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Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis – Lessons to be learnt

LilianSchofield2 December 2016

The debate and discourse surrounding migration and the current refugee crisis is one that can be contentious and to a certain extent emotive bringing about polarised stands amongst different parties. The surge of refugees to the UK and other European countries in the past few years has been a major issue to politicians and consequently, been in the foreground of policy makers as well as a topic of great concern among its citizens.  So serious is this issue that it has been regarded as a major emergency and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel stated that ‘the issue of asylum could be the next major European project’ (Berry et al 2016). A statement made in response to the high numbers of refugees arriving in the European Union escaping the wars in Syria and Iraq.

 

Dr. Nasser Yassin’s presentation on ‘Informal Institutions Shaping Refugee’s Cities – Lessons from Lebanon’ drew in an audience from several walks of life. The venue was filled to capacity and the discussions were intellectual, challenging and passionate as expected. His research presented a great avenue to understand and appreciate how Lebanon, a country with its own problems has coped with the huge influx of Syrian refugees.

 

41_NASSER_poster

 

Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis

Lebanon, a small country with a population of about four million has taken in a large number of Syrian refugees (Loveless, 2013). Data and sources gleaned from reports and literature show that about 250,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011 (Dionigi, 2016). It is purported in literature that since the start of the war, over three million Syrians have fled their country and over 1.1 million fled to Lebanon (Barnard 2015). Dionigi (2016) attributes the choice of Lebanon to two main reasons. 1. The geographic proximity. 2. Language and historical relations.

According to the UNHCR report, there are about 930,000 refugees that are registered or waiting to be registered. In addition to the Syrian numbers is also an influx of Palestinian refugees (Save the Children 2014 report). Some of the refugees stay in poor areas of Lebanon with limited infrastructure. At this juncture, it is important to note and understand that Lebanon has its own challenges such as a weak and fragile political state and has experienced the absence of a central government for some time. For a country that is characterised by weak state capacity, economic and regional inequalities, social and sectarian schism and inadequate infrastructures that have not been upgraded for decades, Lebanon’s role in absorbing the large number of refugees is commendable (Dahi, 2014).

 

 

Lebanon refugees distribution - Source: UNHCR Lebanon

Lebanon refugees distribution – Source: UNHCR Lebanon

 

In Dr. Nasser Yassin’s presentation, he highlighted three main ways that Lebanon was able to cope with the crisis.

  1. History: Lebanon has had a history of accepting refugees going back to 1860 with the acceptance of Christian refugees brought to Beirut.
  2. Social geography: Refugees move to places where they have social networks and places they know.
  3. Political economy: 70.5% of Syrian refugees and 27% of Lebanese live below the poverty line. Syrian refugees engage in manual labour doing basic jobs. 95% of Syrians work in the informal economy allowing them to work and earn a living. Hence, there is a rise of micro enterprises started by Syrians, which is mostly informal.

 

Although Lebanon has done a commendable job in absorbing the large number of refugees, given its fragile and weak state, financial and economic challenges and limited resources, there are some areas of contestation especially in the area of providing legality to the refugees, access to basic amenities – health and education and informality. For example, in January 2015, Lebanon announced a restricted 6-month visa for displaced Syrians. The lack of  legal papers meant that Syrian refugees could not have access to basic amenities and social services – meaning that access to education, health facilities and other amenities were often a challenge as either inaccessible or there was a lot of hurdles to cross to get access to these basic needs (Balsari et al, 2015).

 

From the presentation, it was clear that Lebanon plans to return some of the refugees back to Syria after the war. According to Dr. Yassin, one reason for this is linked to the findings of an interview conducted with Syrian refugees in which they were asked to pick anywhere in the world they wanted to settle in and about 40% of those interviewed stated that they wanted to return home after the war. Hence, Dr. Yassin stated that the main focus for Lebanon is finding a way to end the war so that these refugees can go back home.

Dr Yassin

In addition to the preceding point is the nuanced debate on being honest about the effects of absorbing huge numbers of refugees and reaching a tipping point whereby the country could not cope with the large numbers given its limited resources and already existing weak infrastructures.  According to data presented there are about 100,000 Syrian newborns, 98% have not been registered, 80% have no legal papers, 61 of under 18 are out of work. With inadequate infrastructure and amenities, Lebanon may not be able to cope.

 

Is informality a bad thing?

The presentation also opened up an avenue to debate on informality and its legality – ‘is informality all-together a negative thing’? Although this question leads to a whole new and separate debate and open to moot point, it is, however, important to highlight on what is meant by informality. Informal institution is often referred to in literature as the ‘unwritten rule’ guiding informal social networks, capital, family and mutual help. In many developing countries where there is a weak state, unwritten rules are the order of the day (Bratton, 2007).  Understanding how the Syrian refugees are able to cope in Lebanon entails understanding the role of informal institutions – how informal institutions help in meeting the needs of many where formal institutions are weak, absent or challenging. Unfortunately, whilst informal institutions can provide some form of manageable living to refugees, it has its disadvantages and hence why the audience focused on the debate regarding its legality.  However, Dr Yassin argued that there is a need to be open minded on issues such as the role of informality.

 

Some reflections and conclusions

 

The debate was concluded on the grounds that there is a need to create a paradigm shift to not totally view informality as a negative phenomenon especially within the context of developing countries – understanding that many households in developing countries function within informal institutions.

 

There is also a need to be cautious about our criticisms of the workings of countries that we are not all too well familiar with their workings as well as being cautious in our generalisations. There is a need to look at things through different lenses and not assume or follow the hegemonic rhetoric of a particular or familiar view that we are used to.

 

The question of applying theory to practice needs to be realistic and the complication and complex nature of doing this not taken for granted.  As future practitioners, there is a need to be open minded as well as understand the thinking of a policy maker.

 

Our ontological perspectives and positionality do play an important role in our arguments and assumptions. Hence, it is important to view arguments from different ontological and epistemological perspectives as well as understand the role of the researcher and how research can influence policy change and public knowledge.

You can hear the lecture in the audio podcast here:

 

References

 

Balsari, S., Abisaab, J., Hamill, K. and Leaning, J. (2015) Syrian refugee crisis: when aid is not enough. The Lancet, 385(9972), pp.942-943).

Barnard, A. (2015) As Refugee Tide Swells, Lebanon Plans a Visa Requirement for Syrians. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/03/world/as-refugee-tide-swells-lebanon-plans-a-visa-requirement-for-syrians.html?_r=1. Accessed 28/11/16.

Berry, M., Garcia-Blanco, I. and Moore, K. (2016) Press coverage of the refugee and migrant crisis in the EU: a content analysis of five European countries.

Bratton, M., (2007) Formal versus informal institutions in Africa. Journal of Democracy, 18(3), pp.96-110.

Dahi, O. (2014) The refugee crisis in Lebanon and Jordan: the need for economic development spending. Forced Migration Review, (47), p.11.).

Dionigi, F. (2016) The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: State Fragility and Social Resilience. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/65565/1/Dionigi_Syrian_Refugees%20in%20Lebanon_Author_2016.pdf. LSE Middle East Centre Paper Series. Accessed 29/11/2016.

Loveless, J., 2013. Crisis in Lebanon: camps for Syrian refugees?. Forced Migration Review, (43), p.66.

UNHCR http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php.

Save the Children (2014) Save the Children’s Humanitarian response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: Overview. https://lebanon.savethechildren.net/sites/lebanon.savethechildren.net/files/Lebanon%20Context%20and%20Programme%20Overview%20February%202014.pdf  [Accessed on the 29/11/2016].


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.

 

Industrial development and business-civic leadership in Nigeria

Naji PMakarem5 July 2016

Why is unemployment and poverty rising in Nigeria, despite over a decade of robust economic growth? According to new research from, Naji P. Makarem, the organized private sector (OPS) has the opportunity to leverage its clout and political influence for urban governance. To do so however, it must strengthen its urban organizational capacity and shift its political attention beyond pure-efficiency to broader conceptions of functional urban agglomerations. A failure to do so risks locking Nigeria into a ‘low-productivity trap’, long after it has overcome its chronic ‘efficiency-crisis’.

 

Since its independence in 1960 Nigeria has been struggling to industrialize and diversify its economy away from low-productivity agricultural employment and dependence on Oil & Gas export revenues.  It has adopted numerous government strategies from import substitution to market liberalization; yet the economy continues to be highly dependent on oil reserves and imports of food and consumer goods from abroad.

 

It is estimated that 70% of households are currently living on less than $2 a day and a similar proportion is employed in the informal economy. Impressive GDP growth and considerable diversification into new sectors such as ICT, Real Estate and Professional, Scientific and Technical services over the past decade have failed to translate into sufficient employment generation, with unemployment rising significantly over the period to well above 20 percent according to government figures.

 

Figure 3 Unemployment in Nigeria, 1999-2010 Source: NBS data.

Figure 3 Unemployment in Nigeria, 1999-2010
Source: NBS data.

 

Jobless growth over the past decade can be attributed to two aspects of Nigeria’s industrial structure: About a third of the growth in output since 1990 has been driven by Oil & Gas, ICT and Real Estate, which together employ a mere 1.4% of formal sector workers. These are highly productive sectors with considerable impact on employment within the cities where they are concentrated, such as Lagos, but they do not generate sufficient employment to absorb Nigeria’s growing labour market.

 

Figure 6 Contribution to Real GDP Growth 1990-2010 Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

Figure 6 Contribution to Real GDP Growth 1990-2010
Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

 

On the other hand, manufacturing, which suffers from low productivity even compared to countries within the same development club, such as Kenya, India and South Africa, has contributed a mere 5% to GDP growth since 1990. Today Nigerians import the vast majority of the products they consume. They also import the machinery and high value inputs of the few products which they do produce, such as foam, steel pipes and pharmaceutical products. If Nigerians produced more and imported less (or developed favourable terms of trade) more of the money going into tills and ending up in the pockets of investors, entrepreneurs and workers abroad could be going to Nigerian workers, investors, entrepreneurs and the government. Tradable industries in general, and the manufacturing sector in particular, offer Nigerians the opportunity of generating employment, income and public revenues, which are all necessary for poverty reduction.

 

Nigeria’s 55 year struggle to boost its tradable industry is hampered by the country’s chronic ‘low-efficiency’ trap. Consider the following thought experiment to illustrate: take a successful exporting firm in China and place it and its managers and employees in Nigeria. It would not operate anywhere near as efficiently. Here’s why: In Nigeria the same firm would struggle to find serviced industrial land, having to build or fix its own slip roads, dig its own bore hole to access water, build its own sewers system, run its operations on costly diesel generators and hope the land it acquired is not claimed by somebody else, it would have to contend with often negotiated and opaque duplicity of taxes, inconsistent government regulations, a user-unfriendly bureaucracy, competition from counterfeit products produced locally or that enter the market illegally through poorly regulated international borders, an unreliable judiciary, poor quality roads connecting cities across the country with multiple check-points for informal bribes, slow clearing of imported intermediate goods at ports, tariffs on imported inputs which are not locally available, the risk of arbitrary increases in import tariffs for dubious reasons, double-digit interest rates and precarious access to finance and foreign exchange (Although this month, June 2016, the government floated the exchange rate).

 

These dysfunctional aspects of the business climate are well known and well researched by the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ reports which in 2016 ranks Nigeria 169 out of 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business. They are substantiated by our 77 interviews with business and civic leaders in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt, as part of DPU research for a DFID-funded project called Urbanization Research Nigeria (URN).

 

Yet the dysfunctionality of Nigeria’s economic development context runs much deeper than these ‘efficiency-related’ aspects of its urban and national contexts. Economic development theory highlights agglomeration economies, the home market effect (local demand) and productivity drivers as engines of industrial development and productivity growth, the essential conditions for income growth and quality jobs. Efficiency, while extremely important especially in contexts of cost-based competition, is just one of many development drivers urban regions and countries produce, and which firms draw on to compete.

 

The question is how can Nigeria break out of its chronic ‘low-efficiency trap’? While conventional wisdom would point to the need for good governance, this is not very useful advice in and of its own (it’s too obvious). Our research takes a different approach. Drawing from economic sociology, we argue that business-civic leadership has the potential of influencing policy and governance. Moreover, the perceptions and world views of the business community and business civic leadership can shape the formal institutions that govern them (see Figure 1). So we investigate the degree to which the private sector in Nigeria is organized, and the scope of their political attention.

 

Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

 

Our research found the Nigerian business community, from small to large firms across different industries, to be highly organized. The peak business association which has been gaining power and influence since independence is the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria – MAN. The political attention of the organized private sector (OPS) focuses almost exclusively on efficiency-related aspects of the business climate. However, they overlook aspects of the urban context related to agglomeration economies and non-efficiency related productivity drivers; both indispensable features of functional cities for people and businesses.

 

These overlooked urban features include access to affordable, secure and serviced housing which are essential for human capital development; public transport which is indispensable for worker access to work places; education and skills development which are essential for human capital development and innovation; public R&D in related industries to support knowledge creation; firm- and industry-level support strategies for facilitating coordination and knowledge sharing; public space and cultural amenities to enable interaction, identity formation and innovation; and initiatives designed to bridge fragmented communities and develop appropriate and widely shared perceptions and world views in pursuit of social capital.

A failure to focus political attention on investing in functional cities risks locking Nigeria into a ‘low-productivity trap’, long after it has overcome its chronic ‘efficiency-crisis’.

 

 

This is a Blog about a recently submitted URN report to DFID. It will be publicly disseminated soon.


Naji P. Makarem is co-director of the Msc. Urban Economic Development at the Bartlett School’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) at UCL, and a lecturer in Political Economy of Development.

 

Snapshots of the urban economy: Mekelle, Ethiopia

Matthew AWood-Hill11 May 2015

For the past 10 days I’ve been with staff and students of the MSc Urban Economic Development in Mekelle, Ethiopia. They have been making sense of economic development by exploring four broad topics, and assessing their contribution to the local economy:

  1. Mekelle University as a supporter of small enterprises
  2. Urban and peri-urban agriculture
  3. Co-operative organisations
  4. The airport as a catalyst for economic development

We have put together a series of images, which provide a snapshot of different parts of the urban economy in Mekelle.

Tradition has it that Mekelle University was first formed beneath the Momona Tree on its campus – the shadow of which served as its first office. Nowadays it retains an important social function as both a meeting point and a place of intrigue for visitors. The DPU has been partnering with Mekelle University for the past 5 years– we have been immensely grateful for the contributions of University staff. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Tradition has it that Mekelle University was first formed beneath the Momona Tree on its campus – the shadow of which served as its first office. Nowadays it retains an important social function as both a meeting point and a place of intrigue for visitors. The DPU has been partnering with Mekelle University for the past 5 years– we have been immensely grateful for the contributions of University staff. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Coffee culture is rife in Mekelle with numerous coffee-houses lining a series of tree-lined streets close to the centre. We asked a new business owner why she had chosen this area in the face of such established competition. She had opened her coffee-house just one month ago, but her reply highlighted the social and economic role the businesses play in this area. They serve as meeting points for local business-people through which they engage with and build their professional networks. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Coffee culture is rife in Mekelle with numerous coffee-houses lining a series of tree-lined streets close to the centre. We asked a new business owner why she had chosen this area in the face of such established competition. She had opened her coffee-house just one month ago, but her reply highlighted the social and economic role the businesses play in this area. They serve as meeting points for local business-people through which they engage with and build their professional networks.
Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Messebo cement factory, the fifth largest in Ethiopia, dominates views towards the outskirts of the city. It is by far the largest business and employer in the region and a key contributor to the local construction sector. Slow-build developments are common in Mekelle – this is evidently not due to a lack of available resources, but more often than not a consequence of financial difficulties which delay progress. Image: Tsuyoshi

Messebo cement factory, the fifth largest in Ethiopia, dominates views towards the outskirts of the city. It is by far the largest business and employer in the region and a key contributor to the local construction sector. Slow-build developments are common in Mekelle – this is evidently not due to a lack of available resources, but more often than not a consequence of financial difficulties which delay progress.
Image: Tsuyoshi Aiki

Young boys roam the popular streets of Mekelle offering their services as shoe cleaners. While they often appear to be working independently, these boys actively contribute a small amount each day to an informal savings scheme in order to increase their financial capital. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Young boys roam the popular streets of Mekelle offering their services as shoe cleaners. While they often appear to be working independently, these boys actively contribute a small amount each day to an informal savings scheme in order to increase their financial capital.
Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Farming within and on the outskirts of the city contributes to the security and affordability of food in Mekelle. The split between the two spaces is more than just spatial, however; it is also reflected in government attitudes. For example, peri-urban farmers are not able to obtain a license to sell their produce in the city centre – a restriction that others do not have to contend with. In spite of having more space to grow crops if greater quality in greater quantity, peri-urban farmer are therefore forced to sell to middle-men to reach consumers, which in turn has an impact on their income.  Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Farming within and on the outskirts of the city contributes to the security and affordability of food in Mekelle. The split between the two spaces is more than just spatial, however; it is also reflected in government attitudes. For example, peri-urban farmers are not able to obtain a license to sell their produce in the city centre – a restriction that others do not have to contend with. In spite of having more space to grow crops of greater quality and in greater quantity, peri-urban farmers are therefore forced to sell to middle-men to reach consumers, which in turn has an impact on their income.
Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Mekelle is a regional hub for business and part of the ‘Garaltar Triangle’, a popular tourist route. The local tourist board believes that 95% of visitors come through the airport for tourism, however initial research by MSc UED students, through a series of surveys at the airport, suggests that the majority of travellers arriving by air do so for business purposes.  Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Mekelle is a regional hub for business and part of the ‘Garaltar Clusters’, a popular tourist route. The local authorities believe that 98% of visitors come through the airport for tourism, however initial research by MSc UED students, through a series of surveys at the airport, suggests that the majority of travellers arriving by air do so for business purposes.
Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Towards the suburbs of the city an expanding manufacturing sector exists. One factory we visited produced honey for domestic consumption. The factory manager elaborated on the hope that they might be able to reach an international market. For the emerging manufacturing sector in Mekelle, and elsewhere, this challenge must be overcome if the sector is to become a key driver of national economic growth. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Towards the suburbs of the city an expanding manufacturing sector exists. One factory we visited produced honey for domestic consumption. The factory manager elaborated on the hope that they might be able to reach a wider international market. This challenge must be overcome if manufacturing is to make a greater contribution to national economic growth. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Urban Agriculture sites often exist where vital infrastructure services are not available, thus making it unattractive for commercial or residential development. Mekelle is not a densely populated city at present, so urbanisation tends to happen close to infrastructure and services. Urban farmers put these unoccupied spaces to productive use, but rely on motorised pumps to extract water from shallow wells to irrigate their crops. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

Urban Agriculture sites often exist where vital infrastructure services are not available, thus making it unattractive for commercial or residential development. Urban farmers put these unoccupied spaces to productive use, but rely on motorised pumps to extract water from shallow wells to irrigate their crops.
Image: Matthew Wood-Hill


Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. He has been in Mekelle, Ethiopia with the MSc UED programme for the past 11 days. The MSc Urban Economic Development has been working with Mekelle University for 5 years now, understanding urban economic development in practice.

Urban street trading: tailored thinking for the Global South

Lila ROriard Colin17 April 2015

On the 25th of March we ran a one-day seminar on street trading in the cities in the Global South. Prominent researchers from different parts of the world mixed with young PhDs to share their research and reflections on the topic.

During the reception after the seminar one of the speakers remarked: ‘I feel people in this room are talking on the same language and sharing similar questions; an exciting feeling’.

I really sympathised with that comment: to connect disconnected research and people was one of the key motivations behind the event. In fact, street trading as a tool to understand cities is currently disconnected from major debates, despite their widespread presence in cities in the Global South.

Street trading_web

The seminar looked at street trading on two levels: On a practical level about the difficulties encountered with regards to implementing city policies; and another more theoretical level using street trading as a conceptual tool to understand (and challenge understandings) of cities, and city-making processes.

The conceptual problem of street trading

The exercise really started long before the seminar, when we had to choose a title that accurately framed the subject and our objectives. I first proposed the title ‘Street traders and the cities in the Global South’.

This was quickly changed to specify ‘street trading’ as we acknowledged that the commercial system (traders, organisations, marketplaces, local and transnational commercial connections) is far more complex than only street traders, which only considers people and not wider spatial, political and economic contexts.

Looking for a more appealing title, Yves Cabannes and I proposed ‘Street trading: the privatisation of public space’.

However, we realised that that we were getting trapped by the very same conceptual-box that we were trying to escape and challenge: the modern paradigm of cities.

In fact, the definition of ‘public space’ and ‘privatisation’ fail to adequately explain how streets in the Global South work. In this context, the appropriation of the streets and open spaces by street traders, without formal permission from the municipality, is already a current, and to a certain extent, legitimate practice. In other words, to have informal street trading in the streets is normal.

Our discussion on the title illustrates a conceptual problem with street trading: as researchers, we lack theoretical frameworks that fit properly to explain how cities and streets work and the conditions that make them suitable places for street trading. After this discussion we settled on the title Street trading in the Global South: Practical and theoretical challenges.

Informality is never black and white

Among the different discussions held during the seminar, I have chosen three that show how the current theoretical frameworks fail to address street trading.

The first of these discussions was on the concept of informality. It was quickly agreed by participants that while this concept seems to propose a black and white understanding of the phenomenon, the reality that we observe is actually somewhere in-between – different shades of gray.

Is this concept useful to understand how street trading works? Are the street traders doing wrong by operating outside the law, or rather have cities been unable to offer them a dignified role in the city-making process?

Contested urban spaces and city-making

The second discussion related with the claims of vendors to urban space and the legal systems that regulate the activity. Traders have been facing evictions in many locations and some of them start mobilisations to protect their places on the streets. Most of these evictions occur when groups of the urban elite, supported by city authorities, ‘clean’ the streets to re-appropriate spaces used by them in the past such as the city centres.

The contestation of urban space is an interesting angle to see how the city is made and for who. This perspective shows that street traders are not often seen as having a voice in the making of their own cities.

Urban streets are more than mere thoroughfares

We also discussed the need to move to a new paradigm of space that integrates the richness of the streets as vibrant places where many things happen throughout the day. In the past, streets were conceptualised mainly as a ‘road’, a space of transit, where separation of uses and users was optimal to fulfill this function.

This idea still predominates in the way we think about a street and the way city authorities expect it to work. Street trading hardly finds a space in this functionalist conception of space.

Street trading can only find a proper space in the cities if we start thinking about the streets as a different kind of ‘object’, one that understands the vitality, dynamism, polyvalence that streets in the Global South have.

Lastly, I want to thanks to all the participants for making this seminar an exciting space for exchange, and specially to Yves for the enriching discussions we had.


Lila Oriard has recently completed her PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Her doctorate explores street vending and its ability to produce space, through an examination of  the Tepito market in Mexico City downtown area.