCR

Ozturk, M. (2019) Municipal-level responses to Syrian refugees in Turkey: The case of Bursa

Wagner, A. C. (2019) “There are no missionaries here!” – How a local church took the lead in the refugee response in northern Jordan

Featured image: Syrian and Turkish community members play in the park, Gaziantep, Turkey.  © Muhannad Saab, 2016

Categories: Lebanon, Syria, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Humanitarianism and Ethnocracies of Care in Lebanon

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Webinar with the AAA Interest Group on NGOs and Non-Profits (March 1, 2021)

Last March 1, 2021, I and Dr Chiara Diana (Universite’ Libre de Bruxelles) have presented our chapter The Right to Play versus the Right to War? Vulnerable Childhoods in Lebanon’s NGOization for the volume edited by Kristen Cheney and Aviva Sinervo (More information about the book Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification and Objectification can be found here: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030016227).

For those who would like to review the webinar or who registered and were unable to attend, here is a link to the video of the eventhttps://youtu.be/IM17PpE2aFE

One of the questions that came up during the webinar was regarding the ethics of doing research with children. Here is the website (as well as an attached PDF) recommended by María Claudia Duque-Páramo in response to questions about the ethics of doing research with children: ERIC Ethical Research Involving Children: https://childethics.com/
To learn more about the AAA Interest Group on N​GOs and Non-Profits you can visit our website http://ngo.americananthro.org, like the IGNN on Facebook and follow @ngoanthro on Twitter.

Categories: Africa, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, United States, USA | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon*




By Estella Carpi

… Everyone was there and wanted their logo to be known… it’s a brand. And in the July 2006 war [of Israel on Lebanon] there were definitely more international brands than ever.
(Author’s interview with the Manager of the Social Development Centre, Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs, ash-Shiyyah, Beirut, October 30, 2011)

The visuality of symbols, buildings, and icons can powerfully mark spaces and make such spaces political, culturally oriented, spiritual, and even human. In times of crisis, it is particularly employed to exhibit the presence of humanitarian work. However, such a visuality can take different forms, and humanitarian logos are only one means of expression. Humanitarian logos communicate to the public that the labelled organizations are there assisting the needy, alleviating their predicament, witnessing human suffering, or rescuing lives. During the years I spent researching aid in Lebanon (2010-2020), people have often spoken of the ‘war of logos’ to emphasize the competition between different humanitarian actors intervening in crisis-stricken areas. 

In such areas, where migrants and refugees often reside, new local understandings of physical space have arisen. However, aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war. In this blog post, I show how they can become stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life, inviting dwellers to rethink these spaces of coexistence. Aid, therefore, going beyond official humanitarianism, turns out to be a politics of space, changing people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and inducing them to rethink their spatial margins.

​After the arrival of refugees from Syria (2011), the aid coming into Lebanon from the Arab Gulf increased, involving both in-kind assistance (i.e. food and school material kits) and cash-based programmes. Traditionally, Islamic charity work objects to iconic politics, adducing Prophet Mohammed’s hadith “the left hand does not see what the right hand gives” (la ta‘lamu shamaluhu bima tunfiqu yaminahu). However, some Arab Muslim philanthropists provide humanitarian aid by making their relief provision visible and, at times, even displaying their own face, their national flag, and their logos. Individual philanthropists in the Arab Gulf often opt to show the national flag and the faces of charity founders.Aid distribution by Khalaf Ahmed al-Habtour Foundation (United Arab Emirates) in an Akkar village, North Lebanon. March 2019.​During my most recent fieldwork for the Southern-led Responses to Displacement project in North Lebanon, many Syrian refugees emphasised that they do not support the politics of some foreign governments in the Syrian conflict and, at times, are reluctant to accept the donations. A Syrian refugee friend told me in Bebnin in the spring of 2019, “We’re using the plates with the Saudi logo to show you we are given this stuff… but we normally don’t like using them as we don’t think Saudi politics helped Syrians in any way…”.
Saudi Arabia NGO’s plates for Syrian refugees. Bebnin, Akkar. March 2019.Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s symbol on jumpers. Kweishra, Akkar. April 2019.School bags distribution from Saudi Arabia. Al-Bireh, Akkar. March 2019.​NGOs and UN agencies from the ‘global North’ similarly use logos to mark their humanitarian space, although the space is often shared with other humanitarian actors. I often met refugees who stressed how ephemeral and punctuated (appearing, disappearing, and reappearing over time) humanitarian assistance is: humanitarian logos always remain there, while aid workers show up to provide help only once in a while. Beneficiaries generally interpret logos negatively, as a sign of an increasingly prominent humanitarian-business nexus where assistance needs to be branded to be funded and supported. Yet some refugees I spoke to view the logos positively, as they visually convey the politics that relegate their lives to the margins and make their living conditions precarious and unjust. Such acts of ‘self-visibilization’ enable people in need to battle against the discriminatory and unequal politics of some aid providers.UNICEF’s and Solidarités International’s logos on the toilet of an informal tented settlement (one for more than a hundred people) in an Akkar hamlet. March 2019.UNHCR tarp covering construction material in front of al-Bahsa new mosque in Akkar, North Lebanon. March 2018.​Logos also inform us about the cooperation between humanitarian agencies which, generally, we would not associate with each other, such as Polish Aid and Australian Aid co-funding a dispensary for Syrian refugees and vulnerable local residents in the village of al-Bireh in North Lebanon.
Ophthalmology clinic in Bireh, Akkar. March 2019.​Spaces of aid are usually remembered by the nationality of the funders, whose logos – often displaying their national flag even for non-governmental funding – are placed on street signs, entrance gates, and indoor walls.
Turkish government-funded clinic in Kweishra, North Lebanon. March 2019.​In the sign above it is evident that the funding for what is commonly known in Kweishra (Akkar) as the “Turkish hospital” (al-mustashfa al-turki) is a donation from the Turkish state to the Lebanese state. However, the local residents and Syrian Arab refugees point out that only Turkmen Syrian refugees and a small number of Turkmen Lebanese have access to this clinic.

The Kuwaiti NGO “The Doors of Goodness Foundation” (jama‘iyyat mu’assasat abuwab al-kheir), assisting Syrian refugees, shows the national flag. Halba, North Lebanon. February 2019.

Beneficiary communities sometimes speak about humanitarian symbols with criticism and question their aid and service provision. A Syrian refugee woman from Homs who relocated to a border village in Lebanon highlighted that rent and medications were the primary needs of her family and community in Lebanon. At a time when e-food ration cards[1] had not been introduced yet, she told me with sarcasm, “I came from Syria to get packages of bread in Lebanon… I don’t give a damn about their ‘grains of hope’: it’s 2,000 Lebanese Lira… I can pay for it. Why don’t they provide medications and cash for rent instead? They provide what is easier for them” (Wadi Khaled, January 29, 2013).

Mercy Corps bread distribution in Wadi Khaled, Akkar. November 2012.

New local understandings of physical space have arisen in areas newly inhabited by migrants and refugees. For instance, in the economically disadvantaged district of Dinniye, local residents told me they used to identify the Emirs’ Castle Hotel (Funduq Qasr al-Umara’) as the luxurious holiday resort for tourists from the Arab Gulf. From 2012 onward, with the arrival of Syrian refugee families, local people conceptualised the area as a hotspot of “relief for the left-behind” (al-ighatha li’l ma‘zulin), where refugees collect aid provided by the Arab Gulf and are temporarily accommodated. 

Aid distribution for Syrian refugees at the Qasr al-Umara’ Hotel, Dinniye, Lebanon. April 2019.

Aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war: they can remain stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life. The Beit Atfal as-Sumud in the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburbs[2] represents a point of call for Palestinian dwellers, providing education, play activities, and medical support and referring beneficiaries to other NGOs and specialistic services. During my visits since 2011, I realized the employees are more trusted than the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA)’s services.[3] The Beit is the spatialization of the most effective aid in the neighbourhood, as known by other migrant and refugee groups who inhabit the area.

Entrance of Beit Atfal as-Sumud in Shatila, Beirut. September 2011.

​A large number of Syrian refugees in rural and peri-urban Lebanon reside in informal tented settlements (ITS) built on pieces of land on the side of public roads, which they need to rent from landowners, rent apartments or occupy empty depots in urban settings. Sometimes, families who were not even acquainted to each other before arriving in Lebanon end up living in the same household to be able to share expenses and make ends meet. A Lebanese resident from the city of Halba contended, “Once we know in which buildings the refugees live, we tend to avoid those areas.” We thus see new borderscapes (Lebuhn, 2013) in the making, where new margins, although not physically marked, emerge in the environment.
Building rented to Syrian refugees. South Lebanon governorate. July 2016.Some spaces are neither marked by NGO logos nor emerge as official spaces of aid provision in the public sphere. Yet, within local communities, they are understood as places where aid is likely to be given. Hairdressing and beauty salons for Ethiopian migrant workers became important points of call to weave support networks and exchange resources between Lebanon and Ethiopia or other African countries. Indeed, in Bourj Hammoud[4], African migrant workers from different national backgrounds said they frequent the same places where it is possible for them to gather information and seek support from other social groups or their countries of origin, beyond their own national belonging.

Ethiopian hairdressing salon in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. February 2019.​

Football in Lebanon is known to be an activity people are passionate about, a way of connecting them to the world outside, and also a reason for gatherings and social mingling. National flags of other countries are often used to show support to national football teams. However, during my research in Lebanon, I realized there is sometimes a more complex story about the different national symbols exhibited in public space. A Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud told me how they not only support Brazil in football world leagues, but they also cherish the generosity of their relatives who resettled in Brazil in the 1970s and sent material and moral support during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). Showing the Brazil flag outside their balcony became a way to show their gratefulness. 

Brazilian flag outside the balcony of a Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. February 2019.​

Similarly, a taxi driver, in the municipality of Minieh in North Lebanon, spoke of Argentina not only as his favourite football team in the world leagues, but also as the place which welcomed and supported him, his family and friends during the 1980s. After returning to Lebanon after the end of the civil war, he still preserves his childhood memories of Argentina and hopes his own children will get to know the country at some stage.

Sticker of Argentina on a taxi cab in Minieh, North Lebanon. April 2019.

​Humanitarian aid, ultimately, turns out to be a politics of space. It changes people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and induces them to rethink their spatial margins. Moreover, the material manifestations of aid are not exclusively to be found on logos and brands that indicate distribution spots or offices. Symbols, material objects and shops can give rise to different aid imaginaries. While those who believe in a no-profit humanitarianism commonly criticize the logo-marked bond between aid provision and business, alternative spaces of aid do not need to be marked by logos, as they are the result of entangled stories, personal relationships, and transregional trajectories of human support. Intimate memories do not need logos to have their presence acknowledged; it is generally in people’s mental spaces that they are preserved. 


 At the outset of the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon (2011-12), many of the ‘global North’s’ humanitarian actors were reluctant to provide cash assistance to refugees, preferring to prioritise the delivery of food, medical, and other items. In 2013 e-food ration cards began to be distributed to refugee households, replacing the old food vouchers. Also, over the last few years, especially after the 2015 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, NGOs and UN agencies agreed on reducing the delivery of in-kind assistance in order to enhance cash assistance. Nowadays, Arab Gulf funded NGOs in Lebanon mostly provide material aid, such as mattresses and food, and, during Ramadan, iftar baskets and dates.

[2] Established in 1984 after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres.

[3] UNWRA services are seen as decreasingly sympathetic with the Palestinian cause.

[4] An independent municipality located at the East of Beirut, historically marked by the Armenian forced migration, and today populated by different migrant groups.

* This research has been conducted in the framework of the project “Analysing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey”, funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582.

Estella Carpi is a Research Associate in the Migration Research Unit (Department of Geography) at University College London, where she works on Southern-led responses to displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. She received her PhD in Anthropology of Humanitarianism from the University of Sydney in Australia (2015). After studying Arabic in Milan and Damascus (2002-2008), she worked in several academic and research institutions in Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. She is an instructor of Humanitarian Studies and Anthropology of the Middle East at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. She is the author of Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo, published in Italian with Mimesis (2018). Estella is a 2020-25 Global Young Academy Member. She can be contacted at: e.carpi@ucl.ac.uk.  

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