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Moving from ‘burden sharing’ to inclusive prosperity: A RELIEF workshop

GuestBlogger16 August 2017

By Hannah Sender, Projects, Planning and Advocacy Manager, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

Students at the Second Bourj Hammoud Public SchoolIn April 2017, UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) in collaboration with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (AUB) hosted a one-day workshop in Beirut, supported by UCL’s Global Engagement Fund. The workshop explored the demands placed on Lebanon since 2011 with the arrival of over one million refugees from Syria, and potential areas of work for those wishing to enhance inclusive prosperity for hosts and refugees in Lebanon.

This workshop was the first to be organised as part of RELIEF (Refugees, education, learning, information technology and entrepreneurship for the future): an interdisciplinary centre led by Professor Henrietta Moore (IGP Director) and funded by the UK ESRC’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

The RELIEF Centre is a five-year initiative of UCL, the AUB and the Centre for Lebanese Studies at the Lebanese American University (LAU). UCL’s Development Planning Unit, the Department for Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, the Institute of Education, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies are all partners.

The recent workshop brought together participants from INGOs, local NGOs, universities in Lebanon and the UK and social activists. Drawing on professional and personal experience, these participants gave rich and varied insights into some of the key ideas of RELIEF, and into the changing relationship between refugees and hosts in Lebanon.

Hospitality in Lebanon

The first session of the workshop, opened by Dr Nikolay Mintchev (IGP), invited participants to problematize and discuss the cultures of hospitality in Lebanon, as they related to Syrian refugees. Lebanon’s hospitality is often referenced by INGOs and foreign governments: in the same breath, they celebrate Lebanon’s hospitality, and announce that it is now over-stretched to the point where conflict is likely. The question they then pose is: how can we enable Lebanon to continue to be a good host to refugees?

The term ‘hospitality’, however, proved to not only have multiple meanings for the participants, but also to be a seriously limited and problematic term. As one participant remarked, it may be depoliticising what is a deeply political issue, and neutralising the real burden placed on Lebanese communities and Lebanese resources.

One observation did unite the participants: since 2013, interactions between hosts and refugees have changed for the worse. Some participants suggested that as time has gone on, people’s perceptions of the possibility of Syrian refugees returning to Syria have changed. This has engendered a fear that Syrians will continue to put pressure on scarce resources, and become competitors for work, housing and education.

Inclusive growth

The RELIEF Centre proposes that inclusive growth – in the broadest sense of the term – is a necessary and good ambition for places severely affected by mass displacement. However, as Dr Nasser Yassin (AUB) put it, inclusive growth is a notion which challenges 27 years of development in Lebanon. It makes demands on governments to consider what kind of growth is desirable, and how it impacts people differently. Too often, these considerations are overlooked in favour of one kind of growth – economic growth – without much concern for how it impacts people differently.

A further discussion arose on how transformative change can occur on the level of the community and individual. Many participants spoke from their own experiences of working with local governments, which had created their own strategies for managing limited resources. Researchers need to consider the value of politics and economic strategy at the local scale, and see whether there is room for manoeuvre at this scale, as well as at the national level.

Education as a practical intervention

Moving on to the afternoon session, the participants were invited to turn their minds to another important component of the RELIEF project: education for communities affected by mass displacement and conflict.

Professor Maha Shuayb (Centre for Lebanese Studies) gave a presentation about the state of education for refugees and host communities in Lebanon. She prompted important questions about identity and difference, and how these imposed categories have created unnecessary divides in delivery of education between refugee and host communities. She suggested that the notion of vulnerability is relevant to both Lebanese and non-Lebanese children, and that educational programmes need to confront and properly function in student groups with a diversity of needs and capabilities.

Pathways to practice

Whilst critical analysis of the challenges which host communities and refugees face in Lebanon is vital to understanding the context in which we are working, the RELIEF team wanted to end the workshop with an insight into spaces of potential action: new policies, engaged institutions, and cultural shifts which could serve as a platform for innovation.

In the final session, the workshop participants were joined by Marina Aksakalova and her team from UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency). The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, she reported, had given renewed support for a cohesive response to the refugee crisis. It is now possible to develop a strategy and take a more entrepreneurial approach towards it.

The question of inclusivity – who is included and in what – dominated the debate throughout the workshop. The acute needs of people in Lebanon – from host communities to refugees – have created a tense situation in the country, where claims of difference have been deployed to ensure and, conversely, prevent, access to resources. In the final session, there was a hope raised, shared by the partners in the RELIEF Centre: that responses to individual crises can be integrated with the provision of goods and services that are required to live a good life in Lebanon.

Image © Dominic Chavez/World Bank: Students at the Second Bourj Hammoud Pubic School in Beirut, Lebanon. Two-thirds of the students at the school are Lebanese and one-third are Syrian.

UCL for Refugee Education

SophieVinter4 April 2017

By Wes Durdle, UCL Student Support & Wellbeing

Bucket SignBack in February, UCL Student Support & Wellbeing collaborated with UCLU Student Action for Refugees (STAR) on a major project in support of refugee education issues.

UCL for Refugee Education was a week-long programme of fundraising and awareness events across the main campus, that brought together students, staff and external organisations in support of a worthy cause.

Although it’s no longer top of the headlines as it’s been in recent years, the worldwide refugee crisis is certainly still ongoing. One sadly overlooked aspect of the crisis is education. Refugee children are often unable to access this fundamental human right, with only 50% attending primary school and only 1% going on to reach higher education.

Given that one of UCL’s founding principles is that of equal access to education for all, we felt that this issue was close to the hearts of many here at the institution.

StallWe had multiple aims throughout the week, as follows:

  • Highlight the difficulties that refugees face in accessing education
  • Raise money for the charities Edlumino Education Aid and Action for Refugees in Lewisham (AFRIL)
  • Give students and staff the opportunity to work together on an important global issue
  • Provide a platform to showcase UCL’s outstanding research on refugee issues and leading work in support of refugees in higher education, including the launch of new scholarships

To do this, we hosted a range of events, some of which were purely fundraisers, such as charity yoga classes, a charity pub quiz in the IoE and events run with the generous support of the UCLU Women’s Football Club and the UCLU Indian Society.

Overall, we raised around £1,000 for our charities, and also led a drop-off collection, which resulted in a small mountain of clothes and food being sent to refugee camps through Donate4Refugees!

Other events were informational or practical sessions around refugee issues, including a campaigning workshop with Citizens UK, a ‘craftivism’ workshop with UCLU Amnesty International Society and a film screening. Refugee storytellers and poets from the charity Hikayetna also came in to share their experiences.

CollectionIn our panel discussion, UCL academic Dr Francesca Meloni was joined by alumna Joana Dabaj from the charity Catalytic Action and Tom Martin from AFRIL to ask if we are at risk of creating a lost generation, by not doing more to support refugee education initiatives.

The research showcase that started the week saw Dr Rachel Rosen from the IoE and Nerea Amoros Elorduy from the Bartlett School of Architecture presenting their innovative research.

This was followed by Raphaela Armbruster from CLIE and Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh from Geography explaining both the important work of the Refuge in a Moving World network, which brings together researchers involved in refugee issues, and efforts to support forced migrant scholars at UCL.

ResearchShowcaseIt concluded with Lesley Hayman from the Global Engagement Office announcing £500,000 of new funding through UCL’s Access Opportunity Scholarships, to support undergraduates unable to attend university because their immigration status does not entitle them to apply for a student loan.

The week was a tremendous success, and we would like to thank all those who participated and donated. Please continue to support refugee education initiatives at UCL, and contribute to the charities and organisations above.