Posts Tagged With: Humanitarianism

The Covid-19 among MENA Refugees: A Great Humanitarian Concern (April, 2020)

Republished from: https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/covid-19-among-mena-refugees-great-humanitarian-concern-25679

While some may have initially underestimated the potentially disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, presuming that vulnerable people such as refugees would have more serious issues to deal with than a bad flu, the new coronavirus turns out to be an uncomfortable litmus test for the current state of aid in crisis-hit areas. There is no doubt that it is, however, premature to assess how the pandemic will affect the ways in which crises have been managed over the years to rehabilitate life and livelihoods in the Middle East and North Africa’s conflict-stricken settings, now home to internally displaced people (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen) and refugees (e.g. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan).

Although (un)forced migrants are often believed to be carriers of infectious diseases, today’s pandemic has actually been caused by the arrival of professional travelers or tourists in spaces inhabited by refugees. Echoing past concerns about the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the 2012 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the imminent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in refugee camps worldwide is daunting because large numbers of refugeeswho normally do not own equitable access to healthcare and reside in host countries where health infrastructures have been literally eroded by long-standing conflicts– may be particularly prone to respiratory infections. Refugee camps have become a matter of particular concern, as they tend to be crowded spaces across the Middle East region, where (mostly war-produced) refugees have been residing over decades and, at times, since birth.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other self-started measures in camps, Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees have begun fabricating masks to protect personal and collective health before the enactment of formal responses. In the framework of UNHCR’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, some international humanitarian agencies enforced prevention and protection measures (e.g. temperature screening at camp entrances). The formal COVID-19 response has primarily been coordinated with governments, even when refugees’ lives are endangered by the former. In Jordan’s Za‘tari and Azraq, mostly hosting thousands of refugees who fled conflict in neighboring Syria and are now in lockdown as per national policies, humanitarian workers have been providing guidelines in Arabic through SMS and street posters about how to preserve personal hygiene and health. However, protective material such as latex gloves, surgical masks and disinfectants – whose prices soared dramatically over the last few weeks due to their scarcity – has been distributed in only a small number of cases.

Also non-camp refugees, who actually make up the vast majority across the Middle East region and who are indiscriminately labeled as “urban refugees”, have become the object of great humanitarian concern. Although they are likely to be more exposed to an urban health system and to have easier access to information, many of them still lack potable water, remain unlikely to access healthcare facilities, and cannot afford quarantine arrangements and social distancingrestrictions.

After INGOs implemented anti-COVID-19 measures, some refugees voiced the need to be informed more broadly rather than simply being taught basic hygiene rules: “Aid providers promised Dettol and masks, but did not mention how we can learn what happens outside of here. No family in this camp owns a TV […] What are the most affected countries, and what are they doing to face all of this?”, as a Syrian refugee living in Bireh (northern Lebanon) put it in one of our recent conversations (March 31, 2020). Humanitarian agencies should therefore scale up simple aid and advice to include deeply informative sessions held in the languages of the camps. Mere guidelines like “washing hands with soap” limits aid to an instrument of biological survival and “human dignity’”. Thus far, humanitarian programs have seemingly approached the pandemic as an exclusively health matter that they can only provide technical advice for. Refugees have instead proven to be a key soft-power tool for global and regional power-holders who, in turn, adopt catastrophe as a back-route to convenient politics. For example, some municipalities in Lebanon have enforced extra curfews on Syrian refugees to reassert territorial sovereignty, parading such measures as needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in a bid to take advantage of the political leverage that states of exception typically provide. Meanwhile, Syrian refugee families in the Greater Beirut area recently (April 2, 2020) told me that local municipalities highlighted the need for refugees to exclusively address their aid requests to UNHCR and UNRWA (respectively addressing non-Palestinian refugees and Palestinians in Lebanon) in order to deal with the current pandemic.

As today’s emergency crises are mostly of prolonged nature, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly amounts to a series of ageing crises, made up of high unemployment rates among older-date refugees, a chronic lack of available cash – mainly needed to cover the costs of home rent and medications – and, sometimes, even food scarcity. During the pandemic, refugee camps and high-density slums are faced with the challenge of rethinking coping mechanisms and rely on weak infrastructure, while global humanitarian actors historically tend to prioritise later emergencies and under-resource the earlier.

In a world of unequal political geographies, Western countries will possibly be prioritized in the future provision of a vaccine. Instead, the virus is likely to affect refugee camps and spaces for a long time. By then, host states may end up using social distancing as a way of further isolating and warehousing refugees while sugarcoating it as public health protection.

 

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Car-sharing in Lebanon: Overlooked practices of collective self-reliance (April, 2020)

Republished from: https://www.rethinkingrefuge.org/articles/car-sharing-in-lebanon-overlooked-practices-of-collective-self-reliance

Since 2011, international humanitarian agencies have addressed Syrian displacement in the countries neighbouring war-affected Syria. Many of these programmes aim to put in place strategies to enhance the economic self-sufficiency and enfranchisement of refugees in the labour markets of the receiving societies.

Indeed, since the late 1990s, the global refugee regime has shifted from a ‘care and maintenance’ approach to refugee support towards ‘self-reliance’ and ‘resilient livelihoods’ in humanitarian programming. This approach focuses on urban environments where refugees are expected to provide for themselves, even when locals are economically vulnerable and often unable to achieve self-sufficiency.

Despite these expectations, few livelihood programmes designed by international humanitarian agencies acknowledge or build on pre-existing networks of mutual support and assistance woven by refugees and local residents. A better understanding of these networks offers a means to rethink the presumed individual nature of livelihoods in exile.

A study I conducted of car-sharing practices in Halba, capital of Akkar Governorate in northern Lebanon, reveals that these networks were often overlooked because of flawed understandings among humanitarian actors of how social groups live, cope, and thrive in crisis-stricken settings. As a result, refugees are often thought of and addressed as newcomers who barely know the host culture and economy. However, Syrian refugees migrating to Lebanon following the large-scale conflict were primarily neighbours or previous seasonal migrants doing menial labour – and even historical subjects of the same country until 1920.

Halba, Northern Lebanon

Halba, capital of Akkar Governorate, northern Lebanon. Photo credits: Estella Carpi.

In Lebanon, refugees (laji’un) are not officially recognized as such but only as displaced people (nazihun), since the country is not a signatory to the 1950 Geneva Refugee Convention and its protocols. Therefore, the search for and management of resources are generally more difficult for refugees in the region, particulary given that they generally have weaker support networks to draw on than the locals. Nonetheless, Syrian refugees and poor Lebanese citizens face the same costs of living, and many of the poorest locals receive virtually the same salary.

Car-sharing and collective tactics of survival

This research shows how long-standing networks of support and assistance point to a local economy of self-reliance strategies that are disentangled from national identity categories, and instead encompass both host and refugee communities. My findings on the everyday practice of car-sharing in a hamlet demonstrate that refugees build their own sustainability by developing networks with those worse-off local families who are unable to afford the purchase and maintenance of private cars. Private cars are an asset in Akkar because public transport in the region is insufficient and expensive with respect to the local purchasing power.

Wa’el, a Syrian refugee living in the small village of western Akkar, shares the cost of car maintenance and fuel with his Lebanese neigbour who, in turn, inherited the old car from his father. Likewise, two Syrian refugee families and a Lebanese family living in Halba chipped in to purchase a car. Many informal tented settlements where refugees live, moreover, are located far away from the main road where people can access pubic transport.

Owning a car provides both refugees and locals with more job opportunities as they thereby can accept jobs in other villages or even opt for jobs which imply some physical mobility (e.g. drivers and delivery services). Furthermore, owning a car enables people in Akkar to sustain their livelihoods more independently, as they can access cheaper shops and markets, which are not necessarily located in their neighbourhood or village. In this way, refugees play a proactive role in sharing their economic lives to mutual benefit.

Parallel Humanitarian Strategies of Livelihoods Creation

However, in Lebanon, international livelihood programmes, implemented by international NGOs and United Nations agencies, tend not to capitalize on pre-existing multi-scale mechanisms of self-reliance, implementing instead standardized parallel strategies aimed at enhancing local and refugee livelihoods. By doing so, humanitarian agencies treat different demographic groups as though they were different national groups that need to be reconciled, while disregarding their similarities and shared history.

The economic life of refugees should not be regarded as an outcome only able to be stimulated by external humanitarian actors, but instead as a set of practices that are generated by multilateral intergroup relationships. In Lebanon and elsewhere, international humanitarian programmes devote insufficient attention and resources to supporting such local arrangements, and instead implement programmes on the basis of individual skills and ability to cope. These limitations contribute to the stymied success of livelihood programmes, which should not be attributed solely to the structural constraints of the economic market in operation in North Lebanon.

Lessons learnt

Socio-economic practices like car-sharing are collective by definition, and therefore confront the humanitarian tendency of thinking labour skills as merely individual. Examining coping strategies and their historical development could enable the effective assessment of real-world social ‘memberships’ and their primary needs.

My study challenges the humanitarian construction of stereotypical and inaccurate identities in their designs for beneficiaries. Humanitarian assistance regimes based on demographic and other largely arbitrary identity categories to determine the eligibility of refugees only encourages claimants to misrepresent themselves in order to qualify for basic necessities and even rights. I highlight the importance of moving beyond rigid conceptualizations of the refugee–host binary. Instead, this research develops a deeper, practice-based understanding of how social identities interrelate through shared practices – an approach that focuses on what people actually do rather than misleading characterizations based on national identities.

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

Towards a Neo-cosmetic Humanitarianism: Refugee Self-reliance as a Social-cohesion Regime in Lebanon’s Halba (December, 2019)

https://academic.oup.com/jrs/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jrs/fez083/5686415?guestAccessKey=e4723362-7099-4f7c-b004-4066dde039f8&fbclid=IwAR1ZQzuTyqQs88J33TGnZKfbeA35IndU7paBiQBiFbw97-L_H89RFagsqHo

Abstract

This article focuses on Syrian-refugee self-reliance and humanitarian efforts meant to foster it in Halba, northern Lebanon. I argue that humanitarian livelihood programming is ‘neo-cosmetic’, as the skills refugees acquire through humanitarian programmes turn out to be little more than a cosmetic accessory. While the humanitarian apparatus deliberately limits its action in order not to challenge host economies, the acquired skills do not practically enhance refugees’ possibility to be employed. Instead, refugee self-reliance is reconfigured as the ‘inter-ethnic promotion of host stability’. Relatedly, I propose that the aim of implementing social cohesion in multi-ethnic areas reveals a new ethnicization of care within the humanitarian system. Within this framework, the citizen practice of running hardware stores on a permanent basis coexists with the temporariness of refugee livelihood practices. Lastly, I rethink social membership in a refugee–host setting by adopting a practice-based approach to the research subjects in an effort to challenge the ethnic definitions of social groups and other pre-established forms of belonging.

 

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

Bringing Social Class into Humanitarian Debates: The Case of Northern Lebanon (December, 2019)

https://www.mei.edu/publications/bringing-social-class-humanitarian-debates-case-northern-lebanon?fbclid=IwAR1a8JB-TLE2fV2soBywHz4R-OVU67oHPKIU4Z-29VndrENfUENfWivlqZY

This essay is part of a series that explores the human costs and policy challenges associated with forced displacement crises in the Middle East and Asia. The essays explore the myths or misconceptions that have pervaded discussions about these crises, as well as the constraints or capacity deficiencies that have hampered the responses to them. See more …


In recent years, the burden that refugees are believed to place on host societies has drawn a great deal of international attention.[1] However, the social class systems that underlie crisis-affected settings and crisis management itself remain a taboo in international debates and humanitarian programming.

Nowadays there are many criticisms of humanitarianism being politically neutral, arbitrarily universal, or often lacking in context relevance. Indeed, global humanitarian action largely originated from a condition of inequality and traditionally has been articulated accordingly — juxtaposing those who suffer and who need protection, and those who act with compassion and protect those in need. As Miriam Ticktin pointed out, “humanitarianism began as a moral, racialized, and religious ordering; it was not an egalitarian project, despite the belief in shared suffering.”[2]

Due to the protracted duration of most emergencies, international humanitarian agencies mobilizing to offer shelter and assistance to the displaced populations gradually acknowledged the need to extend their programs to “host” populations, and to therefore develop a better understanding of specific contexts. This led non-governmental organization (NGO) practitioners, scholars, and researchers to assess the social, political, and economic impact of humanitarian programs in targeted areas. According to these impact assessments, humanitarian programs have, at times, appeared to exacerbate local inequalities. Scholars have similarly critiqued  humanitarianism for having overlooked preexisting (i.e., pre-crisis) inequalities.[3]

Yet, little attention has been paid to the class-based inequality that the very presence of humanitarian agencies produces in crisis-affected settings. In such settings, there exists a class economy composed of foreign aid practitioners, the receiving country’s citizens, and migrants — representing different economic backgrounds when accessing services and goods, and using local infrastructures. Refugee groups themselves are normally variegated along social class lines, though such differences are often made invisible given the tendency to homogenize refugee profiles and backgrounds. Whereas the numbers of refugees and the money allocated to respond to humanitarian crises are generally well known and publicly discussed, information on the number of humanitarian workers employed, recruitment policies, and private belongings at stake is more difficult to access. In a nutshell, we can easily find out what humanitarian practices are about, but not who performs them.

In other words, although aid workers are consumers and users of local economies to the same extent as local residents and migrants in crisis-affected settings, their social and economic presence has received little scrutiny. Commentators have discussed the gentrification of the areas targeted by humanitarians, the way in which humanitarianism tends to neglect chronic vulnerabilities, or exacerbate the center-periphery dynamics of host cities.[4] However, they have made little reference to social class. This omission is a symptom of how discussions around humanitarianism have (not too innocently) neglected the social class dimension. The importance of class struggle in humanitarian spaces has therefore been overshadowed in the mainstream humanitarian narrative, in which human life is reduced to a (class-less) biological continuation of societies.[5]

Among today’s several humanitarian debates revolving around self-reliance, sustainability, and accountability, the international attention on humanitarian interventions in urban settings stands out. Cities are commonly regarded as the primary places where class economies become layered and articulated; however, the debates on “urban humanitarianism” have likewise neglected social class as a key factor that significantly marks the relationship between aid providers and recipients in settings of aid provision. The small city of Halba, in northern Lebanon, vividly illustrates how the class economy has tacitly been shaping humanitarian programming and how the very presence of humanitarian actors on the ground reinforced the pre-existing class-based inequality.

The Economy of Lebanon’s Halba

Halba is located in Akkar, one of Lebanon’s most deprived regions. According to the local municipality’s estimates collected in March 2017, Halba’s population at the time consisted of 27,000 local inhabitants and 17,000 refugees. In this peri-urban landscape, where physical boundaries are difficult to identify as they merge with rural surroundings, Syrian refugees mostly reside in informal gatherings on pieces of land at the side of public roads or, in other cases, rent out private apartments. The small city forms a commercial and administrative hub for the surrounding hamlets.

During the 1975–1990 Lebanese civil war, Halba became an employment hub, as many dwellers of Tripoli — the largest northern Lebanese city — faced everyday violence and destruction and therefore resettled to nearby Akkar. Halba’s economic importance derived from its location between Syria’s Homs and Tripoli and from being the main market for the surrounding villages.[6] However, as local residents emphasized to me during several conversations between March 2017 and January 2019, the local market and the public square have disappeared because of the lack of urban planning.

After 1975 especially, Halba turned from a large village, mostly based on agriculture, to a “city with no order,”[7] characterized by uncontrolled growth and peri-urban poverty. During the 1980s, unauthorized houses emerged in Halba’s surrounding fields where there used to be cotton cultivations, thus reducing the size of cultivable areas.Infrastructure and services are insufficient. Electricity, when not purchased privately, is only available for a few hours per day. The rapid urbanization of Halba has therefore offered few economic opportunities, but rather competition over resources and jobs across similar social strata. This has happened because Halba has not been developed as a city.[8]

Northern Lebanon after the Syrian crisis: Beyond Benefits and Burdens

In northern Lebanon, several INGOs now develop their programs by building on the urban-humanitarian nexus. However, the international tendency to ignore the local class system and humanitarianism as a specifically classed project dies hard. Yet, if Akkar is a historically forgotten area (often self-baptized as manta’a yatime, a regional “orphan” of its own central state), the impact of sudden demographic growth and humanitarian presence vary considerably according to social class.

With the arrival of foreign humanitarian agencies responding to the Syrian refugee crisis from 2012 onward, locals who were better-off have become wealthier as they have relied on the increasingly lower costs of the available Syrian workforce. (Historically, the latter constitute the working class made up of constructors, painters, and peasants, along with the local poor). On the one hand, international and local aid workers who reside in the area have potentially created demand for a new market, while not forming themselves a homogeneous social class (i.e. local staff normally enjoy lower pay scales than the internationals). Owners of properties and rental agents have witnessed greater international investment since humanitarian agencies are used to renting cars, staff, and apartments when deployed in the field. On the other, poorer classes have felt most of the economic pressure following the arrival of Syrian refugees and the consequent influx of cheap menial labor. Major pressure was perceived in the agricultural sector. The socio-economic impacts of Syrian refugees and of the humanitarian presence in Akkar, hence, emerge as context-sensitive and layered.

With no intent to undercut Lebanon’s infrastructural predicament during the Syrian crisis, local institutions and infrastructure, to a certain extent, gained greater income with the presence of new Syrian components in the region.[9] In-hospital births are a clear example: Syrian refugees benefit from United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) financial support in order to deliver babies in public hospitals (UNHCR does not cover private services). The UN agency, however, pays up to 80% of the health service provided and only in cases of non-chronic illness. On a quantitative level, this means that Syrian nationals who deliver their babies in one of the hospitals included on the UNHCR list, still need to pay 200,000 to 250,000 Lebanese Lira (150 USD) to access assistance during birth.[10]

Similarly, the opening of job positions for aid workers allowed educated local youths to become employed. Indeed, during my visits, many local aid workers in Halba confirmed they were unemployed before taking up NGO positions, which flourished with the arrival of external funding, especially until 2016. This, however, generated temporary empowerment of local middle classes, which remain at the mercy of crisis-driven labor and, more broadly, of geopolitical interests. On the same note, the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR, by providing food vouchers and later e-cards to Syrian refugees in the region, mostly enriched large shops and wealthy shop owners. This eventually affected the smaller shops, as anguished local residents often voiced to me.

However, some of these new profitable factors, which could have made this region more resourceful, turned out to be unsteady throughout the protracted Syrian displacement. For instance, aid work positions within the local economy of labor were short-lived. The period of high demand for skilled and professional labor — unprecedented in Akkar before 2012 — recently ended as a result of the enforcement of tougher labor measures. Demand for international skilled workers has likewise plummeted due to the decreasing funding allocated to the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Overall, the daily narrative of generalized deprivation in Lebanon had the problematic effect of ironing out diverse economic vulnerabilities as well as wealth and exploitation in the local class economy.

The Hidden Role of Social Class

Against this backdrop, the humanitarian economy of consumerism and labor has not brought durable benefits to Akkar. The arrival of humanitarian agencies has not transformed Halba from an administrative hub into a consumption city. Despite an unprecedented humanitarian presence due to the Syrian crisis, the overall market demand has barely increased. As a local resident argued,[11] at the beginning of the refugee influx many residents opened new shops, but they eventually shut down as the rent was expensive and customers were few. Similarly, the resources needed for the functioning of the humanitarian system were largely outsourced. By the same token, international newcomers — mostly from 2012 to 2015 — seldom frequented Halba for entertainment and consumption purposes. Due to the strict politics of work permits and recent NGO employment policies, which follow tougher national measures also towards upper and middle classes migration labor, Lebanese nationals now apparently make up 90% of INGO and local NGO staff.[12] Moreover, most local and international NGO practitioners who work in Halba live in Tripoli, or in the nearby village of al-Qobaiyat, which is comparatively wealthier. “In Qobaiyat people can find alcohol more easily and there are more cafes and restaurants. We don’t enhance the business volume in Halba, which remains a place for peasants; we go elsewhere for shopping,” recounted a local aid worker.[13]

The character of Halba’s economy is hard to capture due to the scarcity of quantitative data. “Halba has direct contact with international humanitarian organizations and that is an asset as it gets more resources than hamlets,” noticed Halba’s governor.[14] Likewise, the Syrian refugees who reside in Halba are considered wealthier than the refugees who opt for rural life. In this regard, an aid worker affirmed, “We don’t have many projects in Halba, because the refugees in this city are generally less vulnerable. They used to live in cities inside Syria, representing advantaged classes and providing skilled work.”[15] Even though I do not have access to statistics, my interviews with refugees showed that many of them are from rural backgrounds; and their livelihoods seemed to be no more sustainable than those of people living in rural surroundings.

The burden placed on Akkar’s poor infrastructure as a result of the demographic growth spurred by the Syrian refugee influx has further impacted the local class divide. However, the presence of Syrian refugees does certainly not explain it all. The number of international aid workers populating northern Lebanon, in particular between 2012 and 2015, is never mentioned in local and regional economic assessments and official statistics. Foreign humanitarian workers were not counted as part of the labor and class economy, partly in a bid to conceal the local presence of educated people who would have been able to take up the same job positions — an issue which the Lebanese government purportedly intended to address recently in the effort to curb local unemployment.[16] Nor are foreign humanitarian workers mentioned as local consumers who also access resources and put a strain on local infrastructure. This is because of the more generous purchasing power that international aid workers generally dispose of in deprived regions and their higher socio-economic status within Lebanese society.[17] Similarly, class differences tacitly determine discussions about the (il)legal status of non-Lebanese: governments and political commentators shed light on the illegal status of refugees, while ignoring the illegal status of many international aid practitioners working in the Syria neighborhood because, unlike the refugees — who are all indiscriminately believed to be ‘poor’ — they represent the middle and upper classes within host societies.

Social Class as a Humanitarian Taboo

Along the same lines, economic inequality is omitted in the history of human displacement and relief efforts while the philanthropic spirit of the better-off sticks out. A suitable reminder here is the analogous tendency to remove the transnational slave trade and African diasporas from the history of forced migrations, as these were running parallel with global capitalism and European colonial rule. As a result, international humanitarianism acknowledges forced migrants not only when produced by conflicts loaded with special geopolitical relevance,[18] but also makes sure they keep their place among the local poor. In this sense, while several forms of Lebanese nationhood have surely emerged at different class levels over history, poverty has increasingly been ethnicized, criminalized and securitized during the so-called “Syrian refugee crisis” in Lebanon: anti-Syrian curfews and the use of motorbikes became the public markers of refugee delinquency rather than markers of unwanted enlarged poverty in some villages.[19]

Refugees who have historically formed Akkar’s cheap workforce are hardly distinguishable from the local poor, while increasingly being left to fend for themselves the further we get from when the crisis started. There is already a real risk that Syrian prolonged displacement turns to abandonment and this is predictably harmful.[20] This abandonment will further blur the living conditions of the local poor and those of the refugees. In this context, crisis as a problem and humanitarianism as a solution rather sustain the specter of social class. The hidden role that social class plays in settings and discourses of forced migration and global aid work should be acknowledged. On this basis, humanitarian assessments should ponder not only the consequences of aid programs but also the very presence of aid workers in the targeted areas and their relational history with local classes. By averting such self-reflection, humanitarian assessment reports will never be able to offer genuine lessons to either practitioners or scholars.

There have by now been numerous efforts towards accepting and even welcoming the political, and not only biological, survival of displaced populations. Social class is a core part of such politics: the rich-poor divide fed to different measures by the humanitarian presence in host societies should also be brought into debates and questioned in international summits and NGO programming. However, as the Lebanese intellectual and activist Bassem Chit argued, we are cognizant that this can hardly be done “through delusions based on the hope that some bourgeois apparatus might carry us to a better tomorrow.”[21] The current Lebanon uprisings will reveal the nature (and maybe the end) of such delusions.

 


[1] Theresia Sarkis, “Lebanon is struggling to cope with Syrian refugees, but young people are pushing the country to be positive,” The Independent, April 15, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-refugees-lebanon-youth-brussels-middle-east-a8870416.html.

[2] Miriam Ticktin, “Humanity as Concept and Method: Reconciling Critical Scholarship and Empathetic Methods,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 37, 3 (2017): 608-613.

[3] Didier Fassin, Life: A Critical User’s Manual (New York: Polity, 2018).

[4] See Joely Thomas and Birte Vogel, “Intervention Gentrification and Everyday Socio-economic Transactions in Intervention Societies,” Civil Wars 20, 2 (2018): 217-237.

[5] Claude Dubar and Salim Nasr, Les classes sociales au Liban (Paris: Les Presses de Sciences Po, 1976).

[6] Faraj T. Zakhour, Halba fy nisf qarn 1900-1950 (Halba: Dar Zakhour li’l tab‘a, an-nashr, wa at-tawzi‘, 2005) 24.

[7] Remark by local intellectual, February 2017.

[8] Estella Carpi and Camillo Boano, “Humanitarianism in an Urban Lebanese Setting: Missed Opportunities,” The Legal Agenda, February 5, 2018, https://www.legal-agenda.com/en/article.php?id=4211.

[9] Hisham Ashkar, “Benefiting from a Crisis: Lebanese Upscale Real-Estate Industry and the War in Syria,”  Confluences Méditerranée 1, 92 (2015): 89-100, https://www.cairn.info/revue-confluences-mediterranee-2015-1-page-89.htm#.

[10] Interview with Syrian refugee women in Bebnin, spring 2017.

[11] Conversation with the author. Halba, winter 2019.

[12] United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Lebanon Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 32  (May 1 – July 31, 2018), https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/OCHA-Humanitarian%20Bulletin-Issue32-31July2018_EN_0.pdf.

[13] Interview, February 2017.

[14] Interview, March 2017.

[15] Interview, March 2018.

[16] Interview with politician in Tripoli, May 2019.

[17] Peter Redfield, “The Unbearable Lightness of Ex-Pats: Double Binds of Humanitarian Mobility,” Cultural Anthropology 27, 2 (2012): 358-382.

[18] Danilo Zolo, Invoking Humanity: War, Law and Global Order (New York: Continuum, 2002).

[19] Estella Carpi, Mariam Younes, and Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi, “Crisis and Control: (In)Formal Hybrid Security in Lebanon,” Lebanon Support and ALNAP, January 1, 2016, https://www.alnap.org/help-library/crisis-control-informal-hybrid-security-in-lebanon.

[20] Dorothea Hillhorst, “Classical humanitarianism and resilience humanitarianism: making sense of two brands of humanitarian action,” Journal of International Humanitarian Action 3, 15 (2018), https://jhumanitarianaction.springeropen.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s41018-018-0043-6.

[21] Bassam Chit, “Nationalism, Resistance and Revolution,” International Socialism 2, 145 (January 2014): 99-118, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/chit/2014/01/nationalism.html.

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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)

 

Categories: Lebanon, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review of Lucy Mayblin’s Asylum after Empire (December 2018)

You can access here my review of Lucy Mayblin’s book “Asylum after Empire. Colonial Legacies in the Politics of Asylum Seeking” on Refuge 34(2): 158-160.

https://refuge.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/refuge/issue/view/2319?fbclid=IwAR13If-SvFwmLSFKTKKL1MRFjB0BSFS6t591zjAGs3qRwjVrdRFkT39HySM

Categories: Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo (by Estella Carpi, November 2018)

cover

E’ uscito il mio primo libro Specchi Scomodi il 13 novembre 2018!

Ho pensato a questo libro con un fine divulgativo, seppur si basi sul mio lavoro di dottorato (2010-2015).

Attraverso il racconto etnografico di quattro donne reduci da esperienze diverse di migrazione forzata – Souhà, Iman, ‘Alia e Amal –  cerco di offrire un’approfondita lettura storica e sociologica dei flussi dei profughi verso il Libano contemporaneo e all’interno del paese stesso. Il fine è quello di offrire ai lettori le motivazioni e le implicazioni sociali e politiche dei fenomeni migratori dal Libano meridionale alla periferia di Beirut a causa dell’occupazione israeliana, e dalla Palestina, Iraq e Siria al Libano a causa di processi politici tuttora irrisolti. Con una particolare attenzione al fornimento dei servizi sociali, il libro enfatizza la continuità storica – per l’appunto, gli specchi scomodi – che lega indissolubilmente non solo questi quattro complessi processi storici, ma anche le vite individuali, le sensazioni, le tattiche quotidiane di sopravvivenza economica ed emotiva e le micro-politiche delle quattro donne protagoniste.

Lo potete prenotare online e in libreria. Nelle librerie italiane lo troverete invece in ampia distribuzione da gennaio 2019 in poi.

Buona lettura!

Categories: Libano, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intermediaries in humanitarian action: a questionable shortcut to the effective localisation of aid? (by Estella Carpi, November 2018)

http://publicanthropologist.cmi.no/2018/11/24/intermediaries-in-humanitarian-action/?fbclid=IwAR2wU9zKjpdhtoUNuFoTST_MEJzuLP_Tc1Z203AYD28kRzBzMgICS-uNgZY

Over the last decade, international humanitarian agencies have endeavoured to develop effective ways to localise their practices of intervention in areas receiving forced migrants or stricken by conflict or disasters. ‘Localisation’ is an umbrella term referring to all approaches to working with local actors, and includes ‘locally-led’ projects which refers specifically to “work that originates with local actors or is designed to support locally emerging initiatives” (Wall 2016).

Local-international partnerships have received much rhetorical attention as a more acceptable face of the humanitarian programming designed in the global North. Nonetheless, there is evidence that northern funding and organisational structures still give preference to implementers from the global north (Ramalingman, Gray and Cerruti 2012). In this framework, the middle space, spanning from international donors to local implementers, is of crucial importance in shaping decision-making processes related to humanitarian funding, practices and policies. In this framework, I would like to advance my considerations on the international humanitarian system that presently places special emphasis on the role of intermediaries in crisis-stricken settings, or contexts that are proxies to crisis.

On November 14 2018 I participated in a roundtable organised by the Overseas Development Institute which aimed to evaluate the role of intermediaries in humanitarianism. In this context, several London-based humanitarian professionals expressed the need to define the role of the intermediary figure in humanitarian action, and to rely on the latter’s support to access local and refugee communities in the targeted areas. By contrast, academic literature which seeks to map such a ‘middle space’ is scant (Kraft and Smith 2018). Based on these observations, what are humanitarian actors trying to bypass, remove, enhance or achieve by emphasising the importance of intermediaries in their sector? With the following considerations, I intend to shed light on how intermediaries may be problematically employed as a shortcut to localisation and as a logistic facilitation strategy to not further contextualise policies and practices which are often designed in the so-called global North.

The first observation I would like to make is related to the layered social identity of intermediaries. Indeed, it is a common belief that intermediaries are mostly local or regional residents with strong connections and networks in the areas targeted by humanitarian programmes. If the line of separation between the ‘international’ and the ‘local’ is unavoidably blurred, it is important to note that some segments of local middle classes – generally those employed in the humanitarian system to manage crisis – are as unfamiliar with other social strata of their own country as many international workers with whom they share common lifestyle standards. As a result, from a relational and emotional perspective, some local professionals may not necessarily be any closer to the people they address. At the same time, however, intermediaries are believed to be well placed to manage local politics, such as corruption, inefficiency or reluctance to comply with external norms and requests. Can such a social figure ever exist? In this respect, the research I conducted from 2011 to late 2013 in Lebanon (Carpi 2015) demonstrates a promiscuous intentionality of the international humanitarian apparatus: on the one hand, the desire to avoid local politics and its discontents, but, on the other, the need to rely on intermediary figures who are able to prepare beneficiary lists and can provide contextual knowledge to enable humanitarian actors to rapidly and safely access local and refugee groups. However, as my research has shown, by doing so international humanitarian agencies often end up recognising local authorities as key actors of the humanitarian machine. In my field experience, the moral impact of what I may call an ‘unintended alliance’ between humanitarian internationals and local gatekeepers was particularly relevant when local residents and refugees expressed their desire to get rid of intermediary figures operating between them, the humanitarian system and the central government. Intermediary roles were predominantly covered by local state officials and delegates (makhatir and mandubin respectively) and other local informal leaders (zu‘ama’). In sum, the necessary entrance of formal and informal local authorities into the international humanitarian labour chain produced a substantial impact on humanitarian workers who must deal with local politics and its contextual configuration.

The second issue that I would like to analyse is the excess of intermediaries in the contemporary humanitarian sphere. Looking at the intermediary role as a relational and performative process rather than a clear-cut sociological mission, it is possible to identify unorthodox configurations of “intermediariness”. Even though it is mainly conceived as local actors, –networks, individuals, diaspora groups or formal organisations that occupy the middle space between initial donors and final implementers, intermediaries can sometimes be epitomised by INGOs and UN agencies. For instance, the humanitarian corridors that currently take Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Italy and France across the Mediterranean are a suitable case in point. As a local aid worker recounted in an interview in Beirut in March 2017, in order to retrieve personal data and carry out an initial selection of the refugee groups who better suit the Italian and the French labour markets, the INGOs in charge of organising the humanitarian corridors rely, in turn, on other INGOs and UN agencies that can provide them with a contact database. This modality of selection is believed to avoid a costly and time-consuming door-to-door strategy. In this case, needs assessment is viewed as a bureaucratic hurdle rather than an effective way of identifying needs and protection and their changing nature. Likewise, another aid practitioner working for an INGO in a village of northern Lebanon affirmed that individual and family eligibility to cash transfers was determined through the UNHCR central database, rather than independent field visits and assessments (interview in Halba, February 2017). These two anecdotes show how intermediaries operating in the humanitarian middle space are at times excessive.

My third observation concerns bureaucracy. Enhancing and institutionalising the role of intermediaries may sort out the difficulty of pinning down sociological figures in changing contexts and of managing institutional trust versus informal society. By this token, we may think that the role of intermediaries should therefore be professionalised. However, the institutionalisation of the intermediary role might instead add complexity and slow down the already hyper-bureaucratised system of international humanitarianism and development. The same system has long been accused of being poorly responsive to context-sensitive needs (Belloni 2005) and de-humanising war and disaster victims (Pandolfi 2002). In this regard, Lebanon offers the meaningful example of the Municipal Support Assistant (MSA). This professional figure, appointed by local municipalities, has been created to work with local authorities and international humanitarian actors and acts as a local government administrative assistant. In the case of Lebanon, the MSA needs to be fluent in Arabic and English to be able to develop double communication strategies. As a municipality representative of Sahel az-Zahrani reported in a 2016 study conducted by UN-Habitat and the American University of Beirut, the MSA has presumably been created to enhance coordination between the local and the humanitarian systems of governance (Boustani, Carpi, Hayat and Moura 2016). However, considering the formal ways of working that the MSA needs to comply with, bureaucratic impediments are practically enhanced. In other words, if bureaucracy is enhanced to achieve greater coordination, I would be wary to believe that actual coordination can soon see the light.

The very aims of the ongoing efforts towards an “intermediary-sation” of humanitarian action need to be clearly motivated and contextualised. From a personal perspective, considering the provisional presence of many international humanitarians and researchers in the areas where crisis management is needed, we continue missing historical continuity. Short field visits are in fact unlikely to trace the local history of human relations, contextual power dynamics and assistance mechanisms. Should the international humanitarian system not find the radical determination to develop physical and moral proximity towards the populations it endeavours to serve, I hence envision intermediaries only as everyday researchers who conduct “reality checks” whenever accurate humanitarian assessments of outreach, programming, policies and local specificities are needed.

References

Belloni, Roberto (2005) Is Humanitarianism Part of the Problem? Nine Theses. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Boston, MA.

Boustani, Marwa, Carpi, Estella, Hayat Gebara, and Mourad Yara (2016) Responding to the Syrian Crisis in Lebanon. Collaboration between Aid Agencies and Local Governance Structures. London: IIED Urban Crisis report.

Carpi, Estella (2015) Adhocratic Humanitarianisms and Ageing Emergencies in Lebanon. From the July 2006 War in Beirut’s Southern Suburbs to the Syrian Refugee Influx in the Akkar Villages. PhD dissertation, University of Sydney (Australia).

Kraft, Kathryn and Smith, Jonathan D. (2018) “Between International Donors and Local Faith Communities: Intermediaries in Humanitarian Assistance to Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon”, Disasters.

Pandolfi, Mariella (2002) “’Moral Entrepreneurs’, Souverenaités Mouvantes et Barbelés: le Bio-Politique dans le Balkans Postcommunistes”, in Politiques Jeux d’Espaces, ed. Pandolfi, M. and Abélès, M., special issue, Anthropologie et Sociétés, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 29-50.

Ramalingam, Ben, Gray, Bill, and Cerruti, Giorgia (2012) Missed Opportunities: The Case for Strengthening National and Local Partnership-Based Humanitarian Responses, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Tearfund, and Action Aid.

Wall, Imogen with Hedlund, Kerren (2016) Localisation and Locally-Led Crisis Response: A Literature Review, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

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

The ‘Learning from Crisis’ Humanitarian Formula: Bridging Disaster and Normality (October, 2018)

 

You can here listen to my interview with Habitat for Humanity-Great Britain (May, 2018), which summarises the report I published with the International Institute of Environment and Development in the framework of the Urban Crisis Learning Partnership project – including Habitat for Humanity-GB, Oxfam-GB, the Overseas Development Institute, and the Bartlett Development Planning Unit (University College London).

To access all outputs and the broader outline of the partnership:

https://www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/what-we-do/disaster-response/uclp/

https://www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/blog/2018/10/learning-from-urban-crises-documentary/

To access my report:

http://pubs.iied.org/G04283/

 

Categories: Central America, Haiti, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ assistance provision beyond the grand narratives: Views from Lebanese and Syrian providers in Lebanon

http://publicanthropologist.cmi.no/2018/09/15/southern-and-northern-assistance-provision-beyond-the-grand-narratives-views-from-lebanese-and-syrian-providers-in-lebanon/

Over the past few decades, scholars have increasingly employed the categories of ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ to explore different political geographies and economies in development cooperation and humanitarian aid provision. Without doubt, whether and how these denominations make sense are not merely dilemmas of terminology. The Global South has been historically referred to in a number of ways: as the ‘Third World’, coming after the First World, including the US and its allies, and the Second World, including the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc partners; as ‘non-DIAC countries, i.e. not belonging to the Development Assistance Committee of Western donors; or as ‘postcolonial donors’, which, however, does not manage to capture the different positioning of Southern countries vis-à-vis donorship and aid reception.

Against this backdrop, the categorisation of the Global South has existed since the mid-1970s, effectively indicating the changing power relations of this groups of countries with the Global North. With respect to the ‘East’ – a notion tentatively incorporating diverse realities but nowadays embedding them in the Orientalistic discourse first advanced by Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said (1978) – the Global South better allows for multi-directional flows of economic, cultural, and political capital between different countries, and therefore anthropology is surely well placed to explore such multi-directional flows. However, the definition of the Global South has too often been misleadingly reduced to a marginal or anti-imperial positionality, independent from context. In particular, in a bid to learn about and consider different Souths (from an intentionally plural perspective), Global South should not be our episteme – the point of departure for enlarging our knowledge about such a concept. It is in this regard that some scholars have opted for a conception of the Global South as ‘not an exact geographical designation, but as an idea and a set of practices, attitudes, and relations’ (Grovogu, 2011) or ‘a linguistic family, a belief system and an epistemology’ (Mignolo, 2015).

It may be helpful to examine a world map and reflect on the very geographic characteristics of the countries that are included in the Global South category. For instance, given that Australia is a political pole of the Global North, just as China is for the Global South, physical geography cannot fully explain what North and South are, since these categories refer not only to places but also, more importantly, to different political projects related to development and humanitarian action.

As Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Daley highlight in their introduction to the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, the present South-South cooperation and its underlying principles are historically associated with anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles around the world: ‘The emergence of a South-South cooperation was originally conceptualized as a way to overcome the exploitative character of North-South relations through diverse models of transnational cooperation and solidarity developed since the 1950s and 1960s, including internationalist, socialist, and regional approaches and initiatives such as Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism’. Dahi and Velasco have recently pointed out that, in the decades following World War II, between the 1950s and the late-1980s, South-South trade represented roughly 5–10% of all global trade, but, by 2013, that share had risen to 54%. Over the same period, the direction of these exports shifted to other Southern countries, while global South-South financial flows also increased substantially. This shared interest in mutual collaboration in the Global South, presently championed by Northern actors (that purport to act as facilitators) is also reflected in the so-called ‘localisation agenda’ promoted by the international humanitarian apparatus, as endorsed during the 2016 Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. At the ‘Africa Stories: Changing Perceptions’ workshop held at University College London in June 2018, Michael Amoah, from the London School of Economics, confirmed Dahi and Velasco’s findings by contending that, in its current form, regional solidarity ideologies like pan-Africanism imply a new material inter-relationality, namely a new shared political economy between African countries, rather than an exclusive political ideology.

Thinking of South-South Cooperation (SSC), which is today incorporated in the framework of the United Nations (UNOSSC), the member states own different levels of economic development (the so-called ‘Human Development Index’) and are viewed as being located at different stages of democratic transition. Many countries partaking in the SSC are, at the same time, both aid donors and aid recipients. Some of those that are also donors do not wish to be defined as such, since such terminology is loaded with negative connotations associated with the Northern aid industry. In this sense, grouping the different realities that form an imaginary South under the banner of ‘emerging’ or ‘non-traditional donors’ is anti-historical as it represents the Northern neglect of a Southern history of assistance, which has similarly been developing for a long time.

In the light of this, should we endeavour to modify the categories ‘South’ and ‘North’ and work towards new definitions that can still grasp power relations without dooming countries to essentialised geopolitical positions? Or, rather, should we liberate the ‘South’ from negative connotations and the ‘North’ from positive biases? North and South are very telling with regard to our mental and cultural maps, not always encompassing the different technical, economic, political, and cultural assets and deficiencies that these political geographies present.

The emergence of UNOSSC is only one symptom of the increasing claim to postcolonial solidarity within the South and between the North and the South. Similarly, it can partially indicate the difference of the South from the North in the way that development and humanitarian assistance are thought about and implemented. These debates go beyond the realms of global economy, international relations, and politics; instead, they relate to the way in which ordinary people conceive of, explain, and concretely manage ideas and issues related to development and crisis management. In March 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with Syrian and Lebanese aid and service providers in Lebanon, among whom were three religious authorities engaging in assistance to Syrian refugees, and meaningful ways of understanding the services funded or managed by countries in the Global North or Global South emerged.

For instance, for a Syrian Sunni sheikh from Homs (western Syria), now managing a school in Tripoli, governance and markets represent the substantial differences between aid actors. He asserted that, in the Global South, governments are more present, while, in the Global North, there are private assistance initiatives that have their own rules and independence. Assistance in the Global North therefore ends up being random (ashwa’iy), reflecting an unleashed labour market behind assistance provision: ‘paying rents, employees, careers, and so on’.

A Lebanese Greek-Orthodox priest who provides aid to refugees and vulnerable citizens on a discontinuous basis in the city of Halba (northern Lebanon) expressed his way of thinking about the South in relation to the aid he provides in terms of what is outside of the Global North. However, he pointed out that, to him, in the mind of the beneficiaries, there is no difference with regard to the source of help and they do not distinguish between actors: ‘If you do lots of sponsoring, eventually your name is going to stick in their minds, but people do not really separate out providers in terms of principles and motivations, only whether the political campaign is massive, e.g. services coming from Saudi Arabia […] in this case, the image easily sticks in their minds, but they don’t know the name of the organisations involved most of the time. I personally think that what differs for Southern and Northern providers is the funding: it is sustainable for UNHCR but certainly not for us. They have governments supporting them, [whereas] we just have the Lebanese government, which neglects us. In that sense, I would identify as a Southern provider’.

Another Lebanese Greek-Orthodox priest working for a branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Halba raised the issue of global power holders imagining one homogenous South while departing from the idea of several Northern perspectives: ‘The Global North is the macro-picture for the politics we mostly hear about. As Lebanese providers with few means and little funding, we’re just numbers to be taken care of: I’m a Muslim in the eyes of the West, even though I’m Greek-Orthodox, because we, Middle-Eastern people, are all Muslims in the eyes of outsiders. Instead, I don’t feel there’s a shared understanding or feeling of the East, of the South, as you prefer to put it: there’s no homogeneity outside of the North. I don’t feel any proximity to Asian or African countries, especially to the Arab Gulf, which has its own interests here. Moreover, as a Greek-Orthodox, I have little to do with Arabness’.

The Syrian director of a school in a Tripoli neighbourhood (northern Lebanon) similarly stated: ‘I don’t feel closer to the Arab states with respect to Canada just because we’re all Arabs. Arab states haven’t been supportive at all toward Syrian refugees. I think the real difference between assistance provided by Northern and Southern countries is our hijra [migration with spiritual connotations, related to the migration of the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD]. The South migrates, and the North doesn’t accept us, even if we are qualified and have culture’.

A Syrian service provider in Tripoli proposed that ‘Northern’ or ‘Southern’ mean something in relation to the social, political, and emotional positionality of the provider: ‘The real difference is not the country we talk about; it’s rather our human condition. It’s about sharing nationality and issues with the displaced you assist [and is] nothing to do with East and West, South and North […]. Beneficiaries identify with countries of reception primarily on the basis of their political position; for example, if I get stuff from Turkey, as a Syrian opponent, I feel closer to Turkey. If you get aid from Saudi Arabia or Qatar, you will prefer one of them if you are a salafi (a follower of Salafism) or ikhwenji (from the Muslim Brotherhood) respectively. So, there’s politics behind our proximity to a country. In this sense, I don’t think I have anything to share with the ‘other South’. As a Syrian, Syria is my Global South’.

Reflecting on the various understandings of ‘Southern-led provision’ is relevant insofar as it allows us to grasp the complex social and political positionalities of assistance providers in the global framework of development and humanitarian action. In this sense, some contemporary academic debates merely re-consign agency to the vulnerable and the disenfranchised, e.g. by seeing Southern actors and refugees as inherently ‘different aid providers’ or by aprioristically defining them as resilient. These debates are tiring at a time when ‘Southern agency’ is heralded as a human and an intellectual conquest of the Global North. Instead, a valuable point of departure may instead be acknowledging the existence of multiplicity and respecting what each side suggests – at times participating and at other times acting by oneself in the realm of development and humanitarian action.

Categories: Africa, Lebanon, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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