Posts Tagged With: Syrian refugees

Humanitarianism in an Urban Lebanese Setting: Missed Opportunities (by Estella Carpi and Camillo Boano)

The UNDP and UKAID funded public market. Halba, 23 February 2017. Photo credit: Estella Carpi

 

http://legal-agenda.com/en/article.php?id=4211

Prior to the arrival of Syrian refugees and international humanitarian agencies in 2011, the Akkar region in northern Lebanon bordering Syria has rarely made global headlines. However, this region has historically suffered from local and national instability as a result of war and social upheavals without receiving adequate relief and support.

Basic infrastructure and public services in Akkar’s capital, Halba, are insufficient. Electricity, when not purchased privately, is available for only four hours per day. Local people have access to a small number of hospitals and schools. With the arrival of Syrian refugees fleeing violence, Halba – historically a regional hub for administrative affairs – has become a hub for humanitarian response too. Due to demographic growth, organic expansion and massive stress on infrastructure, an urgent reflection on the transformation of the city is increasingly needed.

This article examines the interface between ‘the urban’ and the humanitarian system in a Syrian-Lebanese border area. It aims to shed light on the antagonistic and, at times, collaborative relationships between local authorities, local and refugee labourers, and international humanitarian agencies. Moreover, in an era when humanitarian agencies expand their urban operations, cities contribute to “redefining the focus and limits (temporal, spatial, operational) of humanitarian action”.[1]

An ‘Urban’ Political Economy?

Home to 128 municipalities and 160 villages, Akkar is one of the country’s most deprived regions with severe poverty levels and the worst unemployment rate in the country. Out of Akkar’s total population of 1.1 million, a little over 700 thousand live below the poverty line: 341 thousand Lebanese, over 266 thousand Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR since 2011, 88 thousand Palestinian refugees, and almost 12 thousand returning Lebanese expatriates.[2] Too small to be called a city, Halba is more like an urban centre.[3] Society is still structured according to hierarchical relationships which characterise the landowning, class-based social organisation of the surrounding hamlets. Urban and rural are therefore interdependent categories at multiple levels. Local people move back and forth between these two environments, trading goods and services, and visiting family split between the city and the villages.

 In this geography, the ‘city’ constitutes a spatial continuum with unclearly bounded informal assemblages, where large groups of Syrian refugees reside. During the 1980s, following demographic growth, many unauthorised houses were built in Halba’s former cotton fields, and refugees nowadays rent out some of these properties at unregulated prices.

 It is perhaps not surprising that, when people who cope with economic hardships move to cities, they often revert to rural livelihood and survival strategies, such as cultivating vegetables and fruit in the streets, as is currently happening in Syria.[4] Likewise, some of Halba’s residents still work in the surrounding fields to earn a living, as the city does not offer a large number of job opportunities. Consequently, as Akkar-based aid workers have confirmed,[5] most humanitarian livelihood programmes are centred on rural activities.

 Market places in Akkar’s towns and villages have gradually disappeared because of the lack of appropriate environmental and urban planning, the absence of public space, and worsening traffic. In this context, according to local inhabitants interviewed in winter 2017, local consumption outside of basic goods has barely increased: as a local resident affirmed during fieldwork conducted between February and March 2017, “local people are dragged by necessities, not leisure”. The refugee influx therefore increased the population without a corresponding increase in job opportunities.

Local Governance in Halba

The refugee influx resulted in the arrival of several international humanitarian agencies further stretching the capacity of local government in Akkar. The government’s decision in 2003 to upgrade Akkar from a district [qada’] of northern Lebanon to a self-standing governorate [muhafaza][6] was implemented only in 2014 when local authorities were already dealing with humanitarian governance to manage local service delivery and housing options. This raises an important and still unexplored question about the role of humanitarian systems in the process of northern Lebanon’s increasing administrative centralisation and coordination with humanitarian agencies.

 In this vein, a local development office (LDO) has been created to enhance coordination between local and international NGOs, and inter-agency meetings now take place on a regular basis.[7] According to local governors,[8] such meetings brought in INGOs to better understand the local context, therefore contributing to an amelioration and an increase in local knowledge of needs, resources and capacities.  Unfortunately this did not result in an actual coordination between the different service providers. Contrarily, some local NGOs have begun competing with each other for better access to international networks and larger funds.

The Syrian Refugee Influx in Akkar

With a population of 27 thousand local inhabitants and 17 thousand urban refugees,[9] the latter mostly reside in informal tented settlements (ITS) alongside public roads, or rent Lebanese-owned shared apartments in Halba at an average monthly cost of 400 USD. Syrian refugee families tend to rent properties in the same buildings. The ITS are subject to cyclic evictions by the Lebanese army.[10] Unregistered Syrian refugees tend to stay indoors for fear of being deported, making it challenging for UN agencies and NGOs to identify and assist them.

Although Syrian nationals in Halba still provide most of the unskilled labour for gardening, construction, cleaning, and agriculture,[11] the profile of Syrian migrant workers has changed. Those who came to Akkar prior to the Syrian crisis, were mostly young or middle-aged males.[12] They worked as seasonal labourers before returning to Syria. When the conflict broke out in Syria in the spring of 2011, some of these migrant workers brought their families to Lebanon. The local economy of Akkar, therefore, started to be formed by diverse segments of refugees, including both previous migrant workers and refugee newcomers, including refugee women, youth and children, who provide cheap labour on an irregular basis.

The Impact of Refugee Influx and Humanitarian Presence

The influx of refugees placed major economic pressure on the agricultural sector, in which Syrian nationals are legally allowed to work. Local peasants and refugees increasingly compete over the same jobs. Contrarily, Akkar’s property owners and rental agencies have seen increased international demand, because humanitarian agencies normally rent out cars and apartments to conduct their programmes in loco. What is important to illustrate is that, on the one hand, humanitarian actors have looked to Halba as a city to improve their logistic strategies and their engagement with local authorities; but, on the other, they have ignored its urban character and potentialities.

In this setting, the humanitarian system initially acted with a traditional, short-term, and urgent action-oriented focus. It neglected municipal and regional governors, local farmers and landowners, all of whom are not equipped to face emergency crises. The aid industry in Akkar, with meaningful delay, resorted to local authorities to guarantee legitimacy as a mere way to build quicker access to local populations, rather than invoking local in-depth knowledge of the territory. A deeper mutual understanding between the local governance and the humanitarian system, and their respective approaches to crisis are still lacking along with their possibility to integrate. Training local authorities and asking for their formal approval to operate have been mistaken for substantive engagement. No bilateral knowledge transfers between these systems of governance and care have occurred thus far.

The humanitarian system in Halba has initially attempted to enable individuals to cope rather than provide appropriate infrastructure. The UNDP and UKAID-funded market in Halba illustrates how the provision of public infrastructure needs to be carefully planned and coordinated with the relevant municipal authorities. The market,set in 6,000m2 of public space and with the capacity to accommodate nearly 390 traders, was inaugurated in December 2016.[13] However, it was shut down after four days as the newly appointed municipal authorities had not given permission to open the market and, moreover, the area was not served by any public transport.[14] As a result, even though UNDP had provided financial management and capacity building support to the Halba municipality, the market was short-lived. Ignoring the socio-spatial implications of the market’s construction, the actual needs and the local infrastructure ended up being unused, abandoned, and ineffective.

Humanitarian Livelihood Programming and Infrastructural Needs

Some humanitarian livelihood programmes, such as the International Rescue Committee’s coast cleaning project (from al-Abdeh to the Arida border-crossing), employ vulnerable citizens and migrants in a bid to contribute to improving the Akkar landscape and environment. Yet, the short timeframes of the humanitarian system make it difficult to sustain impact. Such a delayed encounter has shown how provisional the effects of humanitarian action can be if the aim to create well-functioning public infrastructures (waste management, access to water, etc.) comes late.[15] The international acknowledgment that pre-existing infrastructure in northern Lebanon could not cope with the massive refugee influx and create new job opportunities was also delayed. Despite the need to build access to local populations, humanitarian actors are reluctant to involve local authorities in their work. They unrealistically desire to keep humanitarian action out of local politics. Yet, their attempt at avoiding involvement in local politics and the decision to exclude public authorities, who still gate-keep urban settings to a certain extent, remain neatly political, often impeding multilateral knowledge transfers which would eventually lead to actual collaborations and exchange.

From a Place of Intervention to a More Appropriate Humanitarian Inhabitation

As the leader of the Akkar Traders’ Association reflected, “when shops shut down Halba dies”.[16] Indeed, aside from low local consumption and an overall constrained regional economy, the enhancement of the Halba business volume in the wake of humanitarian interventions has remained relatively low. Indeed, humanitarian actors have rarely resided in the city for everyday economic purposes, and based themselves in other surrounding villages where entertainment is more accessible.[17] They approached Halba as a mere place of intervention. This further points to the missed opportunities for collaboration between city authorities, longstanding service providers and humanitarian agencies in Akkar. Indeed, an urban-humanitarian encounter is not simply related to systematic programming, but it is also characterised by spontaneous daily interactions.

What follows is a list of concluding remarks that we hope will contribute to the wider urban-humanitarian debate. It is based on field research conducted in Halba in the winter of 2017:

 – The collaboration between humanitarian actors and local authorities in Lebanon has historically proved to be successful and effective in already resourceful municipalities in Lebanon (e.g. the Beirut southern suburbs and southern Lebanon after the July 2006 war)[18]. In these settings, the municipal approval of humanitarian programmes is an essential condition for intervening. For example, the ART-Gold project, promoted by UNDP and Oxfam-Italia[19] after the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, has in practice strengthened the municipal services destined to local residents in Beirut’s southern suburbs (especially the districts of Ghobeiry and Haret Hreik). In this regard, humanitarian resources and support should be particularly channelled into the most vulnerable municipalities. In the same vein, Lebanon-based INGOs – which normally have easy and direct access to local municipalities in order to implement service provision – should not sideline the Lebanese government, but rather demand state responsibility while supporting its capacities.

– To make humanitarian action effective, public infrastructure needs more resources than the present provision of individual-focused activities, often meant to bring refugee lives back to normality (e.g. the majority of today’s humanitarian livelihood programmes). Indeed, local markets need to be approached from a relational and social perspective, able to highlight the relevance of a collective-oriented and area-focused approach to economic sustainability.

– Local municipalities in northern Lebanon paradoxically lack the incentive to improve the city: solid infrastructure and well-functioning urban systems, may attract larger numbers of refugees from other areas in Lebanon which are less well served. As the Global North’s borders become increasingly inaccessible, preserving the status quo, rather than enhancing the capacity of local authorities and infrastructures, spares Halba and other Lebanese areas having to host even larger numbers of refugees in search of job opportunities and better quality of life. The lack of incentives for local infrastructural improvement questions the oversimplifying dictum of “working with local authorities” which nowadays overpopulates the experts’ recommendations contained in policy briefs and humanitarian accounts. Thus, the international community needs to recognise and address its failure in equally sharing humanitarian responsibility vis-à-vis the refugee influx. In fact, this failure often results in the abovementioned lack of cooperation of local authorities.

[1] J. Fiori and A. Rigon (eds.), Making Lives. Refugee Self-Reliance and Humanitarian Action in Urban Markets (London: Save the Children and UCL, 2017, p. 106).

[2] OCHA, ‘North and Akkar Governorates Profile’, 2016, available at:https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/North-Akkar_G-Profile_160804.pdf.

[3]D. Satterthwaite, The Scale and Nature of Urban Change Worldwide: 1950-2000 and Its Underpinnings, Human Settlement Discussion Paper Series (London: IIED, 2005, p. 22).

[4]See: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/factors-driving-the-destruction-of-syria-s-natural-heritage.

[5]Interview conducted in Halba, February 2017.

[6]The region was in fact originally part of the broader North Lebanon governorate. See:http://www.localiban.org/rubrique394.html.

[7]M. Boustani, E. Carpi, et al. Responding to the Syrian Crisis in Lebanon. Collaboration between Aid Agencies and Local Governance Structures (London: IIED, 2016).

[8] Halba, 8 March 2017.

[9]Demographic data has been provided by the secretary of the Akkar governor in February 2017 and then confirmed by Save the Children – Lebanon.

[10]‘Akkar Village to Begin Evicting Syrian Refugees’, Daily Star, 19 April 2017.

[11]F. Battistin, IRC Cash and Livelihoods Support Programme in Lebanon (IRC publication, 2015).

[12]J. Chalcraft, The Invisible Cage. Syrian Migrant Workers in Lebanon (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).

[13]UK Aid Funded Projects in Underprivileged Akkar, UK government website, 16 December 2016.

[14]Informal conversation with local residents, Halba, March 2017. Interview with the governor, Halba, 8 March 2017.

[15]For the major infrastructural needs across Lebanon after the Syrian refugee crisis see: UNHCR and REACH, ‘Multisector Community Level Assessment of Informal Settlements – Akkar Governorate, Lebanon’, Assessment Report, November 2014. To know the infrastructural projects that humanitarian agencies have undertaken, see:https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/export/sites/trade/files/market_studies/Libanon-infrastructureProjects2015.pdf.

[16] Interview conducted in Halba, March 2017.

[17] Interviews with local and international aid workers. Al-Qobaiyat (Akkar), March 2017.

[18] L. Mourad and L. H. Piron Municipal Service Delivery, Stability, Social Cohesion and Legitimacy in Lebanon (DLP and IFI-AUB Report, 2016).

[19] For more information, see: https://www.oxfamitalia.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Oxfam-Part-two.pdf.

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Supporting refugee livelihoods or host stability? The two sides of the coin

For many refugees, the humanitarian programmes focusing on “livelihoods” end up having merely an “accessory” role rather than generating sustainable labour.

 

Civil defence members and civilians put out fire at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, July 2, 2017. Picture by HASSAN ABDALLAH/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.

 

Civil defence members and civilians put out fire at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, July 2, 2017. Picture by HASSAN ABDALLAH/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.The livelihood component of humanitarian programmes has taken on ever greater importance over the past few decades. It touches on and integrates various NGO sectors, including protection [1], food security and water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In particular, the strategy of humanitarian livelihoods programming targeting refugees around the world has changed from the care and maintenance of refugees to the self-reliance formula during the 1960s and ’70s.

The challenge of translating the concept of “livelihoods” from English into other languages is noteworthy, particularly with respect to the term’s technocratic implications, and Latin languages have by and large adopted it as a loan wordtout court. In recent interviews conducted with local aid workers in the city of Halba in the Akkar province (northern Lebanon), “livelihoods” was translated into Arabic by using a broader expression, namely “ways to improve life” (subul tahsin al-‘aiysh). Tentative and stunted verbal and conceptual translations of “livelihoods” play a major role in unpacking the standardised and de-historicised way in which livelihood strategies have been exported through humanitarian programming, which has the (paradoxical) purpose of guaranteeing survival on the basis of local specificities.

Regarding the case of Akkar in northern Lebanon, most of the livelihoods programmes currently being implemented among refugees and local hosts are meant to produce temporary, small-scale and – for women – mostly home-based forms of income. According to the Syrian refugees I interviewed in Akkar in February and March 2017, humanitarian programmes end up having merely an “accessory” role: They do not generate any form of sustainable labour and practically turn vocational training into leisure activities. For these refugees, this comes as no surprise. They are aware of the scarcity of job opportunities that Akkar’s economy can provide, of the fickle character of Lebanon’s (mainly de facto) policies regulating their everyday lives and of the legal constraints they face as unrecognised refugees. Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. At present it allows Syrians to work exclusively in the agriculture, gardening, cleaning and construction sectors. These are the sectors in which Syrian migrant workers have historically worked throughout the country.

To analytically understand what refugee interviewees have called the “cosmetic” role that humanitarian programming plays while displacement becomes long-term, the humanitarian discourse around refugee livelihoods in Lebanon – as argued by a UN official I interviewed – has now replaced the “cash for work” formula with the “community support” motto. This is done in an effort to disguise and sugarcoat what the refugee beneficiary may be able to earn and learn in host societies.

The humanitarian intent is primarily aimed at creating and enhancing sources of livelihoods, rather than getting beneficiaries to participate in leisure activities. Nonetheless, the social-affective value of offering physical spaces for collective forms of exchange and temporary learning should not be undercut.

To date, 253,332 Syrian refugees have been registered with the UNHCR in this region in Lebanon. Despite this rather large number, during my latest visit to Akkar I noticed that these individuals were becoming decreasingly visible in the public space. Having moved here since 2011, they are often undocumented, feel unaccepted at the local level and therefore prefer to lead their lives behind closed doors.

Hence, on the one hand, livelihoods programmes have the unintentional positive outcome of providing new experiences of collectivity, where mingling is necessary and legal papers are not requested. On the other hand, vocational training based on small-scale activities and home-based forms of labour aimed at self-sufficiency too often end up confirming unequal economies. Moreover, aiming most of the livelihoods programmes’ to produce self-employment and informal activities, they are mainly promoted to guarantee survival rather than entrepreneurship: Small-scale self-empowerment challenges host governments less and is unlikely to spark local dissent. Furthermore, home-based activities do not call pre-established cultural understandings of gender roles and work tasks into question.

Conversations with refugees and local residents show that the beneficiaries’ expectations of livelihoods programmes are quite diverse and range from having the desire or the desperate need to find a job to approaching training as little more than a leisure activity. The majority of local residents joining the livelihoods programmes affirmed approaching them as potential job opportunities and humanitarian agencies as temp agencies. Although initiated with the ethical goal of rescuing lives and alleviating suffering, humanitarian agencies are increasingly acting as conflict resolution forces; by definition, however, they cannot recognise themselves as job providers, even though they have become an integral part of the local labour markets.

So what is the current role of humanitarian practices in catalysing a symbolic encounter between Lebanese and Syrian nationals if labour can seldom be the ultimate goal and actual achievement? Humanitarian efforts in Lebanon have historically contributed to defining new and old human needs along ethnic and sometimes religious lines. Aid provision to Syrian refugees in the poor Akkar region is no exception as it initially polarised locals and migrants by distinguishing between the needs of the Lebanese and those of the Syrians. Today humanitarian agencies seem to act through compensatory stability mechanisms to deal with social tensions by promoting economic survival for refugees and employment and empowerment among local residents.

Although they provided aid unconditionally and indiscriminately to all Syrian nationals at the beginning of the crisis, humanitarian agencies have gradually targeted refugees and vulnerable hosts in a bid to compensate for the frictions caused by an earlier refugee-centred provision of services in chronically poor areas.

These days, local economic development agendas and humanitarian livelihoods programmes are explicitly intertwined with social stability and cohesion agendas. Rather than having self-reliance as an explicit final objective, the current humanitarian politics of livelihoods in northern Lebanon sets social cohesion and stability as the primary purpose of such programmes by addressing both Syrian nationals and vulnerable Lebanese residents.

Therefore, while tensions and stability are still identified and addressed in ethnically hybrid contexts, humanitarian targeting strategies are decreasingly deployed along ethnic or religious lines and are better inscribed within the area-focused intervention framework. In other words, a geography of vulnerability is replacing an (ethnic and religious) identity politics of need and aid provision. Yet humanitarian cohesion and stability agendas continue to stymie this process by addressing ethnically mixed areas and therefore fantasising ethnocentric regimes of stability.

The protracted nature of the crisis inevitably produces a need to attribute agency to the refugees. Likewise, humanitarians use the language of “resilient livelihoods” by tacitly putting the moral and material responsibility to survive and thrive on the beneficiaries. If humanitarian programmes in Akkar are increasingly self-legitimised by upholding long-term cohesion and the stability of the host society, refugee beneficiaries are also called upon to help maintain such local stability.

Unfriendly legal frameworks and humanitarian agencies sometimes burdened with responsibilities that should be attributed to host governments have been sufficiently discussed. I would encourage practitioners and opinion-makers to look beyond such constraints and to ask how individuals feel when they are provided with new skills, particularly when they are aware they are unlikely to be employed anytime soon. Personal frustration and resignation may offer simplistic and unsatisfactory answers. The fact that some segments of the refugee population reconfigure livelihoods programmes as leisure activities opens up new ways of thinking and idealising the humanitarian system in ageing crises.

[1] “Protection” here refers to the UNHCR definition, that is legal assistance that ensures the basic human rights of uprooted or stateless people in their countries of asylum or habitual residence and that refugees will not be returned involuntarily to a country where they could face persecution.

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Enhanced local coordination for effective aid provision: the case of Lebanon (September 2016)

The Policy brief I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the ‘Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out.

Here below its summary and the link to access it.

Lebanon’s refugee crisis has highlighted the need for much closer coordination among the various organisations and local authorities involved in the response. A new study has laid the groundwork for a series of recommendations, set out in this briefing, on how national, local and international humanitarian actors can work together more effectively to enhance urban refugee responses in Lebanon and perhaps in other countries. In the context of a protracted urban crisis, this briefing argues that humanitarians will only be able to ensure their responses are sustainable and meet needs on the ground if they work closely with local authorities.

Available online at: http://pubs.iied.org/17373IIED/

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Responding to the Syrian crisis in Lebanon: collaboration between aid agencies and local governance structures (September 2016)

The Urban Crisis Report I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out!

Here below the executive summary and the link to access the whole report.

This working paper seeks to document and analyse collaboration mechanisms between local authorities and humanitarian actors in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in urban and peri-urban settings in Lebanon. It outlines existing mechanisms of collaboration, analyses their potential strengths and weaknesses, and derives lessons and recommendations for improving refugee responses in Lebanon, and potentially in other national settings. The report focuses on two case studies: the largely hybrid urban district of Bourj Hammoud, one of the main commercial hubs of Greater Beirut, and the peri-urban coastal region of Sahel El Zahrani, located between Saida and Tyre in South Lebanon. The response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon,which broke out in 2011, faced many challenges initially; namely the lack of a solid national response strategy
and weak local governance capacities, which were needed to respond to a large-scale crisis. International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies took the initial lead in responding to the crisis. Local authorities, who were at the forefront of the response, lacked the adequate capacities to respond and thus were involved in a less organised manner. The humanitarian response suffered overall from weak coordination between international actors, the central government, and (in)formal local authorities, resulting in unequal and scattered aid distribution. As the crisis prolonged, the government of Lebanon (GoL) became increasingly involved and eventually, in 2015, led the development of the Lebanon Crisis
Response Plan (LCRP) jointly with UN agencies.
Various ministries took a more proactive role in the response, in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA), which was designated by the Council of Ministers to take on an official role in the response. At the local level, municipalities and unions of
municipalities, despite lacking an official responsibility, made serious efforts to respond to the refugees due to increasing pressures in their localities and based on moral imperatives. International and UN agencies initially targeted Syrian refugees on the basis of the humanitarian principle of immediate alleviation of suffering following displacement. Local host communities, who were impacted by the crisis due
to the increase in the local population and a higher demand on limited basic services, were initially less involved and addressed in the response. This working paper explores the various formal and informal levels of collaboration, or lack thereof, between international and local organisations, UN agencies and local authorities. In Lebanon, establishing successful coordination mechanisms between national and local authorities and aid agencies is politically and logistically challenging. Due to funding constraints and limited programme timeframes, humanitarian organisations find it difficult to maintain a continuous long-term relationship with local municipalities and unions of municipalities.
Moreover, aid agencies often opt to bypass local authorities in project implementation in order to avoid local bureaucracy. Internal politics also create another challenge for coordination with local authorities, as this can interfere with the orientation of aid.
UN agencies and INGOs are now mostly turning short-term relief programmes into longer- term projects for development, and have shown serious efforts to adapt their responses to address local contexts more adequately. However, clearly defining roles among international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies and establishing solid coordination mechanisms remains a challenge and is important to enhancing overall public management in urban crisis contexts.
The research concludes that complementing sectoral approaches by adopting area-based approaches to respond to emergency crises allows humanitarian and development programmes to address the needs of different vulnerable groups, including refugees and local communities, in a more efficient and sustainable manner.
This allows the implementation of more inclusive needs-based responses, whilst also preventing unequal aid distribution and the ‘compartmentalisation’ of society.
Moreover, this working paper highlights the weakness in focusing and adapting responses to respond to urban settings which host the majority of refugees. As such, it is important to raise awareness and develop the necessary tools and coordination mechanisms to optimally address refugees in urban contexts, especially with more refugees settling in urban areas worldwide. Finally, coordination efforts and mutual aid agreements for emergency service provision can provide a solid ground for local actors to know: first, how to turn international aid into an opportunity rather than financial and political dependency or reason for domestic marginalisation, and, second, to learn the advantages of domestic coordination, internal agreement, and develop the capacities to manage foreign aid. Overall, reinforcing the role of local authorities and actors has
proven to be more efficient and manageable in the short-term; however, over time, it also faces political limitations thus challenging the ability to reach a broader consensus on the management of domestic issues. This paper proposes a multi-scalar coordination
approach to respond to crises and address diverse
social vulnerabilities.

The report can be fully accessed here: http://pubs.iied.org/10799IIED/

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Crisis & Control, (In)Formal Hybrid Security in Lebanon (July 2016)

The report I co-authored with Marie-Noelle Abi-Yaghi and Mariam Younes from Lebanon Support (Beirut) has just been published: http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/resource/crisis-control-informal-hybrid-security-lebanon. If you wish to access the resulting policy brief authored by Lebanon Support’s partner International Alert, click on the following link: http://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Lebanon_LocalSecuritySyrianRefugees_PolicyBrief_EN_2016.pdf.

We have conducted 3-month field research in Aley, Shebaa, and Ebrine in Lebanon.

Here below the executive summary of our research.

This report aims to analyze how formal and informal security providers implement their respective social order agendas through a security “assemblage”. It also aims to inform the debate on refugee protection and security provision in urban settings, in the context of Lebanon’s hybrid security system. The accounts collected illustrate how state security institutions tacitly accept – or even rely on – informal security actors, managing at times to achieve their political and strategic goals through decentralized and/or illegal forms of control. In this vein, local municipalities imposed curfews and street patrols, which, far from being an institutional measure, follow a flexible and unpredictable pattern.1 Three localities have been selected for the purpose of this research – namely Aley in Mount Lebanon, Ebrine in North Lebanon, and Shebaa in South Lebanon. The choice of these localities was driven by their different political and social history, their demographic homogeneity or diversity, and their relationship with surrounding regions. The investigation of the Syrian refugees’ access to security systems constitutes an interpretative lens through which the analysis of securitization processes in Lebanon can be undertaken. The notion of security we will discuss here is polysemantic: it does not only encompass regional or domestic conflicts, but also suggests a particular social form of waiting; a climate of fear portending the worse that is yet to come. As a matter of fact, this climate of fear encourages preemptive security measures and serves as a deterrent against violent outbursts. Therefore, manifestations of insecurity or security threats are often routinized perceptions and, as such, integrated into accounts of ordinary everyday life. Security plays a multifaceted role in the three settings selected for thorough analysis. It builds the cohesiveness of the local communities, while fending off endemic societal fragmentation. This is mainly because local people tend to identify with a single homogenous entity that needs to protect itself against external threats, with these threats being represented nowadays by Syrian refugees, who may become “radicalized” and destabilize the “host” space. And since security goes beyond the exclusion of risk and jeopardy, the official discourse of local security providers entails the protection of refugees. While we draw on the classic normative distinction of security providers into formal and informal, our analysis moves beyond such a rigid differentiation. The formal/ informal dichotomy fades away when security is discussed as a hybrid assemblage of unpredictable and situational forces enforced in particular circumstances. Our findings confirm that formal security is partially implemented through informal local actors, providing a terrain of common interest in the preservation of social order. In addition, security cannot be viewed as a given “social fact”: it is rather a contextual process embedded in multiple power relations that preserve social order in a given space and reinforce social status and community identification.

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The High Social Price of Humanitarian Dissimulation (by Estella Carpi, February 2013)

http://tabsir.net/?p=2032#more-2032

By Estella Carpi

A few months ago, while conducting my PhD fieldwork in North Lebanon, I shared my ideas on the current humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees with a journalist working in Lebanon. I reported that I was told by some Lebanese from Halba that their neighbors threw stones at humanitarian workers during the food kits’ distribution for Syrian refugees in a little town in ‘Akkar (North Lebanon). Apparently it was just an outburst of tension because of the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in loco. In the past they have always neglected this area in Lebanon due to lack of political interests, since the Israeli occupation and the consequent local impoverishment were primarily vexing the south of the country (1978-2000).

The humanitarian agency that the journalist was working for at that time first decided to omit such information before publishing the article. After that, in order not to be accused of censorship, with a cringe-worthy diplomatic move, they published it by elegantly modifying the content of the stones episode, and contending that local people in North Lebanon would definitely warm up if aid were provided to them too. This is a human dynamic that, unfortunately, I had never got the insight of in the field. The humanitarian agency at issue declared that this “information amendment” was carried out in a bid not to generate further frictions between the Lebanese and the Syrian communities. My “Wikileaks philosophy” pushes me instead to broach out the subject overtly and try to analyze it.

In my viewpoint, to omit the name of this organization is more than legitimate now, as the intention is not ostracizing its members, but rather putting in the foreground thorny social dynamics that need to be unraveled to be dealt with. To name the organization at issue would in fact be like blaming the humanitarian workers themselves, and this, in turn, would be weird, simplistic and even inappropriate.

The reverse of the picture, often shown by international media, though in highly ethnicized terms – that is to say Lebanese against Syrians or the other way around – lies in the fact that North Lebanon’s hospitality of Syrian refugees coming in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression, chronic fear and instability is not as realistic as boasted by humanitarian practitioners or local people.

This alleged humanitarian phenomenon of generalized hospitality, praised by aid providers to show that they are acting in a responsive and compliant environment with few hurdles, is meant to express the “truly humanitarian essence of Northern Lebanese identity.” Moreover, for the most politicized local aid providers, this attitude is subtly opposed to that of the south of the country, denounced as neglectful towards the Syrians.

Except for mixed families, hosting their relatives escaped from war, such hospitality, most of the time, has its financial returns through payment in cash of the house rent to Lebanese landlords from humanitarian organizations (for example Taiba, Saudi NGO, founded in March 2012 to cope with the crisis in Syria, which has its headquarter in Halba, ‘Akkar).

The tendency of many journalistic reports to overlook or disguise these financial dynamics in ‘Akkar that create a classic landlord-renter relationship seems to express protectiveness for the moral reputation of North Lebanon’s people. In other words, instead of complying with their function of educating the public on what is really going on and providing them with key concepts to interpret facts, some media seem to care more about protecting the critical side of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social “order” (as conceived by them). Uncomfortable information should rather be spread out while pointing out that factual honesty is not aimed to tarnish the international and domestic image of welcoming ‘Akkaris, as it happens in some reports that even portray them as greedy people getting profit from the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Beyond any emotional comradeship or closeness to one people or the other, the role of the media should be the explanation of the desperate need for economic survival in this Lebanese area, chronically neglected since a long time, given that the French mandate (1920), the post-National Pact State (1943) and the post-Taef Agreement Lebanese State (1990) have always ignored and marginalized this region, as well as South Lebanon. The lingering problems include a nearly 20 hour power cut per day, lack of drinking water, scarcity of public schools and local hospitals.

In a bid not to fuel tension among the parts, hence, the frictions between the local community and Syrian aid beneficiaries are often intentionally overlooked or misrepresented. Rather, the role of the media should be that of highlighting the long State neglect in such northern areas, and that of realizing how late and unfeasible it is by now to intervene in an empirically empty space, ideally void of expectations, paybacks, resentment and mutual mistrust, and, thus, void of social frictions.

In light of these inevitable conditions, the implementation of humanitarian projects should take these aspects into consideration. On the contrary, such criticisms often lead humanitarian workers to think that the whole humanitarian market – although controversially and implicitly imbued with neo-capitalism – is a victim of discouragement and ungratefulness from outside, targeted with cynical attacks and somehow “oppressed” by hands-off talkers.

From their side, therefore, the humanitarian workers tend to reply to critical news and policy analysts, or even mere observing researchers like me, that such counter-humanitarianism is sterilely over-abused since it does not end up being constructive. This is the reason why more public policy anthropologists, policy analysts from outside and cultural psychologists would be urgently required in this field, as they would be the only ones able to explore how the humanitarian conception of failure and success of a given program can grow within an organization and gradually affect social history.

In addition to that, such frictions are not necessarily considerable in confessional or national terms. For instance, it is unluckily a common trend to try to grasp the violence mood between Alawites and Sunnis in the few ‘Akkari villages where the former make up the vast majority; or, yet, to conceive of people as “Syrians-benefiting against Lebanese-being neglected, or Lebanese-benefiting on behalf of the Syrians”. The stress should fall then on being a beneficiary or never having held such a “privileged” position in the past, within a generally neglectful environment, regardless of the confessional beliefs and of the nationality of people inhabiting the area in the capacity of residents or refugees.

Apparently, the media directly connected to humanitarian organizations prefer omitting the kind of information that we, international philanthropists and high/middle class locals altogether, would feel uncomfortable with, given that such unpleasant facts might undermine the nature itself of our “for-the-sake-of-mankind work”.

The intellectual effort of delving into the reasons of historically determined social frictions and of avoiding the simplified ethnicization between Syrian-takers and Lebanese-givers, is dangerously left to the public. Is it that difficult to hypothesize the outcome? By adopting abused descriptive terms, such as “civil war”, “sectarianism”, “terrorism”, “Islamization”, “tribalism” and so forth, we have already created new monsters: human imaginaries of Lebanese against Syrians and Syrians against Lebanese, among whom new conflicts are on the brink of populating and destabilizing the whole region.

In a nutshell, humanitarianism yet feels entitled to diffuse and promote the part of its work that subjectively evaluates as humanitarian. All the rest it engenders – as it occurs in any other enterprise – needs to be disguised in the name of its own survival. In doing so, humanitarianism proliferates by incessantly eradicating the disturbing germs, before the plague that would unload its pockets breaks out.

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

What ails Humanitarian Aid in Lebanon (by Estella Carpi, March 2013)

http://tabsir.net/?p=2054

The high social price of media and humanitarian dissimulation in North Lebanon.

by Estella Carpi

In the aid provision sphere of North Lebanon, international media in close connection with humanitarian agencies often hasten to show how North Lebanon’s hospitality of Syrian refugees coming in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression, chronic fear and instability is huge. Such hospitality is actually a product of a quite complex picture with an up-close look, unlike the idyllic scenario humanitarian practitioners and local people usually provide. In addition, social dynamics are normally depicted in the media in ethnicized terms: that is to say Lebanese versus Syrians.

A few months ago, while conducting my fieldwork in Lebanon, I was told that some Lebanese threw stones to humanitarian workers during the food kits’ distribution for Syrian refugees in a town in Akkar, the northern region. The episode had been interpreted by local people themselves as an outburst of tension because of the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in the area, which has always been neglected by state and non-state actors due to lack of political interests. The latter, in fact, were slightly more localized in Beirut and in the south of the country, vexed by Israeli occupation and by a consequent local impoverishment (1978-2000).

The humanitarian agencies operating in that town decided not to let journalists publish about the episode. Others published about it by contending that local people in North Lebanon would definitely stop “hostilities” and warm up if aid were provided to them too. The main reason behind the omission and amendment of this kind of information is apparently the intention not to generate further frictions between the local community and the Syrians.

The humanitarian phenomenon of generalized hospitality serves the interests of aid providers in showing that they are acting in a responsive and compliant environment. Local hospitality in North Lebanon, on the other hand, is also used to express the “truly humanitarian essence” of Northern Lebanese identity – as stated by aid providers politically affiliated to the March 14 coalition, allied with the Syrian opposition.

The politicization of aid is proved by the fact that the humanitarian assistance provided by this coalition is subtly opposed to the “less humanitarian nature” of 8th March political coalition (that counts among its most important members Hezbollah and Michel Aoun’s alliance). This is providing much less to the Syrian refugees – who they often call “displaced” – due to lingering regional political issues. Except for mixed families that host their relatives who escaped from war, such hospitality, most of the time, has its financial returns through the house rent paid in cash by humanitarian organizations to Lebanese landlords (as in the case of Taiba, a Saudi NGO in Halba). Other refugees, when not able to access the housing refurbished and provided by agencies, end up paying to Lebanese landlords a monthly amount of 100 US dollars as a minimum, to rent a piece of land or get an unfurnished tent.

Journalistic reports covering the area intentionally disguise local money circles that create a classic patron-client relationship in Akkar, reflecting the social roots. This is often done in an illusory bid to protect the moral reputation of North Lebanon’s people. Thereby, local morality is strictly connected to their material (in)capacity to host and welcome refugees.

Indeed, the role of the media should be that of pointing out the desperate need for economic survival in Akkar. This was chronically neglected during the French mandate ( since 1920), the post-National Pact State (1943) and the post-Taef Agreement Lebanese State (1990). Nowadays, local residents of the northern areas of the region still deal with a nearly twenty hours power cut per day, lack of drinking water, scarcity of public schools and local hospitals.

As in the described episode, media entrepreneurs seem to care more about protecting the orthodox morality of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social order – as conceived by them – rather than complying with their function of “educating” the public on what is really going on and providing them with key concepts to interpret facts. In other words, media analysts, working closely with the humanitarian organizations, resort to dichotomic descriptions. They care about advertising North Lebanese hospitality to maintain the international image of welcoming Akkaris, and, at the same time, they portray them as greedy beings getting profit from the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian organizations should realize how unfeasible it is by now to intervene in an empirically empty space, ideally void of social frictions, expectations, paybacks, resentment and mutual mistrust. The implementation of humanitarian projects, hence, should take these conditions into consideration.
On the contrary, external criticisms often lead social workers to think that the whole humanitarian mausoleum – implicitly imbued with neo-capitalism – is a victim of discouragement and ungratefulness from outside, targeted with cynical attacks and verbally “oppressed” by hands-off chatterers.

From the practitioners’ perspective, critical news and policy analysts over-abuse a skeptical counter-humanitarianism, considered sterile and destructive. It is the overarching morality of humanitarianism itself that renders criticism nihilistic by itself. That is why further research on how failure and success of a given project can grow within an organization and gradually affect social history, regardless of the good intentions of the working staff, would be needed.

Confessional, national and inter-community relations seem to be the only ones, according to media analyses, to explain social frictions in Akkar. For example, it is unluckily a common trend of international journalists to go and grasp the violence mood in some religiously mixed Akkari villages; or, yet, to conceive of people as “Syrians-benefiting versus Lebanese-being neglected, or, again, Lebanese-benefiting on behalf of the Syrians”. Rather, the stress should fall on being a beneficiary or never having held such a “privileged” position in the past within a generally neglectful environment, regardless of the individual’s confessional beliefs and the nationality of Akkar’s inhabitants, in the capacity of local residents or refugees.
In a nutshell, the media directly connected to humanitarian organizations prefer omitting the kind of information that we international philanthropists and middle class locals altogether would feel uncomfortable with, when such unpleasant facts might undermine the nature itself of our “for-the-sake-of-mankind work”. Thus, the intellectual effort of delving into the historical reasons of such social frictions and avoiding the simplified ethnicization between “Syrian-takers” and “Lebanese-givers” is dangerously left to the public.

By adopting arbitrary descriptive terms in the media, such as “civil war”, “sectarianism”, “terrorism”, “Islamization”, “tribalism” and so forth, and by ethnicizing the explanation of social facts, we have created human imaginaries made of Lebanese against Syrians and vice versa, between whom new conflicts are on the brink of destabilizing the whole region. By a similar token, if bountiful Lebanese host Syrians, they do it in the name of their past common nationhood. If Lebanese deny their help, they want to distance themselves from the Syrian cause. The fragmentariness of individual reasons and disputes go totally unseen.
In light of the parallelism between media and humanitarian actors that I have put forward, humanitarianism yet feels entitled to diffuse and promote the part of its work that subjectively is evaluated as humanitarian. All the “side effects” it engenders – as may occur in any enterprise – need to be disguised in the name of its own survival. In doing so, humanitarianism in Lebanon seems to proliferate by arbitrarily eradicating its disturbing germs, before the plague that would unload its pockets breaks out.

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

“On the Bride’s Side” reviewed (October 2014)

(Picture taken from: http://www.madamasr.com)

A Palestinian poet and an Italian journalist meet five Syrians and Palestinians fleeing the war in Syria at the Milan central station, and decide to help them to reach Sweden by faking a wedding.

It is known that violation of border-regime is a violation of orthodox transnational ethics, and, as such, it is often denigrated by citizens and feared by “aspirant” asylum seekers. In fact, illegal border crossing is widely seen as a criminal act deserving punishment. Based on a capitalist and ethnically discriminatory way of organising people and space, borders regulate human movements, and, as such, they developed an aesthetic of human resentment, fear, psychological deterrence or achievement.

The new film “On the bride’s side”, which has just launched a crowd-funding campaign, seems to me the cinematographic embodiment of unquestionably worthy deeds of human will. Therefore, the movie succeeds in speaking to the public that is neither expert nor necessarily interested in forced migration issues or, in general, the current Middle East’s “plagues”. The Nietzschan manifestation of “the will to power” is what the movie primarily conveys to the public. As a result, any sort of public will get hooked throughout the movie.

The mandatory request for the asylum seekers to provide a “legitimation” of their desires is deliberately denied in its own raison d’être by the decision of this large group of Italians, Palestinians and Syrians. They are all protagonists of a journey, which, to me, also constitutes a meaningful turning point in the bottom-up cultural production on migration and politics. Their journey from Milan to Stockholm starts as a joke, certainly with rational doubts. However, the spectator cannot perceive any emotional hesitation, develops expectations – or even a sort of anxiety – to witness either the final acknowledgment or the failure of human action.

Journalist Gabriele Del Grande, poet Khaled Soliman an-Nassiry and filmmaker Antonio Augugliaro succeed in reminding us that borders are no longer simple edges of a state. Borders are symbolical tyrants, because they manage to shape our perception of the world, as anthropologist Khosravi noticed. And, as Del Grande affirmed in several interviews, “the aesthetics of the border needs to be overturned”.

As a matter of fact, the migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea and undertake the journey to seek asylum are victims of human laws. Once they crossed, “conflict victims” cannot be their only definition; and not even “victims of fate”, like a large part of the humanitarian assistance sector likes to argue, dealing with an agentless and depersonalised “refugee crisis”.

The movie seems to contend that the only humanitarian act that can be accomplished is taking clear sides. The sides of people who cannot freely choose, against laws allegedly designed to protect the security and the stability of the western fortress, which further feed the gap between imaginary Norths and Souths, and organise human life alongside hierarchical lines.

“On the bride’s side” is a most dignified conveyer of new “border thinking”. A thinking that not merely challenges laws, but rather the North’s consciousness, rushing over to “rescue” people in conflict-ridden sites by providing humanitarian assistance, or intervening in the name of the Responsibility to Protect. Nevertheless, the northern saviours are difficultly willing to open their own borders to embrace the product of the umpteenth political failure, which we love to call “state of emergency”.

In the western proliferation of compassion and sentimentalism around refugehood, which poorly address the European refugee regimes, “On the bride’s side” finally establishes the still missing agency of the refugees: the possibility of asserting one’s own will and develop one’s own rights. Rights that the Law has not forgotten, but has rather suffocated. In the face of this, “the bride” Tasneem Fared states in the movie: as-sama’ lal kol, “the sky is of everyone”.

Finally, I immensely appreciated how “On the bride’s side” greatly shuffles cinema with positivistic activism, where the video camera is the voicing tool that is able to replace the protest’s megaphone.

In a nutshell, the illegal journey from Italy to Sweden is the triumph of a reshaped conception of human rights, according to which the Global North, in order to support and assist the war-stricken Global South, cannot limit itself to provide relief or tell human stories on behalf of unspoken victims to raise compassion. The Northern fence sitters, at some point, connive in the “South’s” predicament.

We have the duty to take a clear stance, speak up and act accordingly. Otherwise, as Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi affirmed, laws will always remain behind us.

Estella Carpi

Categories: Europe, Syria | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Suffering Grass (by Monica Macchi, April 2013)

Imagehttp://formacinema.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/the-suffering-grass-المتألم-العسب/

THE SUFFERING GRASS

In Cinema&TempiRecensioniUncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 8:56 am

Monica Macchi

THE SUFFERING GRASS   

Dice un proverbio africano

“Quando gli elefanti combattono, è l’erba che soffre”;

nel mio film gli elefanti sono

 gli attori statali e le potenze straniere

che tentano di utilizzare il conflitto in Siria

per promuovere i loro interessi geopolitici

e l’erba calpestata sono i diritti umani e i rifugiati.

lara Lee, regista del film

TRAILER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9CdBjg2OIk

Nel mese di maggio 2012, la regista Iara Lee ha fatto parte di una delegazione che ha visitato i campi profughi siriani di Yayladgi e di Bohsin in Turchia, che alla data del film (giugno 2012) ospitavano 24.000 siriani per un costo stimato di 150 milioni di dollari.

Questo film ha due diverse componenti: una parte è, per usare la definizione di Chion, “verbo-centrista” cioè si configura come “parola-teatro” con una presa diretta di rumori che hanno una propria specifica identità ed un proprio ruolo. Così si alternano spezzoni di “Ugarit News” a interviste con esponenti dell’Esercito Siriano Libero (definito “l’unico rifugio alla brutalità del regime”), con attivisti per i diritti umani che sostengono la tesi del diritto all’autodifesa e con alcuni………

continua SufferingGrass

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

Media and Humanitarianism in North Lebanon (April 2013)

Image

(Picture taken by Estella Carpi in Wadi Khaled, Lebanese-Syrian border, 13th December 2012)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/estella-carpi/alliance-of-media-and-humanitarianism-in-lebanon

The alliance of media and humanitarianism in Lebanon

ESTELLA CARPI 2 April 2013
 

With the growing Syrian refugee crisis, media entrepreneurs seem to care more about protecting the orthodox morality of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social order – as conceived by them – rather than educating the public.

International media, closely connected to humanitarian agencies, often hasten to show North Lebanon’s ‘outstanding’ hospitality of Syrian refugees, arriving in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression and chronic fear. However, unlike the idyllic scenario humanitarian practitioners usually provide, such hospitality is actually part of a larger picture. At the same time, the media, while providing positive accounts in an alleged bid to pacify further social frictions, paradoxically rely on ethnicised desciptions – in this specific case, Lebanese versus Syrians.

A few months ago, some Lebanese threw stones at humanitarian workers during the distribution of food kits for Syrian refugees in Akkar, the northern most region of Lebanon and host to the majority of Syrian refugees. The episode was considered an outburst of tension by local people themselves with the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in an area of little political interest, often neglected by state and non-state actors. Non-state actors have always been more localized in Beirut and the south of the country, concentrated on the humanitarian consequences of the Israeli occupation and the subsequent aggravated local impoverishment.

The humanitarian agencies operating in that town decided not to let journalists report on the episode at the time. Some published about it instead by contending that local people in North Lebanon would stop ‘hostilities’ and warm up if aid was provided to them too. The main reason behind the omission of the episode would seem to be the preventing further inflammation of tensions between the local community and Syrian refugees.

The humanitarian phenomenon of hospitality however serves the interests of aid providers in showing that they are acting in a responsive and compliant environment. Local hospitality in north Lebanon is often used in the media to express the ‘truly humanitarian essence’ of Northern Lebanese identity – as stated by aid providers politically affiliated to the March 14 coalition, presently allied with the Syrian opposition. Such a politicization of aid was similarly used by March 8 political coalition (that counts among its most important members the Hezbollah and Michel Aoun alliance), during the 2006 war with Israel.

Except for mixed families that host Syrian relatives who have escaped the war, such hospitality very often relies on financial returns through house rents paid in cash by humanitarian organizations to Lebanese landlords, as in the case of Taiba, a Saudi NGO in Halba. Other refugees, unable to access the housing refurbished and provided by agencies, end up paying, at a minimum, 100 USD to Lebanese landlords just to rent a piece of land or receive a tent.

News reports covering the area intentionally disguise these local money circles that renew classic patron-client relationships in Akkar, reflecting its social roots. This is often done in an illusory attempt to protect the moral reputation of north Lebanon’s people. Media coverage thus ties morality to the local material (in)capacity to host and welcome refugees.

Indeed, the role of the media should be to highlight the desperate fight for economic survival in Akkar, whose people have been chronically neglected in the years since the French mandate (1920), the post-National Pact State (1943) and the post-Taef Agreement State (1990). Nowadays, local residents of the northern region must still deal with a twenty-hour power cut every day, lack of drinking water and scarcity of public schools and local hospitals.

Media entrepreneurs seem to care more about protecting the orthodox morality of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social order – as conceived by them – rather than educating the public. On the one hand, it advertises north Lebanese hospitality to maintain the international image of the welcoming Akkaris, as prompted by humanitarian workers; on the other, whenever it decides to distance itself from the humanitarian mainstream, it portrays Akkar’s people as greedy beings getting profit from the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian organizations should realize by now the infeasibility of intervening in an empirically ‘empty space’, ideally void of social frictions, expectations, paybacks, resentment and mutual mistrust. The implementation of humanitarian projects, hence, should take these conditions into consideration. Further research is needed on how failure and success of humanitarian projects can grow within an organization and gradually affect social history, regardless of the good intentions of the working staff.

National and inter-community relations seem to be the only media narratives to explain the social frictions in Akkar. This obsession for categories is unluckily a common trend of international journalists attempting to grasp violence outbursts in the religiously mixed Akkari villages. As a result, individual reasons and disputes, therefore, go totally unseen.

The media directly connected to humanitarian organizations omits the kind of information that we, international philanthropists and middle class locals working in the humanitarian sector, would feel uncomfortable with. Such unpleasant truths might undermine the nature itself of our ‘for-the-sake-of-mankind’ work. All the ‘side effects’ humanitarian work engenders – as it normally occurs in any enterprise – need to be disguised in the name of its survival.

The intellectual effort to explore the historical reasons for the present social frictions to avoid the oversimplified ethnic lens between ‘Syrian-takers’ and ‘Lebanese-givers’ is dangerously left to the public. By adopting arbitrary descriptive terms in the media, such as civil war, sectarianism, terrorism, Islamisation and so forth, and by ‘ethnicising’ the explanation of social facts, we have already created human imaginaries of Lebanese against Syrians and Syrians against Lebanese.

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

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