Category Archives: Practitioner Profile

Syrian Voices: Customs and Traditions in Humanitarian Crises

Monday, March 6, 2017 – As conflict wages on in Syria, nearby countries have opened their doors to millions of new people seeking refuge. In Lebanon, one in four people is a Syrian refugee. While Lebanon is the biggest host of the five million Syrian refugees globally, truly integrating their neighbors into society has proved challenging for the small country where economic strains and competition for scarce resources is ever increasing.

House of Peace (HOPe) in Syria is striving to understand and address the evolving relationships of displaced persons within refugee populations, amongst their host communities and with non-governmental organizations.

Their new report, Syrian Voices, aims to raise voices, analyze opinions and propose positive recommendations for advancing integration and social peacebuilding. HOPe conducted workshops with around 300 participants, most of whom were Syrian refugees living in Lebanon but also Palestinians and Lebanese host community members.

“The main impetus behind this paper is helping people concerned with the Syrian crisis to see things from the eyes of those who are suffering the most; to contribute in bringing people from different points of views closer by helping them overcoming their prejudices and self-evident beliefs,” said Elias Sadkni, Director of HOPe and International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance 39 alumnus.

Restrictions to integration. A major finding of the report was the ways in which government policy and NGO modus-operandi surrounding refugee response in Lebanon have changed the ways in which Syrian communities relate each other and their hosts.

Strict residency and labor laws for Syrians in Lebanon have made securing employment particularly difficult for men. Women, however, are more easily able to find work opportunities in the informal labor market and through the support of vocational trainings and services provided by organizations.

Perhaps even more disconcerting was the effect that strict work restrictions had on fueling forced marriage or labor on children in the country. In 2016, some NGOs estimated between 60 and 70 percent of refugee children are working and Human Rights Watch reported that more than 250,000 Syrian children were out of school in Lebanon.

“Harsh regulations that prevent most refugees from maintaining legal residency or working are undermining Lebanon’s generous school enrollment policies…With 70 percent of Syrian families living below the poverty line in 2015, many cannot afford school-related costs like transportation and school supplies, or rely on their children to work,” said Human Rights Watch.

The Syrian Voices report reiterated this point adding that “participants felt Humanitarian and UN efforts are not prioritizing educational establishments for Syrian refugees; in addition to this issue, the majority of educational establishments in Lebanon refuse to accept Syrians.”

Blurring cultures. Despite the challenges that come with displacement, Syrian participants also expressed that social solidarity amongst their communities remained strong in exile. This solidarity at times extended into their relationships with their host communities, and in turn caused the lines between Syrian and Lebanese cultures to blur.

“Many participants felt that adapting to Lebanese culture is causing changes in the customs and traditions of Syrian refugees. Some expressed dismay at these changes, fear their permanency, and believe they have been a source of intra-communal tension, whilst others embrace them,” said the report.

Improved humanitarian intervention. Other focus groups with NGO representatives examined the complex role NGOs play in the Syrian crisis.

Representatives voiced concerns that “their presence at times has contributed to existing tensions or created new ones”, because they failed to partake in adequate contextual and cultural analyses before implementing projects. Others noted a lack of transparency between donors and the community.

Syria Voices ultimately concludes in a list of recommendations for the humanitarian community to improve their continuing intervention, suggesting that humanitarian organizations begin to truly address the root causes of suffering amongst Syrians in Lebanon by:

  • Ensuring and advocating for equal access to adult education, vocational training and employment opportunities for Syrian adults of both genders;
  • Developing mechanisms for effective child protection from exploitation;
  • Enhancing educational opportunities for children;
  • Truly engaging with Syrian and Lebanese communities to better understand conflict
  • Improving communication methods between agencies in order to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices; and
  • Promoting more positive and less stereotypically harmful narratives about Syrian refugees in Lebanese media.

Ultimately, HOPe believes this report can be a guiding resource for the humanitarian sector, one that encourages agencies to question and improve their increasingly important response to the Syrian crisis.

Syrian Voices is a research-initiated project aimed at spreading Syrian perspectives on issues of social peace. The goal of the paper is to inform the humanitarian community, allowing stakeholders to implement recommendations and best practices to help resolve conflict in Syria and surrounding areas.

Andrew Seger, IIHA Communications Intern

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Practitioner Profile: Anthony Land, Ph.D. – IIHA Senior Fellow

Currently a Senior Fellow for the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University, Anthony (Tony) Land, Ph.D. has served as a Tutor for the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) course since its beginning in 1997. Dr. Land grew up in Borehamwood, a small town just north of London. He left school early at the age of 16 when he began to work as a laboratory assistant in the chemical industry while continuing his studies part time. In 1970 Land received his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry from Brunel University and subsequently received his Master’s degree in the areas of Chemistry and Material Science.

Following his studies, Land realized that technology was not the area to which he wanted to dedicate his life. Unsure of his next move, he decided to travel overland from Europe to India and Bangladesh, making many stops along the way. It was during this period of exploration that he had his first experience working in the humanitarian field by volunteering with church-related, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India. Leading on from this volunteering, he worked with Tearfund in Bangladesh developing the fair-trade export of handicraft items. From this job, he accepted a position with Tearfund as Field Director of ACROSS, a consortium of church-related aid organisations in, what was then, Southern Sudan.

At the time ACROSS had been subcontracted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to run refugee camps. It was this partnership that led to Land’s recruitment by the UNHCR. His work with UNHCR , mainly in field operation duties, took him to many parts of the world including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malawi.  He also spent time with UNHCR in the Balkans, being instrumental in the establishment of the Sarajevo airlift before leading their office in Sarajevo. He then moved to Geneva to work in donor relations for UNHCR during a time when they was looking for people with field experience who could understand and communicate humanitarian operations and achievements. Land continued in donor relations for five years before being posted as Director of Operations in Kosovo and Head of Office in Vladikavkaz, North Caucasus. Returning to Geneva he worked as Deputy Head of Fundraising and then went on to become the UNHCR Head of Fundraising from the European Commission in Brussels before retiring in 2006.

Land lectured on the first IDHA course in 1997 and continued his involvement whenever possible. Following his retirement from UNHCR he became more involved with IIHA and has lectured and tutored on many courses. He now serves as a Senior Fellow with the Institute.

In a recent interview Dr Land responded to the following questions

What was your greatest accomplishment?

If I look back at one moment that stretched me and was a formative moment in my life, it would certainly be my time in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. I was caught in the middle of – and living in – a besieged city, where I was desperately trying to feed 350,000 people. My only logistics routes were a tenuous airlift, supplemented with a tortuous truck supply route both of which were often interrupted by the war. All of this had to be managed through negotiations with the warring parties, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. This is where I first worked with the now IIHA Humanitarian Programs Director, Larry Hollingworth, and Larry and I split the task of getting the convoys out of Sarajevo and across Serb territory into the Bosniak enclaves. This was accomplished by my conducting the negotiations across the front lines with Larry leading the convoys. While a convoy was in progress I was on 24-hour call to respond to the many problems Larry encountered.

What was your most difficult task?

My most difficult task was the one I got the least satisfaction from. It was my position in donor relations trying to meet the bureaucratic requirements of funding from the European Commission. The work was tedious, there were constant negotiations both externally with the Commission, and internally when there were difficulties getting information from the field with the necessary level of detail.

You mention that you have been lecturing on the IDHA course since IDHA 20. IDHA 48 was just held here in New York, and you were, again, an integral part of the course. Could you share some reflections about this latest course?

Every IDHA that I have worked on has been different. Each is a different environment. There are between 20 and 50 students on each IDHA and each course forms its own group identity. During the course we assign the students to syndicates. Each syndicate also forms its own identity. Some groups struggle more than others because they do not gel as easily different personalities giving rise to different dynamics. I can’t say that one course is better than the other but IDHA 48 has a unique identity.

While teaching, it is important to keep the purpose of the course intact while taking into consideration you are addressing a diverse range of individuals. If there are 50 students and on average each of them has two years of experience, that means you already have 100 years of experience within the student body. As a result, there is often a similar amount of experience collectively amongst the student body as in the faculty. This requires flexibility in how you teach to effectively bring out the wealth of experience in the students during the lectures.

What do you think the key challenges facing the humanitarian field today?

The humanitarian field faces many challenges and the tough part of this question is to identify priorities. The first key challenge is the possibility that you can work in an environment where only about half of the money appealed for is received. For example, this year (2016) humanitarians are appealing for about 20 billion dollars, the anticipated income is about 10 billion. This leads to credibility problems when nobody seems able to show that being fifty percent underfunded is directly leading to disaster and death. This was a problem I encountered in donor relations when I asked field teams to explain the impact of being underfunded. I could very rarely get a straight answer. One example that rose in 2014 was the impact of the underfunding of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) initiative to feed Syrian refugees in refugee camps. Some have suggested that this food shortage in the camps sparked the movement of refugees across Europe. Although others dispute this claim, this may be one case where a direct impact can at least be inferred. However, where it cannot be shown that underfunding causes direct human suffering, donors may draw one of two conclusions:

  • The money was not really needed, in which case the appeals lose their credibility, and
  • A large amount of funding included in the appeal is being provided from sources which are not effectively being tracked. Hence the deficit is significantly less than reported.

The second challenge is the continued growth of big international NGOs working in the humanitarian field with expensive overheads, international salaries, travel, and accommodation costs. The time has come when we need to train people who are living in disaster-prone areas to ensure the response can be carried out locally or at least regionally. When a disaster does happen, the funds can then go to organizations that have linguistic, cultural and economic roots on the ground, greatly reducing the need for the involvement of big foreign international NGOs. It is time to look for a different way respond to disasters and I believe this transition can be an important part of the answer. Unfortunately, the international NGOs have tremendous inertia just by their sheer size and influence on the donor community. They continue to grow and speak about growth and expansion as objectives. The transition to a more localized response is going to be difficult but it is the way ahead for the next 20 years.

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