Posts Tagged With: refugeecamps

Book Review – Humanitarian Rackets and their Moral Hazards: The Case of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon (December 20, 2017)

http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/20/12/2017/book-review-humanitarian-rackets-and-their-moral-hazards-case-palestinian-refugee-ca

Humanitarian Rackets and their Moral Hazards: The Case of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon by Rayyar Marron. Abingdon and New York: Routledge 2016. 188 pp., £110 hardcover 9781472457998, £36.99 paperback 9780815352570, £36.99 e-book 9781315587615

Rayyar Marron’s book provides a critique of how academic and activist accounts of Palestinian refugee camps end up reinforcing the humanitarian narrative of refugee victimhood. By underlining refugee economic and political agency, especially in the camp of Shatila in Lebanon, Marron recounts economic fraud and tactics that not only guarantee refugees’ survival and empowerment, but also seek to suggest a de-romanticised configuration of ‘refugee’ within the Middle Eastern moral economy. The author questions human suffering underlying the formulation of social and humanitarian policy. In this vein, in the scholarly literature, camps are defined not only as “sites of exilic nationalism” (p. 5), but also of resistance (p. 4). In this context, Marron contests how “Palestinianness” is addressed as a mere humanitarian cause, where refugees are passive aid recipients in need of international compassion.

The book is composed of an introduction, seven chapters, and a brief conclusion. The lengthy introduction aims to collocate the book within the framework of the de-romanticisation of vulnerability and of refugee agency: but it struggles to anticipate the core arguments. Chapter 1 intends to show how Palestinian refugees themselves seek to repackage their originally military cause as humanitarian due to the decline in funding, therefore often portraying themselves as “dispossessed peasants” (p. 44). Marron emphasises the identity crisis through which Palestinian refugees in Lebanon passed through when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was removed from Lebanon in 1982. Nevertheless, the chapter loses the opportunity to accurately describe what the author sees as a crucial historical moment, when Palestinians dropped the militant guerrilla culture as a public discourse to embody the exceptional case for assistance. More attention to this historical moment would have unraveled how the Palestinians’ unethical tactics to guarantee everyday life – such as smuggling and political protection rackets – are actually connected to daily grievance. The author, making the important attempt to de-romanticise the refugee category and refugee agency, however ends up focusing only on one side of the coin, providing a predominantly negative representation of camp society. A nuanced approach to examining everyday life would instead have informed the longstanding dialectics between need and greed in refugee economies.

Chapter 2 suggests the emergence of a Palestinian nationhood in connection with the pan-Islamic and pan-Arab cause (p. 50), in a complex framework of foreign state patronages. Marron specifically argues that a Palestinian sense of national belonging precedes the PLO battles, while providing shy hints of this pre-exilic society. This chapter does not provide the specificities of whom, where, and what led humanitarian definitions and practices to a negatively nuanced – but under-explained – everyday racketeering and appropriation.

In Chapter 3, the author argues that the PLO and the Palestinian political movement of Fatah radicalised the political landscape in Lebanon, seeking direct influence from within the formal institution of the parliament (p. 76), or through studentships, as cadres of Fatah enrolled as students in Lebanese universities (p. 78). By conducting robberies and soliciting funding, the PLO and Fatah militarised the civilian refugee community, raising violence in the camps. The author describes the “neopatrimonial” tendencies of Fatah and the PLO in terms of “self-enrichment” rather than the official rhetoric of the “revolution” (p. 87). Marron thus opposes the narratives that depict the so-called Palestinian revolution as an effort against Lebanese sectarian politics.

Chapter 4 highlights the challenges of organising camp society outside of patronage legacies. The pervasive influence of factional politics on refugee lives is in fact mentioned as the most deleterious issue for the Palestinians, rather than poverty or lack of infrastructure per se. On the one hand, the chapter is not too convincing in the attempt to incorporate humanitarianism into the discussion of patronage, where political groups compete for assistance, recruiting their families and allies in the capacity of beneficiaries or employees within humanitarian projects, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (pp. 93-95). On the other, the author clearly shows how camp dwellers challenge the legitimacy of the popular committees, as they represent the interests of proxy states to the camp society (pp. 103-104). Marron here opposes the tendency of the scholarly literature to separate out the Palestinian oppressive sovereigns from the refugees.

Chapter 5 provides accounts of rent-seeking and illegal housing (p. 111) to shed light on camps as sources of livelihoods and proliferation, by specifying, for instance, that the percentage of Palestinian camp dwellers who own their homes (82%) is higher than Lebanese nationals (68%). Besides, Chapter 5 seeks to approach the humanitarian framework, by mentioning how NGOs are captured by competing factions in the camps (p. 116). Marron, however, is not detailed in showing how ordinary people participate in these dynamics, risking, on the one hand, a new homogenisation of refugees – shaped by negative agency – and, on the other, a new homogenisation of humanitarians, who emerge as victims that are over-burdened with responsibilities, and finding “their path disrupted by amorphous forces” (p. 124).

The role of humanitarian agencies which stems from this chapter is slightly opaque: the attentive reader is left with several questions regarding what humanitarian projects the author precisely refers to until Chapter 6, when Marron finally outlines the political economy of refugee camps and NGOs. Drawing on Horkheimer’s theory of rackets, the author largely draws on her own ethnographic experience as a teacher in a vocational school in Shatila to inform her argument that the protectors in refugee camps are also the sources of violence (p. 126). The experiential anecdote serves to illustrate how factions, influential retired community members from different political constituencies, camp residents, and humanitarians participate in the “racket society”. Likewise, Marron mentions that public services are privatised by camp factional officials to appropriate aid from outside (i.e. waste removal service, electricity grid, etc.). Nonetheless, the author often mentions dynamics of welfare power-sharing, which can surely overlap with humanitarian interventions, without telling us how she frames such overlaps and, furthermore, is too quick to label all of the service providers in the camp as “humanitarian”.

While in the first instance the author depicts the humanitarian system as caught up in the racketeering dynamics as a mere victim, in Chapter 7, she nuances their action as a “moral hazard” (p. 149) in the crystallising refugee vulnerability and as facilitating the amplification of statelessness (p. 146). Racketeering against UNRWA projects is therefore seen as the only means by which camp dwellers can access resources (p. 163). In the effort to normalise refugee camps and dissuade public narratives from ossified victimhood, Marron concludes by asserting the humanitarian exacerbation of camp racketeering dynamics but, at the same time, denouncing how humanitarian failures have been “deflected away from camp society and back onto the Lebanese state and the international community” (p. 171). The author here argues that “humanitarian assistance is not a measure that ensures collective welfare”, but rather an individual entitlement for which racketeering is necessary in order to obtain “fair shares”. I find this the most significant and intriguing argument advanced, which, probably, should have been introduced and developed earlier in the book.

Throughout the chapters, the reader struggles to identify the voices of Marron’s interviewees and her own empirical evidence. Among her second source-based historical accounts around the formation of a camp habitus oppression, the refugee individual, however, is not well visibilised: refugees seem to be given agency through the negative morality of the humanitarian rackets and political neopatrimonialism, while being unable to turn camps into civil societies.
Moreover, to me, the choice of the title remains unclear, as the humanitarian discourse and practices are not given the largest room for analysis. By the same token, the geography of the camps in Lebanon is not clearly outlined, emerging as an abstract and therefore easily homogenisable space, while most of the accounts and the camp history provided actually regard Shatila exclusively. The book’s overall imprecise structure hinders a still needed in-depth discussion of humanitarianism in camp societies.

While revealing a specific disciplinary approach is not essential in my view, the author could have been more explicit in several sections in defining her positionality while in the field and the local politics of knowledge. The book presents a very large number of key themes which therefore remain hinted at rather than properly explored, scattering the reader’s attention. On the whole, this book is primarily a historical account for social sciences scholars and researchers interested in refugee-related issues, and humanitarian practitioners. I particularly suggest this book to those who engage with the history of Palestinians in the region, and the way camp politics intertwines with the domestic politics of “host societies”. In this regard, the author provides insights from relevant first hand experience and important secondary sources, which inform the current debates on politics, refugeeness, and humanitarian governance.

Estella Carpi is a Research Associate in the Migration Research Unit, Department of Geography, University College London, working on Southern-led responses to displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Sydney (Australia) with a research project on social responses to conflict-induced displacement and humanitarian assistance provision in contemporary Lebanon. In the past, she also worked as a researcher in Egypt, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, mostly focusing on humanitarian and welfare systems, forced migration, and identity politics.

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

UAE strives to leave imprint on humanitarian aid in Syrian refugee crisis

[A heavily edited (i.e. censored) version of this article was published in the Emirati newspaper The National under a different title (“UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees”). The first text below is what I originally wrote, the second is the one appeared in The National].

(Zaatari- Mrajeeb al-Fuhud, JORDAN) Jordan hosts a registered population of 622.106 Syrian refugees, only 16% of them, those who cannot afford paying the rent, live in the three camps of Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.

There is a blatant difference between the services provided in the giant UN-run Zaatari camp, which officially hosts around 84.000 refugees and the small efficient Emirates Red Crescent (ERC)’s Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp, which is home to almost 5.000 refugees: in Zaatari residents are struggling to cover their daily expenses and children drop out overcrowded classes, whereas Mrajeeb delivers high-standard services in all fields.

Some humanitarian workers have already questioned the choice of setting up an A-level camp serving such a small proportion of refugees, but the ERC staff vow to maintain the same standards by focusing on a limited number of vulnerable beneficiaries. While the closely monitored residents can hardly find anything to complain about, the Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp is still bound to remain a drop in the ocean in a country overwhelmed by the refugee influx such as Jordan.

As the Syrian war precipitated into a deadlock with no solution in sight, Zaatari has evolved into a proper settlement with a thriving souq, similarly to the Palestinian camps of the region, though in a no-man’s land in the middle of the Jordanian desert. In such dire conditions, most Syrians keep living up to their own right to return.

“We still hope to go back to Syria,” Lina (33) from Eastern Ghouta (Damascus) told The National, hiding her face covered by tears, “we don’t want our kids to grow up here.”

Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the threeschools of the camp, but every time she was told that they had already reached the maximum number of enrolments. It has been two years since they attended the last class.

According to Mahmud Sadaqa (48), a Palestinian Jordanian volunteer, parents are often not supportive enough when it comes to education.

“Ignorance affects negatively education, parents are psychologically unstable, they keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” said Sadaqa.

Nonetheless, some families still encourage their children to pursue their studies and hold on to their dreams.

“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed people,”Ghufran (12) toldThe National,“(…) we’re 60 students in my class… at first I stopped going to school, but then my mother convinced me to go back.”

Food and medicines are available, but all families struggle to meet ends without any source of income, particularly those where the father went missing.
“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria, (…) the [ World Food Program] vouchers [N/A 20D (103 AED) each month per family member ] are not enough to buy clothes for my five kids,”  said Yusra Yusuf al-Masri (38) from Daraa, sitting on a mattress in front of her container, which was too small to host us.

Her desperate situation would actually comply with the entry conditions of the Emirati camp, which focuses on women, children, big families, orphans, disabled and elderly people, while denying access to single men.

The National visited Mrajeeb al-Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a member in a leather jacket of the Jordanian security forces and the ERC staff, who took us on a ‘cruise’ of the camp on a golf cart.

By arguing these measures were taken to preserve our safety, the security agent took notes of the names of the interviewees, departing from us only upon request. However, the refugees denied the existence of any restriction on freedom of speech.

Differently from Zaatari, up to two family members have the right to be employed in the camp, depending on the size of the family.

“I used to be a muezzin before, so they promised me a job as muezzin also here in the camp,” Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen (65) told The National, “at least I can send money back home, since I have another wife with twelve kids in Syria.”

Everything is methodically organized in sectors in the camp. There are around 30 students per class and even the children look incredibly disciplined.

“Children politely approached the ERC staff, as if they had been taught to do so, whereas in Zaatari they did not hesitate to play with us straight away,” noted Estella Carpi, a University of Sydney doctoral researcher in anthropology, who was conducting field work in Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.

That said, the residents praise loudly the meticulous administration of the Emirati camp in comparison with Zaatari.

“In Zaatari there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” Hussein al-Sari (40) from Eastern Ghouta toldThe National.

In Mrajeeb al-Fuhud there are no tents, only containers. Residents enjoy 24/7 hot water and a selected menu.

“The wishes of the refugees come first: the menu is changed according to their preferences,” Omar al-Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration, toldThe National.

On the other hand, the ERC staff do not eat with the refugees, they have a separate canteen, where they are reminded of their high living standards in the Emirates.

“Listen…we’re used to luxury in the Gulf, I spend 24 hours per day here in the camp, but I need to relax while I’m not working and I am not used to eating bamia [N/A:ladies’ fingers] like Syrians do,” said ERC member Said Shami with a peaceful smile.

As mentioned, some humanitarian workers have been critical of the amount of resources spent on such a small scale project, but the ERC personnel defended their commitment to support a limited number of vulnerable categories.

“Our goal is to host 10.000 people: rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest ones,” ERC member Said Shami toldThe National. It is worth noting that upon the inauguration of the camp in April 2013, the announced figure was 25.000.

Whether Mrajeeb al-Fuhud will host 10.000 or 25.000 people, similar figures will not relieve Jordan from the burden of the refugee influx. Asked if the UAE should accept part of the refugees back home, the ERC workers show reluctance to this issue as well as the Western governments.

“If we accept to set up camps in the Emirates, Syrians would escape and cause troubles in our country just like they are doing here in Jordan,” ERC’s Said Shami told The National.

Notwithstanding the UAE undeniable humanitarian efforts, Syria’s poorest neighboring countries are left alone paying the highest price of destabilization.


UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees

Zaatari and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, JORDAN // There are more than 622,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, but only the 16 per cent who cannot afford accommodation elsewhere live in the Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud camps.

During a recent visit, it was clear that there is a discernible difference in the support available at the giant United Nations-run Zaatari camp, home to about 84,000 refugees in Mafraq province, and the smaller Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) camp, Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, in Zarqa, which has about 5,000.

At Zaatari residents struggle to meet their daily needs and school rooms are often overcrowded.

The ERC camp, on the other hand, delivers high-standard services in all areas. It was set up in April 2013 at a cost of Dh37 million to help ease overcrowding at the Zaatari camp. The ERC opted for a small-scale camp, as it wanted to help those most in need, such as orphans, women, children, disabled people and big families. Single men are not accommodated at the site.

While some humanitarian workers question the decision to set up an A-grade camp that serves a small quota of refugees, ERC staff say they are only able to maintain standards by focusing on a limited number of the most vulnerable refugees.

As the Syrian conflict continues, Zaatari has evolved into a mini-city with a thriving souq, similar to Palestinian camps elsewhere in the region.

“We still hope to go back to Syria,” said Lina, 33, from Damascus. She hid her face and cried as she spoke. “We don’t want our kids to grow up here.”

Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the three schools at Zaatari. However, classes are full. It has been two years since her children last attended school.

Despite the fact that the schools are full, there remain parents who are not sufficiently supportive of education for their children, said Mahmud Sadaqa, 48, a Palestinian-Jordanian volunteer at the camp.

“They keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” Mr Sadaqa said.

Nonetheless, some families encourage their children to pursue their studies and their dreams.

“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed,” said Ghufran, a 12-year-old girl. There are 60 pupils in her class, and difficulties at the camp forced her to stop attending at one point. Her mother, however, convinced her to return.

Food and medicine are available, but families struggle to make ends meet without a steady income, particularly those where the father is absent.

“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria,” said Yusra Yusuf Al Masri, 38, from Deraa. She receives World Food Programme vouchers worth about Dh100 each month for each member of her family, but it is “not enough to buy clothes for my five kids”.

The National was able to visit Mrajeeb Al Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a Jordanian security forces member and ERC staff.

In the Emirati camp, up to two family members have the right to work on site, depending on family size, and school class fit between 25 and 30.

“I used to be a muezzin, so they promised me the same job here in the camp,” said Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen. “I can send money home since I have another wife with 12 kids in Syria.”

Residents of Mrajeeb Al Fuhud praised the administration of the camp. “In Zaatari, there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” said Hussein Al Sari, 40, from Eastern Ghouta. There are no tents in Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, only trailers. Residents have access to hot water around the clock, and have food options.

“The wishes of the refugees come first,” said Omar Al Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration. “The menu is changed according to their preferences.”

Fellow ERC member Said Shami said: “Our goal is to host 10,000 people. Rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest.”

Categories: Arab Gulf, Jordan, Syria, UAE | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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