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A Half Full Beirut

SamiaKhan15 March 2019

One person is forcibly displaced every two seconds in the world and over twenty-five million people are now refugees worldwide as result of conflict.[1] They journey seeking settlement in a place where they can secure livable circumstances.

Humanitarian literature on refugees is clear to distinguish the types of protection at play; UNHCR for example determines that the three ways to protect a refugee is to rehabilitate, repatriate or resettle.[2] A majority of refugees in the Arab world who have fled failed states and armed conflicts have resettled in neighbouring countries and still continue to do so.[3] Throughout the past 70 years, Palestinian refugees have been through several phases of vulnerability and displacement, affected by their immedeate struggles, but also by a shifting set of tensions: deterritorialisation, urban pressures and geo-politics. Arab host countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and ‘temporary’[4] camps set along the West bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza strip[5] lack the proper infrastructure and regulatory frameworks to integrate refugees which complicates resettlement processes. With the arrival of refugees as a result of the Syrian crisis of 2011[6] existing refugee camps and displaced communities in host countries such as Lebanon started to overflow by a population of over another million[7], and reached a crisis point that needed immediate attention.

Recent events show how political unrest impact the plight of refugees. Lebanon was without a stable government for nearly two and a half years before starting to form cabinet structure very recently.[8] This political unrest suspends efforts for urban planning which tackles the influx of refugees. The economic infrastucture is still recovering from the conflicts the country witnessed, particularly the 1975 – 1990 civil war and the armed conflict of 2006 with Israel. Though efforts were made for public and social reconstruction, economic growth was insufficient and large areas were bought by private sector for real estate development to help the Lebanese economy thrive.[9]

The extended political crisis resulted in an eminent economic downfall. Tax reforms, suspension of bank loans and Lebanon’s debt of $81 billion being the third largest in the world, soared real estate prices.[10] According to a recent conversation with a local activist, Elza Seferian, “ the ‘unliveability’ of Beirut is like a Pandora’s box for me. The price of renting a room in Beirut is as costly as Paris. Affordable housing is scarce.”.

With refugees from neighbouring countries moving in at an exponential pace, existing refugee settlements such as those for example in Sabra, Shatila and Akkar are overpopulated and in dismal living conditions.[11] The lack of space in temporal arrangements pushes refugees to the capital to rent spaces in tower buildings, that were abandoned by private sector initiatives. ‘A half full Beirut’ is a notion that is derived from the complex situation in Beirut where private sector developers have run out of money and are unable to complete real estate projects[12] leaving Beirut’s skyline half empty. However, these abandoned spaces have been vacant on the formal market for years, yet are rented out to refugees albeit on extortionate rates[13], hence are more often than not ‘half full’.

 

Refugee laundry seen hanging outside of abandoned building project
half inhabited by refugees in Hamra district, Beirut
Photo courtesy: Elza Seferian, 2017

 

Beirut is lacking in affordable housing for middle-income and this historical issue for locals has now extended and become part of the refugee experience.[14] This shows a fracture in the market. With the relocation of refugees from camps to capital, they become an active part of the urban population and drivers of the formal and informal real estate market.

State led initiatives to mitigate refugee housing issues has been quite limited in Lebanon. It is one of the countries that has not signed the 1951 International Convention for Refugees which was established in by UNHCR. The convention’s core principle “asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom…”.[15] The civil society, though unstructured, is the major agency of support for refugees alongside non governmental organizations.[16] A detailed mapping of Civil Society Organizations and their scope in Lebanon can be found here: https://eeas.europa.eu/archives/delegations/lebanon/documents/news/20150416_2_en.pdf

Refugees rely on housing arrangements made by CSOs and NGOs such as ACTED[17], URDA[18], ANERA[19], DRC[20] and more.[21] They are ready to take on any opportunity for housing they can secure. Without formal paperwork, documentation or legal rights, refugees become susceptible to exploitation. The real estate black market thrives on premium rental rates, making refugees susceptible to forced evictions and other forms of abuse that pose no repercussions on the landlords.[22]

Though private sector developments are abandoned, they stand on land bought by private companies from the government, stripping the government from authority over majority of Beirut’s land or the real estate projects. In light of these conditions, the following conclusions can be considered:

  • Government can strenghten legal frameworks and negotiate alternative uses for abandoned spaces to provide more liveable urban solutions to locals and refugees
  • Since CSOs and NGOs possess the role of primary support to refugees and low income households with housing, agency can be established between the private sector and civil society to liaise with discontinued developments and create affordable housing schemes
  • Refugee integration schemes can be enhanced by CSOs and NGOs by creating a rigid framework of lease documentation to closely monitor the resettlement process

There is a pressing need for housing in Beirut yet an abundance of uninhabited spaces. Perhaps if the underlying opportunity within these spaces was recognized and organized, a solution could arise for the housing crisis that affects millions.


Samia Khan
is a graduate of the MSc Building and Urban Design program at the DPU


Additional Resources:

http://portal.unesco.org/en/files/27465/11162415081UNDP_NGO1.pdf/UNDP%2BNGO1.pdf

https://openmigration.org/en/analyses/syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-still-reluctant-to-go-home/

https://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/publications/Documents/policy_memos/2017-2018/20180318_you_can_stay_in_beirut.pdf

https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/publication/8889.pdf

https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/45502

http://aub.edu.lb.libguides.com/c.php?g=276479&p=1843038

http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@arabstates/@ro-beirut/documents/genericdocument/wcms_240130.pdf

http://blog.blominvestbank.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/In-Depth-Review-of-the-Lebanese-Real-Estate-Sector-in-2015.pdf

http://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/Documents/op_ed/20190208_sjc_op_ed.pdf

http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/2520

http://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20Lebanon%20Operational%20Update%20-%20January%20-%20June%202018.pdf

https://www.alnap.org/system/files/content/resource/files/main/20150907-noplacetostay.pdf

http://www.undp.org.lb/communication/publications/downloads/intgov_en.pdf

https://www.daleel-madani.org/civil-society-directory/cooperative-housing-foundation

 

 

 

[1] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

[2] https://www.unhcr.org/50a4c17f9.pdf

[3] https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/03/29/refugees-and-displacement-in-middle-east-pub-68479

[4] Refugee camps are often thought of as a temporary solution under the assumption that refugees will one day return to their home countries. These camps have now evolved to urban slums as the influx in the Middle East increases.

https://www.ft.com/content/b27283ce-ed29-11e8-8180-9cf212677a57

https://unhabitat.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/From-Refugee-Camps-to-Urban-Slums.pdf

[5] https://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

[6] https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War

[7]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321779706_Syrian_Refugees_in_Palestinian_Refugee_Camps_and_Informal_Settlements_in_Beirut_Lebanon

[8] https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2018/12/21/why-lebanon-struggles-to-form-governments

[9] http://www.lb.undp.org/content/dam/lebanon/docs/Operations/LegalFramework/UNDP%20Lebanon%20PS%20Strategy.pdf

[10] https://www.apnews.com/d7faca02c8024f8da57ffa6987500e2d

[11] https://www.thenational.ae/world/shatila-s-population-unknown-as-palestinian-refugee-camp-bursts-at-seams-1.178993

[12] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-02/beirut-s-ghost-apartments-are-haunting-the-economy

[13] https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/the-refugee-effect-on-lebanese-rent­

[14] http://www.executive-magazine.com/opinion/comment/charting-a-path

[15] https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10

[16] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/pubs/BeyondIslamists-Lebanon-4.pdf

[17] https://www.acted.org/en/countries/lebanon/

[18] http://urda.org.lb/en/details.aspx?ID=1718

[19] https://www.anera.org/where-we-work/lebanon/

[20] https://drc.ngo/where-we-work/middle-east/lebanon

[21] http://joannachoukeir.com/List-of-NGOs-in-Lebanon#.XHKhsZMzaRs

[22] http://www.executive-magazine.com/business-finance/real-estate/renting-on-lebanons-black-market

The politics of urban reconstruction in Syria

EdwarHanna2 July 2018

In April 2018 the Syrian government modified and extended an earlier Damascus-only urban reconstruction decree (Decree 66), to now be applied nationwide in Syria. This new law (Law 10) allows the Syrian government to award contracts for reconstruction to national and international investors, and to compensate citizens in the form of shares in regulatory zones.

The earlier Decree 66 demonstrated the politicization of urban renewal policies. It had named two informal zones in southwest Damascus to be reconstructed following the new 2012 master plan of the city; it also increased the percentage of informal settlements on the list to be demolished from 40% to 60%. However, these were not areas that were devastated by conflict, the conflict was in the redevelopment. Unlike most Syrian cities, Damascus, has not been under urban destruction due to the ongoing armed conflict. Yet, it has experienced different manifestations of urban contestation. This contestation has been clearly manifested by the so called ‘post-conflict reconstruction’ which has started – despite its name – during the conflict in 2012 and caused exclusion and eviction to many residents.

The history of Degree 66 is highly pertinent to the present context of Law 10, as it is the same strategy being manifest, but now on an even larger and more detrimental scale.  In 2018 the Syrian government proposes through Law 10 to do what was done in the one Damascus zone five years earlier on a national scale; removing people from their homes, inadequately compensating people, disposing of property rights, advancing the agenda of external ‘developers’ and in many other ways leveraging urban reconstruction as another weapon of conflict.

Figure 1: the new master plan of Damascus 2012

 

What happened before and what does this tell us about what is going to happen now?

  • Government positioning of such reconstruction as progress: The government worked tirelessly on circulating decree 66 through media channels, radio, and the national newsletter as the pilot project towards modern post-conflict Syria. As the Damascus Governor noted at the time “Three main principles have been fundamentally taken into account in this project. These are; Social Justice; The high performance of implementation; and financial returns for Damascus governorate which allow sustaining services provision and initiating new projects”.
  • The areas for redevelopment were largely areas of opposition to the government, hence reconstruction and removal of people can be seen as politicized: The decision of implementation took place only in the first Zone that hosted frequent demonstrations between 2012 and 2013. Moreover, this zone is very close to the most international organizations, embassies, ministries, and one of the presidential palaces. This gives the quarter a strategic standing in Damascus.
  • Many informal residents did not receive equitable compensation and rehousing: The Decree 66 has dealt with the entire zone as a collective ownership among its residents and despite the many different types of property’s ownership and the specific context of informal unites, people got rehousing in the yet to be built compensation units based on their shares. Therefore, many informal residents who used to live in small informal houses were not able to get the smallest apartment in the compensation units due to the variation of scale.
  • Many residents were driven from their homes: Some residents had their properties seized due to their political stance they had, and others due to lack of equitable shares. As part of the whole ‘reconstruction’ implementation many residents were forcibly evicted from their homes with their possessions. Sometimes not even with this dignity. As one soldier expresses during one of the demolitions, “They were among the lucky ones. Not everyone is being allowed in to take their possessions”.

Figure 2. The first and the second implementation phases of reconstruction defined by the Decree.NO. 66

In April 2018, while the Degree 66 project is still under construction, the Syrian government modified the Decree 66 to be applied nationwide in Syria, whether formal or informal areas and issued Law 10.  So now citizens – whether in the country or outside the country – are faced with a situation of not knowing what is the basis of their property rights. There is an enormous amount of confusion and significant potential problems; these include the challenge of lack of property documentation, lack of access for registration of ownership and many other challenges that do not even begin to touch on the political scenarios.

  • Problem I – the burden of proof for refugees as well as IDPs: Law 10 has specific procedures to claim ownership of the property which is exclusionary and not feasible to more than 6 million refugees living abroad. Refugees who fled the country either lost their ownership documents or they do not have access to the embassies to certify the needed proofs. Which put them under the threat of losing their rights since the Law 10 seizes properties for those who are unable to prove their rights within specific period of time. Germany as the country with the lion’s share of refugee in Europe recently expressed concern about this context;  ‘’Law 10 is designed to expropriate refugees,” a senior German government official
  • Problem II – the danger to heritage and culture: Law 10 neglects all the social and cultural aspects that are integral to the Syrian cities by stating the targeted area of reconstruction depends only on the economic turnovers of the projects in this area. It might turn Syrian cities into new Solidere, the Beirut downtown project that ended up empty of people during the daytime because people don’t feel it belongs to their city.
  • Problems III – lack of capacity on Local Administration levels: on a very practical level the new Law places a significant administrative burden on local government at a time of continuing crisis, and there is a strong concern that this will make it even more of a crisis. The Law says citizens are to be compensated in the form of shares in regulatory zones – but only where such regulatory zones are defined following a feasibility study of the area provided by the local administration unit and approved by the Ministry of Local Administration. This law centralises all decisions in the hand of local administration units, which don’t have the capacities, experiences or resources for these large-scale projects.

Bearing all this in mind and learning from the recent past in Syrian urban politics it is clear that Law 10 simply cannot be ignored as just an internal Syrian minor urban issue. It is an international issue. Thus, international organisations, government officials in the EU and elsewhere, Syrian lawyers and urbanists amongst others, have recently expressed their concerns against this legislation and successfully managed to get the issue onto the U.N. Security Council’s agenda to follow up.

Figure 3. The options citizens have according to law 10

As part of this movement ‘Syrbanism’ – which is a Syrian-led platform focuses on investigating the political, social and economic aspects of the urban discourses in Syria – has initiated an awareness-raising campaign about the Law. “Syrbanism aims at simplifying the technical language of urban policies to become understandable for all non-expert citizens”, notes Nour Harastani, Syrbanism co-Founder, “It starts by raising awareness in order to mobilise knowledge-based actions’’. The organisation has created two short informational videos, one in English and one in Arabic, to clearly and simply present the facts about the Law 10 process. The videos explain in detail the procedures and options citizens need to know about their property rights. The videos can be accessed via Youtube and the Syrbanism site. They are designed to provide information and as such are for use by all Syrians; so that everyone understands the situation and therefore can advance better solutions. The videos have been shared not only by refugees and opponents, but also by supporters to the government – because they are about potentially unworkable and damaging legal processes that are not just untenable on many local levels but also detrimental to most ordinary people.  It is hoped that by all parties understanding the negative impacts of this law, that it can be reconsidered.

Syrbanism aims to continue its awareness-raising work now in the next steps to reach out to more Syria-related organisations to bolder mobilisation and impact on advocacy within the EU to make an effective pressure on the Syrian government. Syrbanism believes that any reconstruction agenda, besides being negotiable and accountable, should consider the rebuilding ‘lives’ other that just ‘houses’. Otherwise, the Syrian conflict would definitely be shifted to another, more complex and longer-term one.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Edwar Hanna is a recent graduate of the MSc In Building and Urban Design in Development. Trained as architect, he now works in international development and is co-Founder of the Syrbanism initiative.

Women’s Political Participation in Somaliland

LilianSchofield20 February 2017

Reflections from the ‘Women’s Political Participation in Somaliland’ event that took place on the 2nd of February 2017 and was presented by the UCL Development Planning Unit DPU, Somaliland Mission to the UK and Somaliland Focus (UK).

IMAG2125

Picture: from left Amina-Bahja Ekman, Michael Walls, Nafisat Yusuf Mohammed, Hodan Hassan Elmi, Malou Schueller and James Firebrace

The concept of women’s exclusion from political participation is commonplace throughout the world. The principles of inclusion and equality occupies a central place in the discourse of political participation. According to the 2011 UN General Assembly resolution on women’s political participation, women all over the world continue to be largely marginalised from participating in politics and face a myriad of challenges and barriers in doing so. For women in many African countries, these challenges are made up of a complex set of factors and often embedded in local tradition, culture and religion. Women in Somaliland are not excluded from some of these challenges and barriers.

Somaliland is a self-declared independent republic, and politics, as it is practiced there, is deeply embedded in local history and culture.  The social and political structure is composed of clans, sub-clans, lineage and blood groups (Ahmed and Green, 1999). Somali tradition is strongly egalitarian and both men and women play active roles in their society. Women are not restricted from being vocal or following a career path. In fact, in recent years, roles have so changed that women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners. Somali women have always played significant roles, and are often involved in mediation during conflict. Going back in the history of Somaliland, especially during the period of conflict, women played important roles in peace and reconstruction, and many took on ancillary duties of running public offices. Despite Somali women’s widely acknowledged economic and social contributions, politics remains patriarchal; dominated by men at the expense and exclusion of women from crucial decision-making processes (Walls, 2013, Ingiriis and Hoehne, 2013).

Executive Director of NAGAAD, Nafisat Yusuf Mohammed, in her presentation, highlighted that Somali women face economic, social, financial and cultural challenges that hinder their political participation in Somaliland. In highlighting some of the challenges Somali women face in political participation, Nafisat mentioned that some of these barriers are embedded in socio-cultural practices and many times, is manifested in several ways which lead to political party discrimination and lack of support from family. One of the main issues highlighted in the presentation was the patriarchal system that discourages women from participating in politics. As political parties are rooted in the clan system, which is male dominated, women have limited space to run for positions.  One of the noteworthy narratives from the presentation was the significant role that the clans and lineage structures play in women’s participation. For instance, during elections, some women tend to vote for their male clan members.

IMAG2126_1

Nafisat also touched on the topic of the prevalence of female genital mutilation FGM within women aged 15-49 and access to Justice. She however mentioned some positive moves as well. For the first time, there are four female ministers in Somaliland and there is also an ongoing discussion between NAGAAD and parliament over the quota agenda point. There is also a continued long-term advocacy programme that aims to address all the challenges such as establishing and implementing a quota for female representation in parliament.

Following on from Nafisat’s presentation, Hodan Hassan Elmi, Head of Governance, Advocacy and Communication at CARE International in Somalia/Somaliland provided some background information about what CARE International does in Somaliland and how they work with NAGAAD. She stated that CARE International works very closely with local organisations such as NAGAAD, and is also engaged in capacity building. She mentioned that some of the barriers that women in Somaliland face also have to do with lack of capacity and funding. She mentioned that there are challenges for young Somali women to participate in politics, which is often dominated by older women. She also encouraged the diaspora community to engage with grassroot organisations. Hodan stated that there is an opportunity for young Somali women and everyone interested in being part of the movement to get involved. Further, she mentioned that there are different avenues to engage in, such as new social media platforms, which present powerful tools in this so-called ‘information age’.

Dr Michael Walls, Malou Schueller & Amina-Bahja Ekman presented preliminary findings from their ESRC-funded project ‘Political Settlement in Somaliland: A gendered perspective’.  In their presentation, the issue of ‘clanism’ as well as how it is seen in the community was highlighted. It was apparent from the presentation that clanism and patriarchy play a major role in Somali politics. From their findings, some respondents believe that ‘clanism’ is a bad thing and is on the rise. Some respondents also believe that ‘clanism’ is getting stronger and some even suggested going back to tradition. Findings also highlighted the degree of polarization in responses. Responses also highlighted a fear of political and cultural vicissitudes. This was demonstrated in some of the responses in which some respondents felt that women’s engagement in politics is a Western phenomenon/agenda and would rather prefer women’s roles as ascribed by Islamic sharia. Some respondents believe that women should not be politically active at all. However, there were some agreement all respondents both male and female, young and old, that women cannot stand for some positions such as for the presidency, Imam and as a judge.

IMAG2133_1

From the presentation, it was evident that clan and religion overlap and people’s perceptions are diverse on gender identity and roles.  It was also mentioned that culture and religion strongly influence gender identities and used as justifications to define what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. It was further mentioned that responsibilities have changed for both men and women, and although women have more responsibilities, they are not seen as capable to participate in politics. The presentation provided the context to explore and question what in the political settlement makes it difficult for progress to take place. Some positives were also highlighted especially progress in the area of some policies which looks fine on paper and constitution but never implemented. Some of the suggested ways forward included the following:

  • Counter act this idea that this is a Western agenda.
  • Donors need to think about their own agendas and how they promote their selves.
  • Strengthening women’s rights and organisations
  • Women’s needs at the local level needs to be addressed
  • Engaging men

The last segment of the presentation was from James Firebrace who gave his presentation on the drought crisis in Eastern Somaliland and shared his key findings with the audience. He stated that in 2016, Deyr rain fell throughout Eastern Somaliland and was followed by 3 years of erratic/poor rain fall. This was followed by large-scale loss of livestock, increasing malnutrition; problems related to poor and insufficient water, vulnerable groups – pregnant women, displaced people. Some areas of the east received limited rainfall during the Deyr rainy season.  James stated that some responses to this disaster have come in the way of fundraising and contributions from the diaspora community. However, he stated that there is the need for large agencies to get engaged and also bringing the stranded population back home.

The session ended with a vibrant discussion around progressive alliance for change, dealing with the drought crisis, discussant around the social, political, economic and cultural barriers that women face and ways all those interested in the region including the young and the diaspora community could get involved.

 

 

References

Ahmed, I.I., and Green, H. R. (1999) The heritage of war and state collapse in Somalia and Somaliland: local-level effects, external interventions and reconstruction. Third World Quarterly, 20(1), pp.113-127.

Bradbury, M.,  Abokor, A.Y. & Yusuf, H.A. (2003) Somaliland: choosing politics over violence. Review of African Political Economy. Volume 30, Issue 97

Ingiriis, M.H. and Hoehne, M.V., (2013) The impact of civil war and state collapse on the roles of Somali women: a blessing in disguise. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 7(2), pp.314-333.

UN Women – Women’s leadership and political participation http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation (Accessed 12/02/2017).

Walls, M. (2013) Women’s political participation in Somaliland. In: Journeys from exclusion to inclusion: Marginalised women’s successes in overcoming political exclusion. (164 – 197). International IDEA: Stockholm, Sweden. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1417498/ (Accessed on the 09/02/2017).

 

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/jan/27/somaliland-clan-loyalty-women-political-prospects (accessed 05/02/2017)


Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She has over five years experience working in Higher Education Institutions in the UK as well as experience in the development field having worked with development consultancies and NGOs in Nigeria. Lilian Schofield has a PhD in Construction and Property Management and investigated the role of stakeholders in housing development projects in poor communities in Nigeria.