Posts Tagged With: Lebanon

Ten years on, Syrian lives changed beyond measure (Fiona Mitchell, March 2021)

It has been a pleasure to contribute to Fiona Mitchell’s article on the Syrian crisis 10 years after.

Civilians in Al Bab after the town was freed from Daesh terrorists by Free Syrian Army (FSA) February 2017
Civilians in Al Bab after the town was freed from Daesh terrorists by Free Syrian Army (FSA) February 2017

By Fiona Mitchell

Correspondent

Ten years on and the Syrian war remains one of the defining conflicts of our time. 

Its impact has been most acutely felt by the Syrian people whose lives have been changed beyond measure. 

But the events of the last decade have also had a huge effect on neighbouring countries and far beyond the Middle East.

March 15th 2011 is generally acknowledged as the date on which the war began, though of course at the time no one could have anticipated the events that lay ahead. 

Destruction in Jouret al-Shayah, in Homs. The city of Homs was under rebel hands from 2011 until 2014

Syria was watching as its neighbours underwent rapid change in the form of the Arab Spring. Beginning in Tunisia and spreading to countries like Libya and Egypt, there was a series of anti-government demonstrations and protests.

One of the early slogans of the movement was “the people want to bring down the regime”. 

It was a message that spread fast, and one that was soon scrawled on a wall in the southern Syrian city of Daraa by a group of 15 young people.

Leaders across the region eyed the events of the Arab Spring with increasing alarm, witnessing men like Muammar Gadaffi and Hosni Mubarak fall from power under the force of a public opposition that was taking to the streets. In Syria, President Bashar Al-Assad was also watching.

His family had ruled the country for almost five decades and when the revolution reached Daraa the reaction was swift. The teenagers who had written those words were detained and tortured. 

The brutal way in which they were treated led even more people onto the streets in protest. If Daraa had lit a spark, the flames spread quickly, with protests soon taking place in cities across the country resulting in a rapid descent into civil war as hundreds of factions with an array of motivations became involved in armed conflict. 


Read more:
One woman’s campaign for Syria’s disappeared people

Ten years on: Syria’s war in numbers


Current situation

So what of the situation now in Syria? Who controls what parts of the country?

Nada Homsi is a freelance journalist and producer with NPR based in Beirut who covers the Syrian war.

As Nada Homsi points out, while the level of violence in Syria may have fallen in the past year, conditions have worsened considerably.

“Less people are dying, but less people can afford to live also,” she says. In the government held part of the country, the effect of international sanctions and the economic crisis in nearby Lebanon has severely impacted the economy. 

People struggle to make ends meet, with severe shortages of basics such as bread and fuel. UNICEF says that in the last year the price of the average basket of food has risen by over 230%, highlighting the impact this has had on Syria’s children.

Over half a million children in Syria under the age of five now suffer from chronic malnutrition. Last month the World Food Programme said the situation had never been worse.

WFP Country Director in Syria Sean O’Brien said that “after ten years of conflict, Syrian families have exhausted their savings as they face a spiralling economic crisis” in a country where basic foods now cost far more than the average salary. 

With an estimated 83% of the population now living under the poverty line in Syria, the economic crisis also means that funds are not available to rebuild the infrastructure damaged in the war. 

It’s estimated that Syria’s per capita budget has declined by 70% in the last decade. It is a situation described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a living nightmare”.

Displacement and the refugee crisis

Adding to the humanitarian crisis is the displacement of people in Syria that has happened over the last ten years. Many families have been forced to flee their homes not just once, but several times, in order to avoid violence. Will Turner is the Médecins Sans Frontières Operational Manager in North East Syria.

Since the war began an estimated 13 million people, which is more than half of Syria’s pre-war population, has been displaced. Over 5.5 million Syrian refugees have registered in neighbouring countries as people leave a country ravaged by a war with no end in sight. Aid agencies working in Syria have called the protracted displacement crisis the worst since World War II. 

And it has impacted the entire region. Estella Carpi is a Research Associate at University College London. As a social anthropologist her work focuses on the forced migration that has occurred in Syria, and the impact that it has on host countries across the region.

Estella Carpi says the impact on neighbouring countries that have seen a substantial influx of Syrians in the last decade is complex and layered. Local infrastructures in many are put under added strain. 

This is particularly acute in countries like Lebanon where public infrastructure was already in difficulty. It is also important to remember the diversity of refugees, something that Estella Carpi says can often be forgotten in the media portrayal of the crisis.

Gender, class, ethnicity – there are a wide range of people from a wide range of circumstances who have been adversely affected by the Syrian war and have been forced to leave their homes as a result. Many have gone to cities in neighbouring countries in the hope of finding work but with severe economic crises in countries like Lebanon this has not always been easy.

For those who are living in refugee camps aid agencies like Médecins Sans Frontières say the situation is incredibly fragile. 

Will Turner says the human toll of the war has been appalling, but now there is an added factor – Covid.

As the biggest global news story of the past year, the pandemic is cited by many as a reason that news from Syria has slipped from the headlines. But it is an issue with which Syrians are ill-equipped to deal. Will Turner points out that refugee camps are already incredibly difficult places to live, with overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. 

Eight or nine people living in a tent are completely removed from any ability to socially distance. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who recently tested positive for Covid-19, has implemented coronavirus measures in government-controlled areas of the country, including travel restrictions and a curfew.

Official numbers suggest that Syria has had far fewer Covid cases and Covid deaths than other countries in the Middle East, leading to a lot of scepticism about the accuracy of the official statistics.

As the world battles Covid, Syria battles both Covid and a decade-long war that shows little sign of coming to an end.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that the path to a resolution of the conflict remained open. Security Council Resolution 2254 endorses a “road map towards a Syrian-led political transition”. 

Mr Guterres was asked if the UN and the Security Council had failed the Syrian people. 

“It is clear”, he said “that if a war lasts ten years the international …. governance system we have is not effective. And that is something that should be a source of reflection for everybody involved.”

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

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

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

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

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

La resistenza culturale nel Libano contemporaneo. Le sfide di artiste locali e profughe

My article with Stefano Fogliata is out today open access in Archivio Antropologico Mediterraneo.

https://journals.openedition.org/aam/3502?fbclid=IwAR0m7YdwzpJcg5HQj5Q3Z0SkwRoE0d9ZD7k0_v-TVg0JXgCyxiMJGjPoAAY

Abstract in italiano

Sulla base di interviste condotte nel 2018, questo articolo analizza le somiglianze e le differenze che intercorrono tra le sfide che i “fautori della cultura” – artiste in primis – cittadine libanesi e rifugiate palestinesi e siriane devono affrontare nel contesto libanese. Dopo un’illustrazione dello scenario storico-politico libanese e di come in esso la “resistenza culturale” emerge in modo poliedrico, gli autori individuano aree d’incontro e di potenziale solidarietà tra gruppi. L’articolo discute la cosiddetta “umanitarizzazione” dei finanziamenti, attraverso la quale vengono sostenuti e potenziati soprattutto i progetti artistici che possono fungere da strumento di neutralità politica e di “medicalizzazione” dei traumi post-guerra. Tale fenomeno genera in parte una depoliticizzazione ed esteticizzazione dell’arte, “demobilitando” quindi la vervepolitica dietro al lavoro culturale e, allo stesso tempo, lega la sopravvivenza materiale di tali spazi culturali a cicliche crisi umanitarie.

Abstract in English

Based on interviews conducted during 2018, this article examines the challenges that Lebanese citizen, Palestinian and Syrian refugee “culture-makers” – primarily artists – need to face in the Lebanese context, and how such challenges differ from or overlap with one another. After providing an overview of Lebanese political history and how, within it, “cultural resistance” emerges in a multifaceted way, the authors identify areas of encounter and of potential solidarity between groups. The article discusses the so-called “humanitarianization” of funding, through which especially the artistic projects that can serve as instruments of political neutrality and of “medicalization” of post-war traumas are supported. This phenomenon generates in part a de-politicization and aestheticization of art, thus demobilizing the political verve behind cultural work and, at the same time, linking the material survival of such cultural spaces to cyclical humanitarian crises.

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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

Healing Trauma through Sport and Play? Debating Universal and Contextual Childhoods during Syrian Displacement in Lebanon (September 2020)

You can now read open access my article with Chiara Diana on the social impact of play and sport activities organised by INGOs and local NGOs in a Tripoli neighbourhood in northern Lebanon during 2015, 2016 and 2017. The humanitarian system has increasingly been investing in ludic activities during the Syrian humanitarian crisis; but what do local and refugee groups think?

Abstract

Focusing on the 2011–2014 forced migration of Syrian refugee children into northern Lebanon, this article examines the child protection strategies of two international and one local NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in the Tripoli Governorate. It explores the psychosocial care programmes and play activities that are meant to heal and integrate the refugee children. It shows how programmes for crisis-affected childhood and the sport-for-development formula predominantly remain universalised models, failing to incorporate local specificities despite increasing campaigns to promote contextualisation approaches.

You can access the whole article here

https://journals.le.ac.uk/ojs1/index.php/nmes/article/view/3614/3157

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The Boderwork of Humanitarianism During Displacement from War-Torn Syria (September, 2020)

Mobility and Forced Displacement in the Middle East edited by Dr Zahra Babar, from CIRS-Georgetown University in Qatar and published with Hurst/Oxford University Press, has now been published!

This book is a project based on a series of meetings in Doha with the 2016 grantees. You can read my chapter on the borderwork of humanitarianism in northern Lebanon and Southeast Turkey and the identity politics of livelihoods, which I have uploaded on Researchgate:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344311123_The_Borderwork_of_Humanitarianism_during_Displacement_from_War-Torn_Syria_Livelihoods_as_Identity_Politics_in_Northern_Lebanon_and_Southeast_Turkey

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

Le Liban et la recherche internationale après les révoltes de 2011: une «zone de confort»? (August, 2020)

You can access my new article with Rosita Di Peri (University of Turin) on Lebanon as a “comfort zone” for international researchers in the new Issue of Afriche & Orienti, which is Open Access! You can read the abstract here below, and access the link to the article via my Academia page:

Since the 2011 uprising, the Arab world turned into a theatre of political and social transformations. While some have been visible, others, less visible, have however been able to affect the intellectual, social and political infrastructure of international research. Being an important scenario for regional policy developments (Eg. the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran), Lebanon offers an interesting case in point. While this article does not address the October 2019 revolution and the most recent COVID-19 pandemic, we endeavor to unravel the ways in which research themes, methods, and security have changed in the Lebanese context.

Despite domestic instability, Lebanon not only is one of the few countries where conducting research is still possible in a crisis-affected region, but it also emerges as a “comfort zone” for international researchers: a place where to observe regional conflicts while enjoying a consumeristic lifestyle and a privileged position within Lebanese society. We provide a critical inquiry of how, first, the confessional narrative has been abused and reproduced in international research. Second, we focus on how scholars have changed the way of thinking Lebanon’s statehood and political order. Finally, we discuss how the forced migration scholarship has built on the widespread securitization and ethnicization of migration.

https://www.academia.edu/43822890/Le_Liban_et_la_recherche_internationale_après_les_révoltes_de_2011_une_zone_de_confort_

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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.

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Keeping the Faith? Examining the Roles of Faith and Secularism in Syrian Diaspora Organizations in Lebanon (February 2020)

The “Diaspora Organisations in International Affairs” book, edited by Dennis Dijkzeul and Margit Fauser is now out! Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and I contributed with the chapter Keeping the Faith? Examining the Roles of Faith and Secularism in Syrian Diaspora Organizations in Lebanon. Here below our abstract.

For more details on the other contributions: https://www.routledge.com/Diaspora-Organizations-in-International-Affairs-1st-Edition/Dijkzeul-Fauser/p/book/9781138589131

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Syrian diaspora organisations (Dos) in Lebanon have been providing diverse forms of support, relief and assistance to Syrian refugees. Whether in areas which are difficult for international providers to access, or in major towns and cities where international actors including the UN, INGOs and state actors have been providing assistance, Syrian Diaspora Organisations (DO)s have played a vital role in providing support and relief to their Syrian fellows. At times, these DO initiatives have been actively funded by international donors or developed in formal partnership with UN agencies and INGOs, while in other contexts they take place on the margins of (or at times in ways that directly challenge) formal humanitarian aid structures.

Against this backdrop, and based on long-standing research vis-à-vis local, national and international responses to displacement from Syria within Lebanon, this chapter examines the diverse roles that faith and secularism play in the initiatives developed by Syrian diaspora organisations based in Lebanon, exploring how and with what effect faith, religion, secularism (and secularist frameworks) relate to Syrian DOs’ relationships with different local, national and international actors, including Syrian refugees, members of host populations and diverse UN Agencies, NGOs and INGOs.

Syrian DOs in Lebanon include organisations established and led by activists, ex-protesters, established Syrian migrant workers, and religious leaders who have ‘become’ relief providers since the crisis broke out. On the one hand, by drawing on interviews with members of a range of Syrian DOs in Lebanon, this chapter explores the personal and collective reasons behind the act of establishing these organisations. On the other hand, it will investigate the social roles played by secular and faith-based DO members who engage in relief work, and their contextual relationship with their international and secular counterparts. This is particularly important in light of the strong financial and political support that a core group of popular secular(ist) Syrian DOs have received from international donors/agencies. In contrast, faith-based diaspora organisations have often been viewed by members of the international community (both in the context of Syria and more broadly) as exiled communities that do not fulfil key international humanitarian principles such as neutrality, impartiality or universality as they are assumed to prioritise political or sectarian dimensions through providing assistance (only or primarily) to their co-nationals/co-ethnics. This secular-centric interpretation of the partialist nature of faith-motivated assistance remains particularly biased towards diaspora groups that mobilise within the global South, where the source of crisis supposedly lies.

By providing examples from Beirut and from northern Lebanon, this chapter will show how DOs’ configuration and engagement with specific international and local communities have been changing since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria in 2011. By analysing the organisational configuration (including partnership models) and the forms of provision of these secular and faith-based DOs, we are particularly interested in examining how intra-community solidarity is (or is not) built within southern host societies through Syrian DOs’ initiatives – this is a dynamic that has received hardly any attention from scholars examining diaspora transnational endeavours.

With the purpose of investigating the human and social geographies of such secular and faith-based DOs, our chapter aims to draw on lessons from anthropological, sociological, and IR studies, in a bid to construct a deeper understanding of secular and faith-based DO-led aid provision and their social impacts in settings of the global South which geographically (and geopolitically) neighbour new and ongoing crises.

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.

 

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