Southern Responses to Displacement: Background and introduction to our mini blog series.

Northern-led responses to displacement from Syria have been complemented and at times challenged by responses developed by actors from the global South.   In this introduction to our mini blog series Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh gives an overview of the background to the Southern Responses to Displacement project and the approaches we are using to better understand the motivations, nature and impacts of Southern-led initiatives to displacement from Syria.

This blog was posted on the 5th of April, 2018.

Southern Responses to Displacement:  Background and introduction to our mini blog series.

By Prof.  Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Southern Responses to Displacement project. 

Since 2011, aid programmes have been implemented in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey by diverse humanitarian agencies and donor states to assist over 5 million refugees from Syria. While many programmes have been designed and led by states and organisations from the global North, these Northern-led programmes have also been complemented, and at times challenged, by responses developed by actors from the global South. These include the host states of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, a range of ‘non-traditional’ donors including Gulf states and the Arab League, and diverse state and non-state actors from around the world. In our first Southern Responses to Displacement mini blog series we set out some of the ways in which actors from the global South have responded to displacement around the world, outlining some of the approaches that underpin our new research project. You can read the pieces here and more about our project aims and background here.

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Commentators have long argued that civil society groups are amongst the most significant actors supporting refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – these initiatives have included Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish citizens providing food and shelter to refugees; local faith-based organizations delivering aid and providing spiritual support to refugees in Jordan (el-Nakib and Ager 2013); and protracted Palestinian refugees offering support to ‘new’ refugees seeking sanctuary in Lebanon (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, 2015).

Our new ERC-funded Southern Responses to Displacement project aims to explore why, how and with what effect a wide range of Southern-led responses have been implemented to support refugees from Syria.

To better understand the motivations, nature and impacts of Southern-led initiatives to displacement from Syria, this project develops a multi-perspectival approach which is framed around the participatory co-production of knowledge with refugees, local communities, civil society groups, local, national and international secular and faith-based organisations, and UN agencies.

While it aims to critically analyse these different actors’ experiences and evaluations of the nature and impacts of Southern-led initiatives on different scales, however, the project purposefully aims to centralise refugees’ own experiences of and perspectives on these Southern-led initiatives. Indeed, by placing refugees’ conceptualisations at the forefront, the project aims to shed a unique light on refugees’ understandings of humanitarianism, and the extent to which people affected by conflict themselves consider that diverse Southern-led responses to conflict-induced displacement can or should be conceptualised as ‘humanitarian’ programmes.

In so doing, the project aims to make a key contribution to debates regarding the desirability and/or tensions of ‘alternative’ forms of humanitarianism, debates which have, until now, been monopolised by Northern academic and policy perspectives (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2015/2017).

The Southern Responses project builds upon my long-standing research into ‘South-South humanitarianism’ – ie. see my book, South-South Educational Migration, Humanitarianism and Development: Views from the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East (Routledge, 2015, 2017) – to examine how responses to Syrian refugees have been developed and implemented by diverse states from across the global South (ie from Algeria to Cuba to Malaysia), regional organisations (such as the African Union and the Arab League), transnational civil society networks (including faith-based networks), and local community members and established refugee groups themselves.

In addition to being interested in the different discourses and ideological frameworks that are used to justify certain responses (ie. ‘internationalism and solidarity‘, ‘Pan-Arabism‘, ‘faith-based humanitarianism‘, and ‘refugee-refugee humanitarianism‘), I am particularly interested in exploring how different groups of refugees themselves conceptualise, negotiate and resist diverse responses that are ostensibly developed ‘on their behalf’. This includes interrogating what, if anything, is particular about responses developed ‘by’ and ‘from ‘the global South’ (itself a construct the project will be examining critically), and the extent to which refugees from Syria and established refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey conceptualise these responses ‘as’ humanitarian in nature.

The following blog posts focus on internationalism and solidarity, faith based humanitarianism, refugee-refugee humanitarianimsm and Pan-Arabism.

Internationalism and solidarity – How does ‘solidarity based’ humanitarianism influence Southern led responses to displacement? In the first of our introductory mini blog series Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh presents a brief reflection on the history of internationalism and solidarity based initiatives.

Faith based humanitarianism –  Our second introductory mini blog provides a brief overview of how local faith communities are often the first responders to communities affected by conflict and displacement.

Refugee-refugee humanitarianism –  First responders in contexts of displacement are themselves often refugees. Our third introductory mini blog examines how a focus on refugee-refugee humanitarianism requires us to recognise and meaningfully engage with the agency of displaced populations.

Pan-Arabism – Our fourth and final introductory mini blog by Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh discusses how Pan-Arabist approaches to displacement – while often contested – can present an alternative to dominant discourse that situate Northern humanitarian providers as saviours of displaced Southern populations.

Featured photo: An afternoon stroll through the camp market in Baddawi, N. Lebanon (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, 2017

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