I went to a film screening of The White Helmets last night at KCL – the film has been out for a while now, but it’s one of those films that you know you ought to see, but can’t bring yourself to watch alone because you know it’s going to be heartbreaking.
I highly recommend watching it; with a group of people, or by yourself if you can manage it. The bravery of these people to rush into bombed out buildings, trying to find survivors, likely becoming victims themselves, is just absolutely astounding. The film is predominately first-person videos, and it instantly transports you to the ground. And the scene where they rescue a baby, still alive, from underneath some rubble, is so heart-wrenching.
So…. in case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m interested in the situations and experiences of refugees. Who knew?!
This weekend I went to the STAR (Student Action for Refugees) Conference entitled: Refugee Crisis? What Crisis?. I’d heard of STAR before, and wanted to learn more about the organization and the type of workshops they would be running during the conference. The impetus behind the conference was to bring people together to learn about how the UK had handled previous refugee flows, and to discuss how the UK can manage the current “refugee crisis”.
It was a really interesting day – I think one of the most interesting points made during the conference was just the historical amnesia people have in relation to past refugee flows. The current situation isn’t completely unprecedented and it’s not impossible to manage, but we just have so many fear-mongers who are trying to frighten the public about the “invasion” (BREXIT, anyone??), without actually contextualizing it.
It was really inspiring to hear from Gulwali Passarlay, and I definitely have his book (The Lightless Sky) on my reading list.
Here’s the conference program, if you want to take a look at the other speakers that were there: STAR Conference Program.
I thought it was a really interesting panel; this kind of situation had always stuck with me when reading and learning about the work that humanitarian actors do. They obviously need to have ethics and have a boundary line, but what does that mean when they also have to negotiate with actors committing crimes in order to access the people that need help?
The panel talked about the complexities of negotiating access, and the challenges that arise not only for the humanitarian actors on the ground, but also for those in management and for donors. There has apparently been a shift in the sector from saving lives to managing risks, which is preventing actors from reaching the most vulnerable. This might mean that donors are putting restrictions on how the funds are used, or the humanitarian organization itself is changing its tactics in order to gain that funding or protect its staff.
They raised a lot of issues that the sector is facing, and fully acknowledged that the aid industry has a negative institutional history and that its competitiveness to secure funds means that it doesn’t always act in an ethical manner. But they did also make some excellent suggestions on how they can improve – making compromises to gain access requires contextual analysis (i.e. understanding of the context on the ground), but also perception analysis (i.e. understanding how the community feels about the organization working there). It also requires consistency in judgement and decision making, and a set policy regarding negotiations. Also, there needs to be more communication between staff on the ground and management so that situations are clarified and the best decisions can be made.
The aid/humanitarian sector tends to attract two opinions – either people think that humanitarian organizations are doing fantastic work, or people think that the sector is so rotten it needs to be scrapped and done over. The reality, like with all extremes, tends to the middle. There is a lot of work that the sector needs to do so that it does as much good as it claims to want to do, and finding a way to adhere to, but also adapt humanitarian principles to local contexts is a good start.
I definitely recommend watching the video of the event if you have time – it was really interesting!