Posts Tagged With: Syrian refugees

SOBRE AS ETNOCRACIAS DAS AJUDAS HUMANITÁRIAS NO LÍBANO

I am thrilled to announce that my first academic article in Brazilian Portuguese is out in the Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana. It is open access!

Ethnocracies of care and humanitarianism in Lebanon

Resumo. Neste artigo, discuto a tendência do sistema humanitário de fornecer serviços às pessoas necessitadas em áreas afetadas pela crise baseando- se na nacionalidade. Através de dados coletados em pesquisas de campo com refugiados sírios, iraquianos, sudaneses e palestinos realizadas entre os anos 2011 e 2019 no Líbanomostrarei como a hospitalidade pode ser empregada tanto como prática quanto como discurso. Neste último caso, explicarei como isso pode se transformar, de maneira problemática, em uma força de “etnização” na prestação de ajuda humanitária. Como resultado, de um uso conservador do discurso da hospitalidade, apresentarei o conceito de “humanitarismo compensatório” que atende aos habitantes locais como uma consequência da presença de refugiados. Contra esse pano de fundo, finalmente mostrarei como o sistema humanitário atual está longe de ser intergrupal, apesar de seus esforços para tornar os programas nacionalmente mistos. Na verdade, o humanitarismo simplesmente propõe programas mistos para, presumivelmente, dissipar as tensões intergrupais, revelando, portanto, uma neo-etnização das ajudas.

Palavras-chave: etnização; humanitarismo; refugiados sírios; Líbano; deslocamento.

Abstract. In this article, I discuss the tendency of the humanitarian system in areas affected by crisis to provide services to people in need on a national basis, by using Lebanon as a case study. Through the research I conducted with Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Palestinian refugees between 2011 and 2019 in Lebanon, I will illustrate, first, how hospitality can be employed both as a practice and as a discourse. In the latter case, I will explain how it can problematically turn into an “ethnicization” force in humanitarian aid provision. As a result of a conservative use of the hospitality discourse, second, I will introduce the concept of “compensatory humanitarianism” that caters for the locals as a consequence of the refugee presence. Against this backdrop, I will finally show how the current humanitarian system is far from being inter-group despite its efforts to make programs nationally mixed. Indeed, it simply proposes mixed programs to presumably dissipate inter-group tensions, therefore revealing an actual neo-ethnicization of care.

Keywords: ethnicization; humanitarianism; syrian refugees; Lebanon; displacement.

Categories: Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Educating the host: It’s not just refugees who need ‘integration’ programmes

‘Teaching local hosts the experience of war and forced displacement would help to publicly challenge hate speech and inform compassion,’ argue Southern Responses to Displacement’s researchers, Dr Estella Carpi, Amal Shaiah Istanbouli and Sara Al Helali. Drawing on research conducted during Southern Responses to Displacement’s fieldwork in Turkey, this blog notes the lack of a systematic approach to educating refugee host communities, despite evidence to suggest that it is an effective tool to reduce anti-refugee sentiment and increase understanding and empathy towards the experiences of refugees. This post presents key evidence contributing to our aims of ‘examining refugees’ experiences, perceptions and conceptualisations of Southern-led responses’ and of ‘tracing the implications of Southern-led initiatives for humanitarian theory and practice.’

If you enjoy reading this piece you can access the recommended reading list at the end of this post. 

This piece was originally published by Open Democracy here

Educating the host: It’s not just refugees who need ‘integration’ programmes. 

by Dr Estella Carpi, Amal Shaiah Istanbouli and Sara Al Helali 

All over the world ‘inclusion’ and ‘integration’ programmes for refugees affected by displacement proliferate. But they often remain ineffective in catalysing social cohesion. This is unsurprising when local hosts who receive refugees are not equally instructed and informed about including and integrating migrants.

In fact, inclusion and integration programmes – far from being radical in any way – are not merely ineffective, they are also politically conservative. This is because they fail to capture human mobility as an everlasting process that cuts across all social groups.

In the contemporary history of forced migration, most development and humanitarian programmes have revolved around assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers, emphasising their needs and rights. Civil society associations and activist groups, who, in general, overtly engage in political mobilisation, often end up adopting a similar strategy, focusing only on one side of the coin in advocacy campaigns and assistance programmes.

That being said, informal small-scale information sessions on forced migration and integration activities that require the involvement of local hosts can, at times, be found in cities and towns, but are not incorporated in official education programmes from early years. This lack of a systematic approach to ‘educating the host’ means information is not delivered cogently. Teaching empathy to those social groups who feel aloof from societal issues such as forced migration and from all of what refugee reception involves should be promoted.

Based on data we collected in Lebanon and Turkey over the past four years, as part of the Southern-led Responses to Displacement from Syria project led by Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh at University College London, we found that many of the refugees from Syria we interviewed highlighted the need for local ‘hosts’ to learn the experience of war and forced displacement in order to understand the reasons behind their arrival and to learn how to accept and support refugee newcomers within their societies.

“In the media, the government and local municipalities should work on delivering messages that encourage local people to support Syrians or, at least, prevent them from engaging in different forms of racism. Such messages should particularly target local students,” a Syrian refugee woman we spoke to in Hatay, Turkey, explained.

Indeed, the suicide of a nine-year-old refugee student in Turkey in October 2019 as a result of extreme racism at school was reported, while local and national media were fueling waves of xenophobia across Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Likewise, a large number of refugees from Syria pointed to the misleading belief that they merely constitute a burden on ‘host economies’.

A Syrian refugee man in Gaziantep, a city in Turkey, suggested that “the governments of Arab countries should contribute to educating their people so that refugees are accepted on their lands and integration is facilitated: governments must clarify that refugees do not receive aid at the expense of the host economy”.

Another contended that his cash vouchers are not a gift from host governments, and that conveying this message publicly would ease local tensions. Educating the hosts is often mentioned as an effective tool to reduce anti-refugee resentment and stimulate informed empathy within local society.

A Lebanese student in a northern Lebanese village, confirmed this: “I don’t know much about what happened in Syria in 2011. I only see lots of Syrians here. How will I learn this history if they don’t teach these things at school?” they asked.

In our interviews and experiences in Turkey and Lebanon, international NGOs were especially mentioned as holding a potentially influential role in educating the locals on what it means to actively host refugees, since some large humanitarian and development actors have the capacity to pressure the international media and, sometimes, governments.

The considerations above, coming from refugees, raise the fundamental question of what sort of venues would be safe and suitable for the endeavour of educating the host. In most cities, refugee reception is highly politicised and regularly used as a way for local power holders to create constituencies.

One question is whether human empathy can really be ‘taught’. However, even though the response to such a question is complex, accepting the status quo is not an option.

For instance, the presence of official education programmes on forced migration for the local hosts would help to publicly challenge hate speech and inform people’s compassion with legal and historical frameworks on refugee reception.

Informal activities and events are often organised in cities that receive large numbers of forced migrants, both in the Global North and the Global South.

In Europe, some cities and towns host municipality-led events or initiatives run by collectives aimed at promoting integration through cultural activities or inter-religious dialogue.

In cities like Beirut and Istanbul, film screenings and roundtable discussions on Syria have been organised widely by local activists, with the purpose of sensitising the civil society. Yet, these initiatives quite often do not manage to become visible to all social groups and, importantly, are still missing in the official discourse on forced migration.

Instead, the responsibility and capacity to integrate and be included are exclusively ascribed to the refugees themselves. Paradoxically, the members of the societies that receive refugees are officially defined as ‘hosts’ without actively hosting.

This is not to discard the importance of ‘integration’ and ‘inclusion’ in contemporary societies, but rather to advocate for the healthy coexistence and mutual knowledge between the long-standing and new members of those societies.

The international community must shift the ‘capacity to integrate’ formula from the refugees to the local ‘hosts’, and acknowledge the need for a real plan with long-term, mandatory educational programmes.

Some might see this call for educating the host as an ideological and, thus, questionable move, but the truth is that whether we want it or not, people will keep moving, and the sustainability of everyone’s welfare cannot be but a common affair.

**

*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.

If you enjoyed this piece you can access the recommended reading below: 

Cantor, D.J. (2021) Cooperation on refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean – The ‘Cartagena process’ and South–South approaches

Asai, N. (2019) Soka Gakkai International – Faith-Based Humanitarian Action During Large Scale Disaster

Carpi, E. (2019) Local Faith Actors in Disaster Response and Risk Reduction – ALNAP Webinar

Carpi E. (2018) ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ assistance provision beyond the grand narratives: Views from Lebanese and Syrian providers in Lebanon

Carpi, E.  (2018) Does Faith-Based Aid Provision Always Localise Aid?

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Looking Forward: Disasters at 40

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Exploring refugees’ conceptualisations of Southern-led humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Histories and spaces of Southern-led responses to displacement

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Faith-Based Humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) Refugee-Refugee Humanitarianism

Olliff, L. (2019) Refugee diaspora humanitarianism and the value of North/South distinctions in research on responses to forced displacement.

Omata, N. (2019) South-South Cooperation in International Organizations: Its Conceptualization and Implementation within UNDP and UNHCR

Ozturk, M. (2019) Municipal-level responses to Syrian refugees in Turkey: The case of Bursa

Wagner, A. C. (2019) “There are no missionaries here!” – How a local church took the lead in the refugee response in northern Jordan

Featured image: Syrian and Turkish community members play in the park, Gaziantep, Turkey.  © Muhannad Saab, 2016

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

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.”

Categories: 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

Different Shades of ‘Neutrality’: Arab Gulf NGO Responses to Syrian Refugees in Northern Lebanon (July, 2020)

The Refuge in a Moving World. Tracing Refugee and Migrant Journeys Across Disciplines edited volume is finally out! UCL Press is open access, you can access the whole book online.

My chapter “Different shades of neutrality” attempts to go beyond debates that discard or acknowledge neutrality as possible in aid provision. I show how humanitarian neutrality is not one, as many western organizations believe. Neutrality is culturally nuanced, and it’s also discursively embraced by Arab Gulf NGOs in northern Lebanon. By advancing the idea of political realism, I explain how these NGOs not only bring politics into humanitarianism – as it’s widely discussed already – but they also have peculiar ways of parading their humanization of politics.

Access the whole book at:

Refuge in a Moving World

Categories: Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, Middle East, North Africa, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halba, Northern Lebanon

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

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

Car-sharing and collective tactics of survival

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

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

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

Parallel Humanitarian Strategies of Livelihoods Creation

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

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

Lessons learnt

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Economy of Lebanon’s Halba

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

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

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

Northern Lebanon after the Syrian crisis: Beyond Benefits and Burdens

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

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

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

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

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

The Hidden Role of Social Class

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

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

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

Social Class as a Humanitarian Taboo

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Remark by local intellectual, February 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Interview, February 2017.

[14] Interview, March 2017.

[15] Interview, March 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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