Local Community Experiences of and Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey

Project description

Over 5 million refugees have sought safety across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey from the on-going Syrian conflict, with local communities, civil society groups, established refugee communities, and faith-based organisations providing essential assistance, solidarity and support to refugees. However, little is known regarding the motivations, nature and impact of such responses to international refugee flows from conflict.

This AHRC-ESRC funded project supported through the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund, aims to improve our understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise in local responses to displacement, both for refugees from Syria and for the members of the communities that are hosting them in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Through interdisciplinary and participatory research in and with 9 local communities in the Middle East, this project fills a major evidence gap about the roles played by local communities – including those that explicitly or implicitly identify with and are motivated by faith – in supporting, and/or undermining, people affected by conflict and displacement: refugees and hosts alike.

Importantly, by examining local responses in countries that have hosted large protracted Palestinian and Iraqi refugee communities long before the start of the Syrian conflict, our project aims to disrupt the assumption that citizens are hosts and aid providers while refugees are dependent recipients of aid. Exploring the agency of refugees engaging in under-researched processes of ‘refugee-refugee humanitarianism’ is particularly significant given the increasingly protracted, and often overlapping, processes of conflict-induced displacement in the Middle East (see Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2011, 2015, 2016a, 2016b).

Working closely with local researchers throughout all stages of the project, the team will complete in-depth ethnographic research with nine local communities across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to observe how the members of these communities have experienced and responded to the arrival of refugees from Syria. Through a total of over 500 interviews and 30 participatory research workshops with local community members and refugees, the project will examine their experiences of providing, seeking, receiving and being excluded from different forms of support. The influences of gender, political opinion, ethnicity and religious identity on these processes will be a particular focus. In turn, interviews with over 100 people who work with local, national and international organisations (including UN agencies) will examine their views of local responses to refugees from Syria. This will help the team identify the extent of national and international support for local community responses for refugees.

The obligation to fit the ‘humanitarian narrative’ frequently results in the silencing of refugee experiences and the framing of refugees as suffering victims; this has long acted as a barrier to understanding refugee communities and their perceptions of diverse encounters. To challenge these assumptions, creative writing workshops with refugees and local communities will offer a critical space for participants to simultaneously document, trace and resist experiences of and responses to displacement. In addition to reflecting on their own journeys and personal encounters, participants will also explore how their stories connect – in time, style and motif – with those of others, from the present and the past. By presenting these connected stories to a wide range of audiences in the Middle East and the UK, the project aims to challenge the image of the individual suffering refugee with evidence of the creative resistance and resilience of different communities and traditions of refugees and hosts.


First name Last name Gender Rank Affiliated Institution Country
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh Female University College London United Kingdom

Bio: Elena's research focuses on the intersections between gender, generation and religion in experiences of and responses to conflict-induced displacement, with a particular regional focus on the Middle East. She has conducted extensive research in refugee camps and urban areas including in Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, France, Jordan, Lebanon, South Africa, Syria, Sweden, and the UK. Elena is the Co-Director of UCL's Migration Research Unit, and is the coordinator of the Refuge in a Moving World research network across UCL (@RefugeMvingWrld). She is currently the PI of three multi-year research projects: firstly, a 4-year AHRC-ESRC funded project, 'Local Community Experiences of and Responses to Displacement from Syria', awarded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (see www.refugeehosts.org and @RefugeeHosts); secondly, a 5-year project funded by the European Research Council, South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey (www.southernresponses.org and @SouthernResp); and thirdly, a 3-year project funded by the British Council-USA entitled 'Religion and Social Justice for Refugees'.

Her recent publications include 'The Ideal Refugees: Gender, Islam and the Sahrawi Politics of Survival' (Syracuse University Press, 2014), 'South-South Educational Migration, Humanitarianism and Development: Views from the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East,' (Routledge, 2015, paperback published in 2017) and 'The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies' (co-editor, Oxford University Press, 2014). She is also co-editor, with Patricia Daley, of the forthcoming 'International Handbook of South-South Relations' (2018).

Alastair Ager Male Queen Margaret University United Kingdom

Bio: Alastair Ager is Director of the Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and Professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. He has worked in the field of health and development for over 30 years, after training in psychology at the universities of Keele, Wales and Birmingham. He has worked as Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Malawi; Senior Research Manager for health and education research with the UK Department for International Development; and Executive Director of the Global Health Initiative and Director of the DrPH in Leadership in Global Health and Humanitarian Systems at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. He has worked as a consultant with a broad range of agencies including UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO, Save the Children, World Vision and ChildFund International.

Lyndsey Stonebridge Female United Kingdom

Bio: Lyndsey Stonebridge is Professor of Modern Literature and History at the University of East Anglia, where she directs the Humanities and Human Rights Project. Adopting a question-driven and interdisciplinary approach, Lyndsey’s research draws on the connections between literature, history, politics and law and, most recently, human rights and refugee studies. Her earlier work on psychoanalysis and modern culture focused on the effects of war and displacement on the imagination. Books in this field include The Destructive Element (1998), Reading Melanie Klein (with John Phillips, 1998), The Writing of Anxiety (2007) and British Fiction after Modernism (with Marina MacKay, 2007).

Lyndsey’s latest book, The Judicial Imagination: Writing after Nuremberg (Edinburgh, 2011, paperback and e-book 2014), took the work of Hannah Arendt as a theoretical starting point in order to think about the relation between justice and literature in the aftermath of total war and genocide. The book focused on the work of an extraordinary generation of women writers and intellectuals, including Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn, Elizabeth Bowen, Dorothy Thompson, Muriel Spark and Iris Murdoch. Writing in the false dawn of a new era of international justice and human rights, these women were drawn to the law because of its promise of justice, yet critical of its political blindness and suspicious of its moral claims.

Arendt’s important arguments about statelessness and human rights form the core of her new book Placeless People: Rights, Writing and Refugees (forthcoming with OUP, 2017). This is a transnational study of how the literature of exile gave way to a more complicated and vexed articulation of statelessness and refugeedom. In 1944 Arendt wrote: ‘Everywhere the word ‘exile’ which once had an undertone of almost sacred awe, now provokes the idea of something simultaneously suspicious and unfortunate.’ The book offers an intellectual and literary history of that transition. She is also writing a short book on Literature and Human Rights, and is the co-editor of the new Edinburgh Companion to Refugee Writing.

Anna Rowlands Female United Kingdom

Bio: Dr Anna Rowlands is a Political Theologian with a background in the social sciences as well as theology. She is Lecturer in Contemporary Catholic Theology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies in the Dept of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK. She has worked in the area of theological ethics and human migration for nearly a decade, working in particular on questions of European policy, immigration detention and narratives of the good. She is the co-author of a comparative piece on Christian and Islamic traditions of thought on migration, and has researched and written on community based responses to migration in a UK setting. She is an editor of T&T Clark Reader in Political Theology (2016) and Anglican Social Theology (2014), and the author of the forthcoming monograph Catholic Social Teaching: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury: 2017). She works with a number of UK faith-based organisations in the field of migration and development work. She has additional research interests in the work of Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil and Gillian Rose (on whom she completed her PhD research). Her interests lie at the intersection of theological metaphysics and ethics, political theory, the practice of the church and the practice of politics. She also has a long term commitment to working as a community organiser.



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