Posts Tagged With: refugees

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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Humanitarianism and Ethnocracies of Care in Lebanon

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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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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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Lebanon Support Migration Study Week (August, 2019)

Enjoy the video on the Lebanon Support Migration Study Week’s walking tour that took place last August 2019 and the overall video documenting the whole week:

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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.

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

Book Review of Ilana Feldman’s Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics (October, 2019)

You can now read my review of Ilana Feldman’s ‘Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics’ in the latest issue of The Middle East Journal (summer 2019)

https://www.academia.edu/40538947/Review_of_Ilana_Feldmans_Life_Lived_in_Relief_Humanitarian_Predicaments_and_Palestinian_Refugee_Politics

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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