Posts Tagged With: Syrian refugees

Syrian Faith Leaders in Displacement: Neglected Aid Providers? (by Estella Carpi, September 26, 2019)

Featured image:  Talbaya, Central Beqa’. The surroundings of an orphanage for Syrian refugee children, built by a Syrian religious leader.  (c) E. Carpi, 2019

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When we ‘sweep away the professional, intimate, spiritual and even socio-economic past of refugees,’ what impact does this have on our understanding and (non)engagement with forcibly displaced people, including displaced religious leaders? In this post, Dr Estella Carpi, Southern Responses Research Associate, draws on her research with Syrian religious leaders in Lebanon who have worked as key intermediaries to ensure humanitarian aid reaches Syrian refugees. Despite often proving themselves efficient at ‘trans-border relief provision’, the relief work of diaspora religious leaders remains absent from dominant humanitarian discourse. Rather, religious leaders are conceptualised ‘as drivers of either violence, tension, and persecutions, or potential actors of reconciliation.’  However, as Dr Carpi highlights by drawing on her interviews, displaced Syrian religious leaders fulfil multiple roles that change over time and are conceptualised in multiple ways, dependent of historic, political, social and individual circumstances. Without a more nuanced understanding of these roles and how they are conceptualised by members of refugee communities themselves, faith-based humanitarianism will remain absent from dominant humanitarian discourse and faith leaders’ engagement with global humanitarian action infrequent, despite their likely efficacy. 

If you found this piece of interest please visit our Introductory Mini-Blog Series, or visit the recommended reading at the end of this post.

Syrian Faith Leaders in Displacement: Neglected Aid Providers?

By Estella Carpi, Southern Responses to Displacement

The Syrian conflict has thus far caused the flight of nearly 5.6 million people who have sought refuge outside of the country, in addition to the internal displacement of more than 7 million people. However, even in the studies which have endeavored to emphasize the complexities of exiled lives, hardly any attention has been paid to the diverse backgrounds of the displaced, whose professions and social positions within their society of origin tend to be ignored. As a result of marginalizing the nuances and heterogeneities of the lives of the displaced, some of the Syrian faith leaders (rijal din) who fled the conflict-ridden country were also overlooked. Such a tendency to sweep away the professional, intimate, spiritual and even socio-economic pastof refugees is part of a global politics of generalization and de-individualization of forced migrants worldwide, which shifts the focus onto an un-nuanced present. This omission has ended up overshadowing the complex character of alternative models of care and protection that such religious leaders have been able to put in place in crisis-affected contexts.

This blog draws on the research I have been conducting within the framework of the Southern-led humanitarian responses to displacement from Syria project, with the aim of documenting the humanitarian responses of Syrian religious leaders and authorities. In Spring 2018 and throughout 2019 I met religious leaders in Lebanon who acted as key intermediaries in aid provision between displaced communities – residing inside or outside of the Syrian borders – and external donors, especially funders from the Arab Gulf. While it is easy to find enthusiasm, commitment and nostalgia in the way they tell their own stories of aid provision, their acts of assistance and protection have seemingly been neglected in the official humanitarian discourse. However, overall, secular and religious diaspora organizations have proven to be more efficient than international actors in trans-border relief provision thanks to their privileged networks and quicker access to local beneficiaries.[i]

As in the case of other conflicts, ranging from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan, during the war in Syria, which followed a large-scale popular uprising in spring 2011, religious leaders have been considered to be drivers of either violence, tension, and persecutions, or potential actors of reconciliation. In this vein, religious leadership tends to be associated with security and stability. Especially in the case of Sunni Muslim authorities (Ulema), regional and global interest is raised – and funding is made readily available – when security issues come to the fore. Indeed, security related affairs in the Middle East region have only been related to the sectarian character of society.

During my Lebanon field trips from 2011 onwards, I registered widespread local discontent or even resentment toward religious leaders, who have at times been deemed to be complicit with the perpetrators. From an historical perspective, Sunni Islam has also been primarily associated with communities which cause security matters, which only the secularist policies of the Syrian Ba‘th party, risen to power in 1963, can keep under control. Nowadays, in recaptured areas, Bashar al-Asad’s regime has tended to work through trusted local religious figures or institutions rather than impose top-down control.

During the current conflict, expressions of Sunni Islam effectively became radicalized in rebel-held areas. However, local and family structures have often resisted this. Once some of the extremist groups inspired by particular interpretations of Islam became stronger in their territories, some local families, Imams and preachers, no longer felt safe and left the war-torn country to seek refuge elsewhere. For instance, a Syrian ‘alim’ (singular of Ulema) who relocated to the Great Beirut area recounted that, in the Maarrat an-Nu‘man area where he used to live,

“the Jabhat an-Nusra group gained many followers among the Syrians: we used to be friends with some of them. I, instead, tried to curb Nusra’s influence as a rajul din, and that exposed my dad to their threats”.

During displacement, faith leaders themselves received threats, even from their own community members. As a consequence, especially those who used to hold less political influence in Syria, often had to drop their previous faith guidance and pastoral activities and reshape their social roles within the countries of asylum or resettlement. The decreasing international funding for assistance provision over the last four years, notably the money coming from Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, also ended up marginalizing their spiritual role within displaced communities.

The Ulema I met relocated to different locations of Lebanon. All of them used to serve as preachers (delivering the Friday khutba) or imams in small size mosques in central and northern Syria. As a Lebanese representative from Dar al-Fatwa (Lebanon’s Highest Sunni Muslim Religious Authority) in Sidon confirmed in an interview (April 2019), it is unlikely for Syrian Ulema to hold official permission to serve as imams and preachers in Lebanon, but it is not the law per se which prevents their appointment. Rather, he explained, the

“sector is full and that is the reason why they do not manage to continue their mission here in Lebanon.”

In contrast, according to a Syrian ‘alim’, permits are no longer issued by Dar al-Fatwa to Syrian Ulema as the relocation of Syrian religious leadership to Lebanon goes hand in hand with the history of tough migration policies enforced after 2015. The majority of those I met had not benefited from any official permission to serve as preachers or imams inside Syria, but they would embrace their spiritual mission with the consent of the elder religious leaders in their hometowns and, quite often, after pursuing Islamic Studies. As with the Shiite religious leaders displaced by the American invasion of Iraq from 2003 and resettled in Sunni Muslim-majority countries, Syrian faith leaders are unlikely to continue their official service in the country of ‘refugeehood’.

In the attempt to resume the past, the way in which these Ulema defined their previous socio-spiritual role in Syrian society can be summarized as threefold: wajaha (which contextually stands for “moral standing”), wasata (“mediation”, mostly between welfare providers, private donors and local communities, or dispute parties) and fatawi (“religious statements” that discipline private and public behaviors). Once the uprising started in 2011, they affirmed their re-imagined role mainly as twofold. First, participation in the revolution, which involves both religious conscientization against the exploitation of religion by the Asad regime, Da‘esh, or Haiy’at Tahrir ash-Sham; and the political work of those faith leaders who had also studied the principles and theories of politics.

Second, participation in relief and financial assistance to the displaced communities. As an ‘alim’ affirmed during our interview in winter 2019, their lack of legal protection makes it more difficult to receive money from outside, as counter-terrorism laws nowadays tend to prevent endowments (awqaf), as they are believed to be a source of terrorism and violence. Syrian nationals in Lebanon are also not allowed to open a bank account, and therefore receive money in cash.

Another ‘alim recounted in March 2019:

“In 2013 I managed to send nearly two million dollars to Syrian families in need with the support of friends, relatives and acquaintances. I could no longer do that now.”

Some Ulema however managed to preserve their social role outside of Syria, such as registering marriages, and also actively participating in weddings, funerals and the mediating individual conflicts.

Financial resources are therefore an important factor for the religious leaders’ capacity to preserve and reconfigure their spiritual role within displaced communities outside of Syria. The financial disenfranchisement that most of them underwent throughout displacement reflects a form of historical continuity with the Syrian state’s control over religious endowments:

“At times the khatib and imam also needed to clean the mosque in Syria. I used to receive 100 USD per month, but it could go up to 300 or 400 USD… it really depended on the circumstances and your reputation. In most cases the salary did not make our ends meet at the end of the month, so we used to look for alternative sources of income.”

Indeed, as scholars have confirmed, longstanding state repression and control in Syria encouraged under-resourced religious leaders to build up their own financial independence.

While religion is still securitized in the international discourse, international humanitarian agencies increasingly involve local faith leaders, especially in the countries of the “Global South”, in order to build rapid and safe access to local and refugee populations. Even though this does not generally happen yet at the level of official programming, local faith leaders are capable to influence long-lasting beliefs, convictions and cultural habits that, in the view of the international community, may contribute to harmful attitudes, values and practices and hamper community development. With the establishment of the “localization of aid agenda” after the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, it is an increasing conviction that faith leaders can become agents of change rather than being barriers to community development. In this framework, however, refugee faith leaders have been mobilised to a far lesser extent by local or international organisations, which are indeed cognisant of how religious leadership intertwines with host-refugee stability on several levels.

While the involvement of refugee faith leaders seems to be infrequent in global humanitarianism, their contribution to aid provision and protection is long-standing, being far older than the present conflict. For instance, a faith leader from Daraa arrived in Lebanon fifteen years ago, fleeing the persecution of the Syrian government which had just withdrawn its troops from Lebanese territory, and therefore ceasing what has been called the Syrian “protection” of Lebanon (1976-2005):

“When I was in Syria, I used to help, but the needs of the displaced were not massive: the majority were Palestinians -quite integrated with Syrian society- and Iraqis, who, in all honesty, owned way more money than myself […]. When I arrived in Lebanon, I started providing assistance to the needy to a modest extent. At that time, my aim was remaining safe. After 2011, Syrians started arriving in large numbers into the Beqaa Valley, and I decided to open a dar al-aytam (“orphanage”) for Syrian orphans”.


During my visit to the orphanage, I met a Syrian woman with two children whose tent had been swept away by a snow storm, and who was also living at the dar al-aytam on a temporary basis. The ‘alim’ added:

“Here we rely on volunteers, and we host up to 35 children and adolescents […]. We don’t need much funding to make things work: we just want to survive/live [bedna na‘iysh kaffaf]. Some families are surprised and are like ‘How can you handle this with no resources!’, and I always respond that all of this comes from God”.

In the context of the Southern Responses to Displacement project, unraveling the models of assistance that Syrian faith leaders have put in place within and for displaced communities is therefore an important attempt to acknowledge the nuances and complexities of refugee experiences as well as forms of refugee-to-refugee humanitarianism.


If you found this piece of interest please visit our Introductory Mini Blog Series or visit the recommended readings below:

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) Does Faith-Based Aid Provision Always Localise Aid?

Fakih, F. (2019) Beyond Humanitarianism Paradigm: The Effect of Displacement on Religious Authorities – Dr Estella Carpi Lecture at Lebanese American University

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

[i] For more details, read: Carpi, E. and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (forthcoming) “Keeping the Faith? Examining the Roles of Faith and Secularism in Syrian Diaspora Organizations in Lebanon”. In Dijzkeul, D. and Fauser, M. Diaspora Organizations in International Affairs. London: Routledge.


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Winking at Humanitarian Neutrality: The Liminal Politics of the State in Lebanon (June, 2019)

What does it happen when local residents of the Beirut southern suburbs speak of the Lebanese state offering Lebanon “on a silver tray” and Syrian refugees in the northern region of Akkar mention the Lebanese state as a repressive political actor allied with supposedly neutral humanitarian agencies which manage their everyday life?

In this article, just published in the main Canadian Anthropological journal Anthropologica 61(1): 83-96 (University of Toronto Press), I rethink liminality in anthropology and I identify in liminality the behavioural politics of the Lebanese state, whose enmity is perceived by refugees and local citizens, both frustrated by failed attempts at befriending the central state throughout Lebanon’s history.

Here below you can find the abstract in English and French, as well as the link from where to access my article.

Abstract: Drawing on the July 2006 Israel–Lebanon War in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Syrian refugee influx into the villages of Akkar in northern Lebanon, I suggest that the Lebanese state aspires to officially assert itself as a liminal space in a bid to survive crises and preserve its political capital, therefore aborting the attempts made by citizens and refugees to leave such liminality. I look at how professed state liminality meets with humanitarian neutrality, which is a principle of several international humanitarian agencies that assisted the internally displaced in 2006 and Syrian refugees from 2011 in Lebanon. Although in anthropology liminality has mostly been approached as anti-structural and an embodiment of the mar-gins, by proceeding from people’s perception of state enmity and their frustrated aspirations to befriend the state, I suggest that state liminality rather captures the structural peculiarity of the Lebanese state’s agency and violent presence, made of repressive and neglectful politics.

Keywords: refugees, Lebanon, humanitarianism, welfare, NGOs

Résumé : Partant de la guerre israélo-libanaise de juillet 2006 dans la banlieue sud de Beyrouth et de l’afflux de réfugiés syriens dans les villages du Akkar au nord du Liban, j’émets l’hypothèse que l’État libanais cherche à s’affirmer officielle-ment comme espace liminaire afin de survivre aux crises et de préserver son capital politique, faisant ainsi échec aux efforts de citoyens et de réfugiés pour quitter cette liminarité. J’exa-mine l’intersection de la liminarité étatique proclamée et de la neutralité humanitaire, ce dernier principe étant mis en avant par de nombreuses agences humanitaires internationales qui ont assisté les déplacés internes en 2006 et qui accompagnent les réfugiés syriens au Liban depuis 2011. Si en anthropologie la liminarité est généralement abordée comme un phénomène anti-structurel et comme une incarnation des marges, je m’ap-puie sur la perception qu’ont les gens de l’inimitié étatique et de leurs aspirations frustrées à se rapprocher de l’État pour avancer que la liminarité étatique permet plutôt d’appréhender la particularité structurelle de l’agencéité et de la présence violente propres à l’État libanais, lesquelles sont marquées par une politique conjointe de répression et d’abandon.

Mots clés : réfugiés, Liban, humanitaire, protection sociale, ONG

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Intervista a RadioBlackout (May, 2019)

lo spettro dei rifugiati sulla crisi libanese

lo spettro dei rifugiati sulla crisi libanese

Scritto da su 11 Maggio 2019

Dall’inizio della guerra civile siriana i libanesi hanno assistito a un vero e proprio esodo di profughi verso il proprio Paese. Il Libano è grande come l’Abruzzo, ha una popolazione di quattro milioni e mezzo di persone e ospita un milione e mezzo di siriani che si aggiungono ai 250 mila palestinesi, e alle migliaia di persone arrivate negli ultimi anni da Etiopia, Filippine, Bangladesh e Sri Lanka già presenti sul territorio. Il Libano non ha firmato la convenzione di Ginevra, dunque non riconosce lo status di rifugiato. Assimilare un milione e mezzo di siriani nella società libanese non è pensabile, anche perché il Libano deve fare i conti con una situazione economica che va peggiorando, il 30 per cento dei cittadini vive in condizioni di estrema povertà, in un Paese che stenta a garantire elettricità 24 ore al giorno.

Nel frattempo, il malcontento tra i libanesi continua a crescere e i rifugiati sono spesso additati come la causa principale della tragica situazione economica che sta mettendo in ginocchio l’intero Paese. La pressione per rimandare i rifugiati in Siria è sempre più forte, sempre più frequenti i casi di incendi dolosi negli insediamenti informali.

Il fenomeno migratorio è stato finora regolato dalla discussa legge Kafala, un sistema di controllo diffuso nei paesi del Golfo che permette ai governi di delegare la supervisione e la responsabilità dei migranti a compagnie o privati cittadini, concedendogli una serie di poteri legali. Una volta entrati nel Paese, ai lavoratori viene ritirato il passaporto, la loro permanenza legale è strettamente vincolata al contratto stipulato con la compagnia che li ha ingaggiati, senza il cui permesso la possibilità di movimento è praticamente nulla.

In collegamento dal Libano Estella Carpi, antropologa sociale dell’University College of London, si occupa di migrazione forzata, assistenza umanitaria e politiche dell’identità nel Levante arabo e in Turchia.


Categories: Arab Gulf, Golfo Arabo, Lebanon, Libano, Siria, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

My lecture at the Lebanese American University (March, 2019)


Beyond Humanitarianism Paradigm: The Effect of Displacement on Religious Authorities

posted on 10/04/2019


By Fidaa Al Fakih

LAU’s Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution (ISJCR) and the Department of Social Sciences hosted a seminar on “The Displacement of Religious Authorities from Syria and their Involvement in Aid Provision: Looking beyond Humanitarianism.”

The cross-campus seminar was based on the preliminary findings of Research Associate at University College London, Dr Estella Carpi.

Welcoming the attendees, moderator and ISJCR Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Tamirace Fakhoury said the seminar sheds light on the under-researched topic of “how the displacement from Syria has affected religious authorities and how religious authorities have had to reinvent their mission and involvement in aid provision.”

Dr. Carpi then kicked off the seminar by explaining that the field research she has been conducting in Lebanon is part of a much broader project with Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh of University College London under the framework of “south–south humanitarianism.” The research, she said, looks at southern agents of aid provision, particularly faith leaders or religious authorities who try to help their own displaced communities.

Dr. Carpi’s presentation built on her extensive research on faith-based organizations working in the Syria neighborhood, including her engagement with Syrian refugee faith leaders in Lebanon. “I relied on self-accounts of personal experiences in aid provision to the displaced communities once Syrian faith leaders became refugees themselves,” she said.

Dr. Carpi then mapped a geography of displaced religious authorities following their physical trajectories outside of Syria. She also focused on how displacement from war, violence and persecution reconfigures their spiritual role and their social status within receiving societies. By doing so, Dr. Carpi captured how the spiritual mission of such religious leaders changes in response to their own refugee status and their intent to provide aid, support and solidarity to the displaced communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr. Fakhoury and Chair of the Social Sciences Department Marwan Rowayheb thanked Dr. Carpi for uncovering concepts of humanitarianism that shed light on new actors often overlooked by researchers when studying Syrian refugee challenges in neighboring host societies.

Dr. Rowayheb encouraged Dr. Carpi to account for the structural differences in the nature of the religious establishments in Lebanon, and to examine the competition between Lebanese religious authorities and displaced Syrian faith leaders that in some instances trigger sensitivities.

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

The Right to Play Versus the Right to War? Vulnerable Childhood in Lebanon’s NGOization (February 2019)

My chapter with Chiara Diana (Université Libre de Bruxelles) is now published in Kristen Cheney and Aviva Sienrvo’s “Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Interventions”, Palgrave MacMillan, 2019. Look it up!

In the wake of the massive human displacement from Syria (2011–), some international NGOs (INGOs) have intervened in Lebanon to prevent Lebanese and Syrian youth from “radicalizing” and joining armed groups. In the framework of international humanitarian assistance within the “Global South,” while refugee adults are expected to become self-reliant, children and youth are often addressed as objects of universal concern and rarely as aware subjects of decision-making. Drawing on interviews conducted between Spring 2015 and Autumn 2016 with INGO workers and child players and their parents, we consider INGO play activities in contexts where political violence is widespread and longstanding, such as the Tripoli governorate in northern Lebanon. This chapter first aims to unpack the INGO discourse on children’s vulnerability. Second, we analyze INGO discourses and practices in a bid to critically examine the humanitarian and developmental attempts at providing politically neutral spaces for refugee and local children. We therefore build a threefold analysis focusing on the dehistoricization of political violence in the Arab Levant, the employment of the “Sport for Development” formula as a path to social cohesion, and the weak cultural literacy of INGOs in regard to contextual adult-child relations. Thereby, we argue that while INGOs tend to commodify the child as an a priori humanitarian victim, the international assistance community should rather strive to provide children with alternate avenues for political engagement in order to counter war recruitment.

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ما دور البرامج “سبل تحسين العيش” في شمال لبنان

استيلا كاربي

اكتسبت برامج سبل تحسين العيش في المنظمات غير الحكومية الإنسانية أهمية متزايدة على مدى العقود الماضية. وهذه البرامج تتضمن مختلف قطاعات المنظمات الإنسانية، بما في ذلك الحماية والأمن الغذائي والمياه والصرف الصحي والنظافة الصحية. وعلى وجه الخصوص، تغيرت استراتيجية برامج سبل العيش الإنسانية التي تستهدف اللاجئين في جميع أنحاء العالم من رعاية اللاجئين ومساعدتهم/حياتهم، إلى صيغة الاعتماد على الذات خلال الستينات والسبعينيات.
والتحدي المتمثل في ترجمة مفهوم “سبل تحسين العيش” من اللغة الإنجليزية إلى لغات أخرى جدير بالاعتبار، ولا سيما فيما يتعلق بالمصطلحات التكنوقراطية، وعمومًا تعتمد اللغات اللاتينية أيضًا على هذه المصطلحات الاجنبية في هذا المجال. وفي المقابلات التي قمت بها في شتاء 2017 مع عمال الإغاثة المحليين في مدينة حلبا في محافظة عكار (شمالي لبنان)، ترجم الموظفون عبارة “سبل تحسين العيش” إلى اللغة العربية باستخدام تعبير أوسع. وللترجمة المفاهيمية غير المناسبة المتقدمة لـ”سبل تحسين العيش” دور رئيسي في تفريغ الخصوصيات التاريخية، فهذا واضح في تصدير استراتيجيات سبل تحسين العيش من خلال البرمجة الإنسانية التي لها الغرض (المتناقض) الذي يتمثل في ضمان العيش على أساس الخصوصيات.

وفيما يتعلق بحالة عكار في شمالي لبنان، تهدف معظم برامج سبل تحسين العيش التي يجري تنفيذها حاليًا للاجئين والمضيفين المحليين إلى إنتاج أشكال مؤقتة وصغيرة الحجم للعمل، معظمها للنساء في المنازل. وبالنسبة للاجئين السوريين الذين قابلتهم في عكار في شباط وآذار 2017، فإن البرامج الإنسانية ليس لها سوى دور “إكسسوار/تزييني/تجميلي” وهامشي، فهي لا تولد أي شكل عمل مستدام، حيث تحولت التدريبات المهنية إلى أنشطة ترفيهية. وبالنسبة لهؤلاء اللاجئين، لا يبدو ذلك مفاجئًا. وهم يدركون فقدان فرص عمل في اقتصاد عكار، ويدركون سياسات لبنان الاجتماعية (وعامة هذه السياسات نفذت بحكم الأمر الواقع وغير الرسمي) التي تنظم حياتهم اليومية، ويدركون القيود القانونية التي يواجهونها كلاجئين في لبنان. فلبنان ليس من الدول الموقعة على اتفاقية جنيف لعام 1951 الخاصة باللاجئين وعلى بروتوكول عام 1967. في الوقت الحاضر، يسمح للسوريين بالعمل حصرًا في قطاعات الزراعة والبستنة والتنظيف والبناء. هذه هي القطاعات التي عمل فيها العمال النازحون السوريون تاريخيًا في جميع أنحاء لبنان.
ويعتقد اللاجئون الذين أجريت معهم المقابلات أن البرامج الإنسانية تلعب دورًا “تجميليًا”. لذلك يجب أن نفهم الخطاب الإنساني حول سبل تحسين العيش لللاجئين في لبنان، حيث أن النزوح يصبح طويل الأمد. وقال مسؤول في الأمم المتحدة قابلته إن برامج “النقد مقابل العمل” تحولت لبرامج يطلق عليها “دعم المجتمع المحلي”. ويتم ذلك في محاولة لإخفاء ما يحصل عليه اللاجئون ويستفيدون منه ويتعلمونه في المجتمعات المضيفة.
وتهدف النية الإنسانية في المقام الأول إلى خلق وتعزيز مصادر سبل العيش، بدلًا من مشاركة المستفيدين في الأنشطة الترفيهية. ومع ذلك، لا ينبغي التقليل من القيمة الاجتماعية والعاطفية الممثلة في توفير مساحات لأشكال التبادل الجماعي والتعلم.
وحتى الآن، تم تسجيل 253332 لاجئ سوري لدى المفوضية السامية للأمم المتحدة لشؤون اللاجئين في هذه المنطقة اللبنانية. على الرغم من ضخامة هذا العدد، إلا أنني أثناء زيارتي الأخيرة في عكار لاحظت أن اللاجئين أصبحوا أقل وأقل بشكل متناقص في الساحة العامة. بعد أن انتقلوا إلى لبنان منذ عام 2011، فإنهم غالبًا يكونون غير موثقين، ويشعرون بعدم قبولهم على المستوى المحلي، وبالتالي يفضلون أن يقودوا حياتهم وراء الأبواب المغلقة.
ومن ناحية أخرى، لبرامج سبل تحسين العيش نتائج إيجابية غير مباشره تتمثل في توفير تجارب جديدة للمجتمعات، حيث يكون الاختلاط ضروريًا ولا يتطلب تقديم أوراق قانونية. ومن ناحية أخرى، فإن التدريب المهني القائم على الأنشطة الصغيرة وأشكال العمل المنزلية التي تستهدف الاكتفاء الذاتي كثيرًا ما تجمد عدم المساواة في اقتصاد غير متكافئ. وعلاوة على ذلك، تهدف معظم برامج سبل العيش إلى إنتاج العمالة الذاتية والأنشطة غير الرسمية، ويتم الترويج لها أساسًا لضمان البقاء البيولوجي بدلًا من روح المبادرة والتنمية الاقتصادية، فأشكال العمل هذه تشكل تحديًا في النظام الاقتصادي الأهلي للحكومات المضيفة على نطاق صغير، ومن غير المرجح أن تثير أشكال معارضة محلية. وبالإضافة لذلك، فإن الأنشطة المنزلية في دورها لا تهدد التفكير الثقافي الذي يشكل الأساس للأدوار الجنسية في العائلة والمجتمع.
وتشير المقابلات مع اللاجئين والسكان المحليين الى أن توقعاتهم كمستفيدي برامج سبل تحسين العيش متنوعة جدًا، وتتراوح بين الرغبة أو الحاجة الى عمل والتدريب كنشاط ترفيهي. فيتعامل أكثر السكان المحليين المستفيدين من برامج سبل تحسين العيش كفرص عمل محتملة ويتعاملون مع المنظمات الإنسانية كوكالات توظيف. وعلى الرغم من أن المنظمات الإنسانية بدأت بهدف أخلاقي يتمثل في إنقاذ الأشخاص الذين تضرروا من الأزمة وتخفيف معاناتهم، فإنها حاليًا تعمل بصورة متزايدة كقوات لحل النزاعات. ولكن لا تستطيع المنظمات أن تعترف نفسها بمقدمي الوظائف رسميًا. وفي كل الأحوال أصبحت المنظمات جزءًا مهما من أسواق العمل المحلية.
فما هو الدور الحالي للمنظمات الإنسانية في ترويج لقاء بين اللبنانيين والسوريين في أماكنِ العملُ قليل فيها؟ وما يكون الهدف النهائي والإنجاز الفعلي لهذا الترويج؟ لقد ساهمت برامج المنظمات الإنسانية في لبنان تاريخيًا في تحديد الاحتياجات البشرية الجديدة والقديمة على أسس عرقية وأحيانًا دينية. إن تقديم المساعدات لللاجئين السوريين في منطقة عكار الفقيرة ليس استثناء من استقطاب السكان المحليين والمغتربين في البداية من خلال التمييز بين احتياجات اللبنانيين واحتياجات السوريين. ويبدو أن المنظمات الإنسانية اليوم تعمل مع هدف الاستقرار المحلي في معالجة التوترات الاجتماعية عن طريق تعزيز البقاء البيولوجي لللاجئين والتنمية الاقتصادية والتوظيف للسكان المحليين.
وعلى الرغم من أن المنظمات قدمت مساعدات إلى جميع السوريين في بداية الأزمة في 2011، وغالبًا بلا شروط ودون تمييز، فإن المنظمات الإنسانية استهدفت تدريجيًا اللاجئين و”المضيفين” اللبنانيين في محاولة للتعويض عن الاحتكاكات الناجمة عن تقديم سابق للخدمات المركزة على اللاجئين فقط في المناطق الفقيرة المزمنة في لبنان.
وفي هذه الأيام، برامج التنمية الاقتصادية المحلية وبرامج سبل تحسين العيش الانسانية مرتبطة إيضاحيا بالاستقرار الاجتماعي وببرامج التماسك الاجتماعي. وبدلًا من الاكتفاء الذاتي كهدف نهائي إيضاحي، فإن السياسات للمنظمات الإنسانية الحالية لسبل تحسين العيش تضع التماسك الاجتماعي والاستقرار كهدف أساسي في البرامج للسوريين واللبنانيين.
لذلك، في حين أن تركيز المنظمات الانسانية يكون على التوترات أو الاستقرار محددًا في سياقات مختلطة عرقيًا، فإن استراتيجيات الاستهداف للمنظمات الإنسانية على أسس عرقية أو دينية تتناقص في العدد، وهي ممثلة بشكل أفضل ضمن إطار المعونات التي تركز على المنطقة و أحوالها وصفاتها. وبعبارة أخرى، فإن جغرافية الضعف الاجتماعي والاحتياجات تستبدل سياسات الهوية (الإثنية والدينية) في معالجة للحاجة وتقديم المعونات. فبرامج التماسك والاستقرار الاجتماعي في المجال الإنساني لا تزال مؤسسة على أساس الهوية العرقية والدينية وفعلًا غالبًا تتعامل هذه البرامج مع المناطق المختلطة عرقيًا، وبالتالي ترغب في أن تحصل المنظمات الإنسانية على نظم إثنية وعرقية متجانسة للاستقرار، وحاليًا تركز أكثرية البرامج على التوترات في المناطق المختلطة.
بما أن أكثرية الأزمات المعاصرة طويلة الأمد، فتظهر برامج بناء اكتفاء الذات لللاجئين. وبالمثل، تستخدم المنظمات الإنسانية في حملاتها لغة “الاستدامة” عن طريق وضع المسؤولية المادية من أجل البقاء البيولوجي والنمو الاقتصادي على المستفيدين أنفسهم. وإذا ازدادت شرعية البرامج الإنسانية في عكار عن طريق التماسك والاستقرار للمجتمع “المضيف”، فإن المستفيدين من اللاجئين مدعوون أيضًا للمساعدة في الحفاظ على هذا الاستقرار المحلي.
وفي البلاد التي ليس فيها قوانين للاجئين، غالبًا تكون المنظمات الإنسانية مثقلة بالمسؤوليات التي يفترض أن تتحملها الحكومات المضيفة. لذلك، أشجّع صناعي الرأي والسياسات على النظر إلى أبعد من القيود القانونية والبنيوية لصحة اللاجئين وعافيتهم وسعادتهم، وبالعكس أشجّعهم على أن يسألوا أنفسهم كيف يشعر الأفراد عندما يتعلمون مهارات جديدة ولا سيما عندما يدركون أنهم من غير المرجح أن يتم توظيفهم في أي وقت قريب. فالإحباط الشخصي والتسليم بالمستقبل المهني قد يقدم إجابات مبسطة وغير مرضية. وحقيقة أن بعض اللاجئين يعتبرون برامج سبل تحسين العيش كأنشطة ترفيهية تفتح طرقًا جديدة لتفكير النظام الإنساني في شكله العملي وشكله المثالي اثناء أزمات طويلة الأمد.


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

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

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:

[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).


[5]Interview conducted in Halba, February 2017.

[6]The region was in fact originally part of the broader North Lebanon governorate. See:

[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:

[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:

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

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:

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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:

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