The Dynamic of Trust in Refugee-Host Relations

By: Allison McDonald

16 November 2017

Professor Christopher Kyriakides’ Webinar, “The Dynamic of Trust in Refugee-Host Relations”

Held on Saturday 28 October 2017, 10:00-11:00am

I have had a really keen interest in Canada’s asylum-claim determination process and refugee integration since I worked for the Immigration and Refugee Board for a co-op work term. Professor Christopher Kyriakides, Canada Research Chair and Executive Committee Member at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University held a lecture, “The Dynamic of Trust in Refugee-Host Relations”, hosted by Al-Qazzaz Foundation for Education and Development, which naturally grabbed my attention right away. This was the kind of firsthand information from an expert that I have yearned for to further develop my ideas and broaden my knowledge about Canada’s refugee affairs.

Professor Kyriakides talked about refugee-host relations in the sphere of the Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. Some of the key themes he talked about were what he calls ‘existential transactions of worth’, ‘resettlement knowledge assets’, and the role of ‘trust formation’ in determining ‘resettlement success’. I want to talk about these themes as they made sense to me and ultimately highlight the importance of recognizing people who have been given refugee status as ‘persons of self-rescue’ and persons with past, present and future narratives that extend beyond the confines of ‘refugee’.

People that seek asylum and receive refugee status identify as ‘persons of self-rescue’. Being a refugee, to them, is in defiance of conflict, of having their humanity taken away, and of being subject to human rights abuses. However, a refugee is also a label that can take away individual personhood and follow a media-defined narrative extremely limiting to the realization of ‘existential transactions of worth’. Professor Kyriakides gives this quote, spoken by a person with refugee status: “I try to think like a refugee but I don’t know how.” Let’s break this down. Someone who is granted eligibility for refuge is a person who had a life prior to conflict with a desire to move their personhood beyond a label, beyond a definition, and beyond a certain narrative. All of those who have refugee status are people with authority, autonomy, and eligibility. Their self-determination must have full recognition. When this understanding of a refugee is fully realized by the host, ‘existential transactions of worth’ can be realized.

Photo taken in 1978, in a refugee camp on Koh Paed, Thailand. Coping with Disaster: Vietnamese Refugees in Thailand

Recognition is central in the ‘trust formation’ of the refugee-host relationship. Sponsors need to be able to establish an identity as the ‘we of trusted contact’. This means recognizing a person with refugee status as a person with past, present and future beyond ‘refugee’. If a sponsor can recognize a refugee as a person of self-rescue and as a person with deliberative authority, the sponsor thus acknowledges their worth and self-determination. This is the best way to establish trust.

Social media is an incredible tool in ‘trust formation’.  The refugee-host relationship can start before personal contact is made. Sponsors can put into practice ‘existential transactions of worth’ by establishing virtual contact and asking the refugee or refugee family their preferences for a multitude of elements (apartment, furniture, food, other amenities) that will create and shape their life in Canada. According to Professor Kyriakides, sponsors who were able to better establish trusted contact saw more success in resettlement. Hosts must recognize the autonomy of those receiving sponsorship and establish trust and contact through ‘existential transactions of worth.’ The life of a human being does not begin with refuge and, thus, their lives should not be defined by a policy, definition or single narrative.

Note: all phrases and terms in quotations are direct quotations from Dr. Kyriakides and *are used with his permission*.

L’encampement des réfugiés syriens au Moyen-Orient 

Titre : Conférence du 19 octobre 2017 intitulée « L’encampement des réfugiés syriens au Moyen-Orient » présenté par M. Mustafa El Miri

Auteur: Sophie Dahdouh

 

Dans cette conférence, M. El Miri a présenté des réflexions sur les catégories et la généalogie des migrations au Moyen-Orient. Comme il le stipule, le problème des réfugiés à l’échelle internationale préoccupe la « classe politique » européenne depuis un certain temps. Si la persécution de la population syrienne par le régime bassiste dirigé par le président Bachar El Assad engendra une condamnation internationale intense, malgré les interventions américaine et européenne dans cette guerre civile, notamment par la fourniture d’armes et l’incitation des Syriens à se rebeller contre le régime syrien, cela n’a pas suscité ou provoqué une ouverture des frontières considérable, telle que décrite de manière exagérée par les médias, aux réfugiés syriens.

Les pays « occidentaux » refusent ces derniers au moyen des activités sémantiques qu’ils entreprennent. Il y a cette idée d’ « indésirables » qui surgit implicitement ou explicitement dans les débats publics. Pensons à la notion de « crise de migrants » (et non pas de réfugiés) qui est une manière détournée, comme le souligne M. El Miri, de ne pas reconnaître le droit international. L’unité européenne se construit, d’après lui, par l’exclusion de ces derniers dont l’arrivée soulève la question de « remplacement » des sociétés d’accueil et celle de la souveraineté des États perçue comme étant menacée. L’idée de « dangerosité construite », la crainte que les terroristes soient infiltrés parmi les réfugiés syriens, devient ainsi centrale dans les débats.

Comme le stipule M. El Miri, ces derniers se sont principalement dirigés vers des zones du Moyen-Orient telles que la Turquie, la Jordanie et le Liban, leur arrivée « massive » en Europe étant en fin de compte un « mythe » dans les faits. Toutefois, la fermeture des frontières de ces pays se produit en raison de la pression démographique et la crainte de l’importation du conflit, ce qui ne freine pas pour autant l’industrie du passage illégal.

 

A view of the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees are living, 27 March 2017, by United Nations

On assiste alors à « l’encampement » des réfugiés dans des déserts tels qu’en Jordanie ou dans des endroits isolés à la marge de la société d’accueil, ce qui les pousse à une instabilité permanente. Non seulement les politiques de logement sont inexistantes mais, de plus, ils n’ont souvent pas le droit de travailler sur place, une situation qui augmente leur vulnérabilité et leur dépendance envers l’agence du Haut Commissaire des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés (HCR) qui soutient des conceptions des politiques sociales défendant le principe du « traitement individualisé ». Le déclassement économique de ces derniers s’en suit donc, les réfugiés syriens étant confrontés à la baisse de la rémunération due à leur arrivée massive. Or, malgré le fait que leur figure ou leur image est associée à la marginalité et à la délinquance, ils tentent de renverser les préjugés et les stigmates à leur endroit en s’insérant sur le marché du travail pour se construire socialement et ne plus dépendre de l’aide internationale, la route migratoire clandestine vers l’Europe n’étant pas leur choix premier.

Enfin, ce dont nous rappelle M. El Miri est que la crise syrienne n’est point une crise interne mais une crise internationale, une « crise mondialisée » comme il le stipule. L’accueil des réfugiés est avant tout un « problème social ». La dimension « nationale » de cette notion de « capacité d’accueil », souvent invoquée par les démocraties occidentales, est bien politique, l’ouverture politique de ces pays étant ce qui pose réellement problème et explique la non application du statut de « réfugiés » pour les Syriens en accentuant leur vulnérabilité.

 

Peacebuilding, Justice, and Security: Taking Stock of the Past 25 Years

Title: Peacebuilding, Justice, and Security: Taking Stock of the Past 25 Years

Writer: Norma Roumie

 

Photo taken by Norma Roumie on March 1st 2018

The Conflict Research Center of Saint Paul University and the Peace and Conflict Studies Association of Canada hosted a conference on peacebuilding – taking stock of the past 25 years. The panels brought together top experts in the field to discuss the interlinking aspects of memory and justice issues; power struggles and cooperation between locals and international actors; as well as security sector reform and state-building. The panelists identified best practices in these critical areas and left the audience with many thought-provoking questions on the future of peacebuilding.

Professor Neil Sargent, John Packer, and Philippe Dufort discussed the need for national dialogue and the importance of memory, as well as the intersection between justice issues and conflict resolution as indicative of the relationship between peace and justice. The notion of national dialogue is a new mechanism in the toolbox for international actors, and it is instrumental for the creation of a visioning process that incorporates diversity and overcomes the ‘us versus them’ dichotomy that is highly politicized in post-conflict settings. A national dialogue is a series of structured and political space that allows the recognition and exchange of different voices and does not necessarily have to lead to decision making. This has proved instrumental when it has occurred in both Yemen and Colombia. Part of this process of reconciliation is moving from the politics of violence to the politics of dialogue; identifying the moral and critical claims arising from the past and how we can solve them for the future. Judicial mechanisms are necessary for rewriting a moral balance and addressing past war crimes and reparation claims. When this is ignored, it undermines the future regime and the indispensable reconciliation efforts. Despite the importance of this, there is an inclination towards the politics of forgetting, in which many countries have instituted a very intentional model of legislated amnesty from past crimes to prevent the past from disrupting the future. The practical reality though is that negative peace proceeds positive peace because it is tough to build a society when there is violence. On the other hand, sustainable peace requires society to be able to manage conflict that’s naturally occurring – through arrangements, constitutions, and judicial mechanisms.

Andy Tamas and Ruby Dagher discussed the importance of examining local dynamics and engaging locals in the process of peacebuilding. Andy Tamas’s presentation on local management and regulation surrounding water and irrigation systems in Afghanistan illustrated the value of examining traditional systems. When conflict emerged between upstream and downstream farms in a rural area in Afghanistan, communities worked on an equitable way of managing the water and irrigation systems. A dialogue between communities led to the election of mediators, who would become known as Mirabs, elected to operate the water systems, without state interference. In its development efforts, donors like the USAID attempted to change this and put in a sophisticated western irrigation system that failed and would later be recognized as undoing an advanced traditional system. The USAID overlooked the fact that provincial councils conducted 80% of conflict resolution and that the Mirabs system was a completely decentralized and efficient traditional system. Exporting western structures to these societies does not always work, and it ignores local dynamics and the value of local knowledge. Instead, the challenge is to look at the context and engage the locals in understanding the benefits of the traditional system to reform them into better performing hybrid traditional-modern systems.

The importance of examining local dynamics was also reiterated through Ruby Dagher’s presentation in which she discussed the role that perceptions play in how citizens assign process and performance legitimacy to either their leaders or the state and the implications this has on post-conflict institution building. In many cases of conflict, where the state is absent or weakened, leaders take care of the population and capture legitimacy. This, in turn, leads to states emerging out of conflict with low-performance legitimacy. Case studies of Lebanon, Senegal, and Sudan reveal that performance legitimacy is more valuable than process legitimacy. A significant challenge for post-conflict states is building state capacity to provide for their citizens, which is essential for linking performance legitimacy to the state.

Gaelle Rivard Piche and Professor Stephen Baranyi discussed security provisions as a necessary pre-condition for the implementation of peacebuilding programs. They bring attention to the fact that security sector reforms are a top priority for external actors but that in many cases they have ignored context and have led to a vicious cycle of violence. Host governments and international actors must work together on security sector reforms and not dismiss local actors and their realities. El-Salvador, and Haiti were referenced throughout the discussion, both of which showcase complicated cases where it has been difficult to consolidate security and peace. In El Salvador 80% of security sector reform investment goes to law enforcement and ignores other areas. However, for there to be progress there must be more investments into social and economic development, because no amount of policing and law enforcement training will lead to sustainable security. Where state institutions are usually weak, and civil society is marginalized, these issues are amplified. Although, there is a move away from large military stabilization missions to civilian-led justice missions today, where donor security interests take precedence, where state institutions are usually weak, and civil society is marginalized these issues are amplified.

Despite a mixed record of peacebuilding, discussions such as this, between practitioners and academics are essential for taking stock of lessons, challenges, and opportunities that will continue to mark the next 25 years. Locals are at the heart of what peacebuilding is meant to do, in the end, security and peace are not possible without the main beneficiaries taking the lead role while western development actors facilitate and provide expertise. The lessons of the past have taught us that peacebuilding should focus more on local dynamics, social and economic development, state capacity, national dialogue and reconciliation efforts.  Complex intra-state conflicts, the emergence of different development actors, and the increased inclusion of local actors in peacebuilding brings a set of challenges and opportunities. So, what does this mean for the future of peacebuilding? Peacebuilding is one of the central innovations in conflict resolution, and professor Vern Neufeld Redekop’s presentation on integrative peacebuilding captures the need to develop heuristic skills to deal with complex and multiple challenges. This means taking the best of approaches that can then be integrated into one.