Posts Tagged With: aid

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon*

11/23/2020

http://www.ror-n.org/-blog/spaces-of-transregional-aid-and-visual-politics-in-lebanon?fbclid=IwAR28bE0VE_wnhDj5mM1azpWnImqg0LQ1I56v3JViic8PIMCDaipfM96PMN8

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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. 


Notes

[1]
 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.  
  

Categories: Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon, Middle East, South America, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking Power Relations across Humanitarian Geographies: Southism as a Mode of Analysis (January 2019)

https://southernresponses.org/2019/01/23/thinking-power-relations-across-humanitarian-geographies-southism-as-a-mode-of-analysis/amp/?__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR3ydxsDqrlVN_nKhlKCBaFTOmgRiRMf4Yk4WB94DDzBSPkDpYK8juCywXg

This piece is posted as part of the blog series, Thinking through the Global South.  You can read the series here.

In this blog post Dr Estella Carpi examines the impact of the structural relationships between the Global North and Global South and puts forward the concept of ‘Southism’. This term is used to describe the unequal power relations, practices and belief systems that enable Northern humanitarian actors and organisations to assume a right to care for, rescue and assist Global South settings and people that it preconceives to be disempowered and incapable. Dr Carpi also examines how “epistemic failure”, and “material discrimination” influence and shape the encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries and suggests a ‘geography-free’ approach to enable us to critically question geographies of birth and national passports as assumed sole identifiers of power.

This piece was posted on the 23rd January, 2019.

By Dr Estella Carpi, Research Associate, Southern Responses to Displacement

In my chapter for the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, I sought to uncover the multifaceted power relations that underpin the ways that humanitarian practitioners lead their lives and encounter and think about local residents, governors, infrastructure, providers and refugee groups in the context of Lebanon’s humanitarian crises. My contribution, ‘The “Need to Be There”: North-South Encounters and Imaginations in the Humanitarian Economy’ also seeks to explore how the so-called international community of humanitarian practitioners is perceived by local and refugee populations.

My chapter specifically considers the Lebanese humanitarian provision systems in place during the Israel-Lebanon July 2006 war and in response to the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon from 2011. In these settings, it can be argued that there is a relationship between aid providers and recipients that cements the Global South as the key source of the Global North’s empowerment, accountability and capability to develop and assist vulnerable settings and people. This is a relationship that I explore in more detail below.

Aiming to problematise ethnic and political geographies within this context of provider-recipient power relations, my chapter suggests the concept of Southism as an analytical tool.  The complex role of international and local aid workers in crisis-driven transnational labour, and the ad hoc relevance of nationality within humanitarian economies, demonstrates to interrelated dynamics: on the one hand, the paternalistic behaviour of the humanitarian apparatus which deems itself as “necessary” in areas of need and, on the other hand, the complex relationships that exist between local, regional and international NGOs. For some displaced people I had the chance to speak to in Lebanon, these provider-recipient power relations seemingly form a homogenous arm of governance unable to either empathize with them or enact solidarity. It is in this articulated context that I explore North-South actual encounters and perceptions within the humanitarian economy.

My field research in Lebanon between 2011 and 2013 pointed to a tension between the philanthropic spirit of the humanitarian system, and local and refugee responses to the “Southist” intent. This Southist intent of the Northern humanitarian system to care for, rescue, upgrade and assist settings in the Global South combines personal affection and collective compassion with professional aspirations. By using the concept of Southism, I intend to resonate with Gayatri Spivak’s “monumentalization of the margins”, that is the overemphasis of needs and areas of need exclusively in the Global South. As such, Southism indicates a structural relationship, rather than a mere act of assisting the South with a philanthropic spirit. Specifically, it preconceives the South as disempowered and incapable.

To examine these concepts further, in my chapter I identify “epistemic failure” and “material discrimination” as key issues that influence and shape the encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries, and the latter’s perceptions of the former. Epistemic failure, or the failure of the humanitarian system to accumulate local knowledge concerning the cultures, languages and capacities of the areas of intervention exists at the same time as valuing the geographic diversification of professional experience and the standardization of operational skills. This creates a problematic disconnection between humanitarian practices and lifestyles on the one hand and aid recipients on the other.

In turn, material discrimination refers to the different pay-scales set up for local and international staff, heavily disadvantaging the former. In addition, I propose that “humanitarian tourism”, “politics of blame” and the “betrayal of the international community” represent local and refugee perceptions of global humanitarian worldviews, ways of being and lifestyles. “Humanitarian tourism’ represents the temporary as well as voyeuristic international interest in crisis-stricken settings. There is also a humanitarian tendency to blame local staff, infrastructure and politics for operational failures: “the politics of blame”. Lastly, “the betrayal of the international community” refers to the moral wound felt by forcibly displaced people who denounce the fictitious intervention of the international community and its inability or unwillingness to eradicate injustice and the very causes of crisis.

The humanitarian approaches to thinking about and assisting the needy that I discuss in my chapter relate to disparate sides of the world and, therefore, it questions geographies of birth and national passports as a priori sole identifiers of power. The global humanitarian way of being that I explore in Lebanon’s humanitarian crises is also about the social class and economic status of aid workers, and their own freedom to move inside (and away from) vulnerable areas and opt for educational and professional migration.

From this perspective, I strive towards a geography-free interpretation of Southism. While passports and nationalities still prove their efficaciousness in times of risk, my research in Lebanon has rather aimed to identify comfort zones which protect social statuses, ease and privilege across passports. The hegemonic culture which underpins the “NGOization” of postcolonial settings, on the one hand, can sometimes be adopted regardless of the geographic context of its primary actors. On the other hand, an exploration of hegemonic culture can unearth the organisational and individual ethics of international and local practitioners in approaching southern settings affected by crisis.

This geography-free approach helps to highlight and critically examine the “too-easy West-and-the-rest polarizations sometimes rampant in colonial and postcolonial discourse studies”. To understand the contextuality of humanitarian action and its impact on societies, we therefore need a flexible geography of Southism, which disappears when irrelevant and re-emerges when able to uncover the ad hoc performative roles of nationality.

Nonetheless, in my chapter I limit myself to showing some of the moral and material implications of Southism. After all, the feelings, intentions and aspirations which often underlie the humanitarian career make such Southism not a matter which can be straightforwardly addressed in the short term. Humanitarian actors’ tendency to believe that, whenever a new emergency breaks out, Lebanon – like other “fragile states” – would collapse without international humanitarian help is a belief that requires longstanding cultural intervention.

As I affirm in my chapter, “Southism does not merely make the Global South, or Southern elements in the North, its special place – as Edward Said does with the Orient – but it is, rather, employed by Northern and Southern actors to reassert, solidify and legitimise the Northern humanitarian presence and actions”. As long as the very aim remains the politico-pragmatic role and the moral survival of the Global North, “polycentric forms of knowledge, politics and practice” – as stated by Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Daley in the introduction– are unlikely to emerge and produce tangible transformations. My contribution, in line with the other 30 chapters of the Handbook, has attempted to prompt critical framings of everyday political geographies that form our material lives, actions, and conceptual referents.

This extract from Dr Carpi’s chapter in The Handbook of South-South Relations, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Patricia Daley, has been slightly edited for the purposes of this blog post. For more information about the Handbook, see here, and for other pieces published as part of the Southern Responses blog series on Thinking through the Global South, click here.

 For further readings on the themes addressed in this post please read:

Thinking through ‘the global South’ and ‘Southern-responses to displacement’: An introduction – in this introductory piece to our new blog series, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh sets out a series of questions that our project is exploring with reference to how to think about, and through ‘the South.’

Conceptualising the South and South-South Encounters – in this extract from their introduction to the new book, Handbook of South-South Relations, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Prof. Patricia Daley explore different ways of conceptualising and studying ‘the global South’ and diverse encounters that take place across and between diversely positioned people and institutions around the world.

Histories and spaces of Southern-led responses to displacement – In this blog post Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh highlights the need for the analyses of local responses to be more attentive to the longstanding history of diverse “local/Southern” actors and examines the ways in which Southern-led responses can work alongside, or explicitly challenge, Northern-led responses to displacement.

Empires of Inclusion – In this post Dr Estella Carpi explores the implications of the concept and process of ‘inclusion’ in relation to South-South Cooperation.

The Localisation of Aid and Southern-led Responses to Displacement: Beyond instrumentalising local actors – In this blog Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh examines a number of questions relating to recent action by international humanitarian actors responding to displacement and the new impetus to localise aid by engaging with ‘local’ actors in and from the global South.

Does Faith-Based Aid Provision always Localise Aid? – In this blog post Dr Estella Carpi argues that there is a need to reflect on local contexts to ensure engagement with local faith communities do not rely on essentialising practices that assume certain groups speak on behalf of a homogenous ‘locale.’

Featured image:  Al-Hikma Modern Hospital, Zarqa.  © E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (2018)

 

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