Inter-Governmental and Community-Based Services for Syrian Refugees Living in France

Authors: A collaborative work, by Amelia C. Arsenault and Caitlin Morris

In light of statements from political leaders expressing a sense of humanitarian duty, multiple high-profile terrorist attacks, and a controversial cultural environment regarding integration and multiculturalism, France’s experience with Syrian refugees provides interesting insights into community mobilization and host-community relations. In accordance with UNHCR standards, France began expediting asylum claims from Syrian nationals in 2013 in an attempt to process refugees within three months. In addition to these expedited applications, 500 Syrian refugees determined to be in a “situation of extreme vulnerability coming from neighbouring countries of Syria” were granted accelerated admission due to a special ad hoc resettlement program, which was renewed in 2015. In September 2015, Francois Hollande, former president of France, claimed that France had a “humanitarian duty” to allow 30,000 Syrian refugees into the country over the span of two years, despite growing Islamophobia and anxiety regarding Syrian immigration. In an effort to assist refugees’ transition into French life, France has established a variety of community-based and governmental organizations aimed at providing essential services to refugees, including financial aid, food services, and language training. A case study of the French city of Lyon offers a look at the opportunities, as well as the challenges of community mobilization for refugees living in France.

Lyon provides access to multiple organizations operating at the local and national level which provide services for refugees, allowing the host communities to assist with migrant settlement. Forum Réfugiés Cosi (FRC) is a non-governmental organization that is based in Lyon and operates across France. Founded in 1982, this organization attempts to ease integration for refugees by providing humanitarian aid such as housing, medical care, and other social services. In order to determine the most effective forms of aid, FRC also endeavors to understand the causes and consequences of the civil conflict in Syria, as well as critical issues that pertain directly to Syrian refugees facing resettlement in France.1 FRC has called upon European leaders to provide humanitarian aid and refugee status to those fleeing the Syrian civil war by joining a campaign called “À l’Europe D’Agir” (Europe to Act). FRC also holds an annual “umbrella walk” in Lyon, in which participants carry umbrellas to symbolize the responsibility of host countries, such as France, to provide refugees with protection and asylum.

“Free Syria Lyon” is a nongovernmental organization operating in Lyon that provides critical aid to Syrian refugees. This organization does not operate at the national level, but rather focuses its efforts in support of Syrian refugees who have resettled in the city of Lyon. Free Syria Lyon’s mandate includes efforts to gain an understanding of Syrian culture, in an attempt to facilitate the difficult transition that refugees face when integrating into French society. Furthermore, Free Syria Lyon works alongside both Syrian refugees and French citizens to increase tolerance, and ease any anxiety or tension between French nationals and Syrian refugees living in Lyon. As a regional NGO, Free Syria Lyon has also been instrumental in funding programs that introduce Syrians to French culture, history, and language. Lastly, the Free Syria Lyon group attempts to provide refugees with any assistance that they may need, including securing housing, accessing banking services, and obtaining health coverage.

France Terre D’asile (FTDA) is one of the best-known non-governmental organizations operating in France, earning the French Republic’s Human Rights Prize in 19892. Operating throughout France, FTDA works with other non-governmental organizations to both improve the immigration process for those seeking asylum in France, and promote migrant rights. FTDA translates to “France, Land of Asylum” and promotes the welcoming acceptance of refugees, while advocating for social benefits such as education, employment, housing, and language training. They also provide referrals to other resources when refugees are in need of legal, administrative, or political aid or counsel. It is important to note that while FTDA helps process and support refugees arriving in France, they also help refugees return to their country of origin when it is safe to do so. In an effort to help vulnerable youth who are at risk of exploitation by traffickers, smugglers, and other criminal networks, FTDA began the “Young Refugee House” in St. Omer. Members of FTDA attempt to locate unaccompanied refugee children and encourage them to request to be placed under the care of the French Child Protection services. Furthermore, they provide counselling for minors and information about legal resources as well as emergency medical care. In relation to Syrian refugees, FTDA has spoken out against anti-refugee sentiments that are becoming prevalent in Europe. Matthieu Tardis, Secretariat General of FTDA, criticized France’s treatment of Syrian refugees and widespread xenophobia throughout Europe, claiming that France was experiencing a “moral crisis” in relation to the acceptance of Syrian refugees.3

Despite the efforts of the aforementioned organizations, recent terrorist attacks throughout Europe have increased the sense of insecurity among the French that Syrian refugees may pose a significant threat to national security; at times, xenophobia and fear of migrants throughout France has resulted in a breakdown in host community-refugee relations. Specifically, an attack on a Lyon chemical factory in June 2015, where one victim was beheaded, inflamed the xenophobia and general fear of migrants throughout France. News reports claimed that an Arabic text was found at the scene; consequently, French officials considered the attack to be influenced by Islamic terrorism, and France was put on a high terror alert.4 Despite the fact that the perpetrator of this attack was not a Syrian refugee, statistics show that many French nationals began to voice their opposition to Francois Hollande’s proposition for increased acceptance of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in response to terrorist attacks. Some news reports suggest that anti-Muslim attacks have increased across Europe in response to the terrorist attacks as well, with many Muslims reporting assaults and verbal harassment.5 In September 2015, fans at a soccer game hosted in Lyon were photographed holding signs that said: “Refugees Not Welcome”. While the banner was quickly removed; these sorts of acts represent a growing atmosphere of xenophobia and Islamophobia throughout France. While there have been no outward reports of physical violence against Syrian refugees living in Lyon, it could be argued that Syrian refugees have become victims of systemic discrimination and harassment. For example, housing centres in Lyon are filling up rapidly and are perpetually plagued by overcrowding, making it difficult to accommodate all refugees in need of shelter. Furthermore, the atmosphere of anti-refugee sentiment, and the fear of refugees as “others” represents systemic challenges faced by Syrians attempting to transition into French society.

Despite a lack of evidence linking Syrian refugees living in France to terrorist attacks, any terrorist related events have resulted in widespread anxiety and fear throughout host communities at both the state and city level. Despite the efforts of many groups and organizations, there still exists a lack of basic services for many Syrians living in France; consequently, a large number of refugees, from Syria and elsewhere, are destined to feel unwelcome. While local and national organizations have been expanding and adapting to accommodate the large influx of refugees, greater efforts are required before Syrian refugees can truly feel at home in France. Hence the importance of community mobilization.

1 “Actualités.” Accueil – Forum Réfugiés – Cosi. Accessed November 21, 2016.
2 “France Terre D’Asile.” ERSO Project: France Terre D’Asile. Accessed November 27, 2016.
3 “Time for France to Show Fraternité to Refugees?” The Local. September 03, 2015. Accessed
November 27, 2016.
4 News, BBC. “France Attack: Man Decapitated at Factory near Lyon.” BBC News. June 26, 2015.
Accessed November 21, 2016.
5 (, Deutsche Welle. “Attacks against Muslims on the Rise after Paris Strikes | Europe |
DW.COM | 26.11.2015.” DW.COM. December 26, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2016.

Civil society conflict: The negative impact of International NGOs on grassroots and social movements

Author: Jacqueline Gilchrist

When considering the optimal way to mitigate poverty in the Global South, proposed solutions often involve international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). INGOs can be based in various countries, but an abundance of these are based in the Global North. These organizations tend to focus on implementing short-term, tangible projects. It is generally assumed in the Global North that these compassionate organizations will enter communities, carry out development programs, and then leave having addressed poverty; and it is for this reason that numerous donors in the Global North pour their money into INGOs. Moreover, INGOs often collaborate with existing local grassroots or social movements. According to journalist Augusta Dwyer, these movements are “made up of impoverished people who have joined together to struggle for some concrete goal.” Such movements typically begin their activities by focusing on protest and resistance. Eventually, these movements take on activities similar to those carried out by INGOs. When an INGO attaches itself to a social or grassroots movement, this arrangement can produce numerous benefits, like increased funding and raise international awareness.

On the flipside, there is a risk that INGO involvement will dilute local demands in order to fit international agendas. Alternatively, INGOs might focus on one specific objective, while ignoring others that may be equally important for the movement’s cause. I argue that relationships between INGOs and movements by and for impoverished communities in  the Global South are often structurally harmful, as they promote external interests, are too short-sighted, and often disempower the poor.

One of the primary reasons that grassroots and social movements accept the help of INGOs is for the purposes of funding. While the individuals behind these movements may devise creative solutions to their communities’ problems, they often lack the resources to implement their ideas. As such, these individuals often seek the help of INGOs to kick-start their movements. For instance, INGOs are often voluntary by nature and have no source of income other than donor funding. Accordingly, INGOs have a certain level of accountability to these external donors. In addition, these donors typically expect a measurable result from the INGO if they are to continue donating to the organization. This dynamic may lead to NGOs implementing the agenda of their donor’s, rather than necessarily creating lasting and equal relationships within the community. As scholar J-E Noh writes, INGOs are all-too frequently losing their charitable, volunteer-oriented basis and instead consist primarily of “donor-driven programs and business-like changes”. Since many of the donors to these INGOs come from the Global North, this situation may constitute a new, growing dependency on the Global North. This dependency can be harmful to the grassroots movements, as it frequently results in more “Western-style,” capitalist solutions to problems of poverty, rather than local solutions by and for the affected community. Nonetheless, donor-dependency dynamics are not limited to the Global North. In India, for example, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are frequently linked to state institutions. As a result, while the social and grassroots movements seeking to partner with NGOs contest the state’s power, NGOs are themselves influenced by the state. The conflict of interest in these scenarios are clear, and can have detrimental results to the success and continuation of the grassroots and social movements against government policies.

There are widespread fears that INGOs are increasingly taking on a corporate character, due to the requirements of funding. Specifically, concerned individuals fear that corporatization will cause INGOs to favour donors over the impoverished communities whom they are meant to be helping. As a consequence, these organizations will little attachment to the community. INGOs therefore tend to create programs that have short-term, Band-Aid solutions, consequently sustaining poverty at a systemic level.

Additionally, the activities of INGOs are often project-focused. That is, INGOs seek to achieve one concrete goal. Once an INGO achieves this goal, they move on to another project, usually in another community. This approach may be effective in certain scenarios, particularly those of humanitarian and emergency aid. However, this project-based strategy is not as effective in empowering the poor and powerless over time. The empowerment of vulnerable groups is a long process. INGOs will often only take on one small portion of this large, interconnected challenge. An example of this is described in Dwyer’s 2011 book “Broke but Unbroken”. Here, a member of a grassroots movement states that a “partner” INGO only took on one very tangible project, while his movement “struggles for long-term issues that can last a whole lifetime.” Indeed, grassroots and social movement are inherently rooted in the interconnectedness and the causes of poverty in different communities. Although social and grassroots movements are often formed as a result of one particular problem, they do not, in Dwyer’s words, “abandon a movement once they’ve won what they set out to win but stay to fight for others.” In this sense, they very much differ from INGOs.

Due to the short-term nature of INGOs’ activities, their involvement in social and grassroots movements may enhance the success of one particular goal, while simultaneously undermining the achievement of other goals of the movement. Consequently, the poverty in these communities could be perpetuated by the existence of the INGOs, and the dependency that they cause. In particular, factors such as a reliance on INGOs for funding, a deepened dependence on INGOs based on short-term projects, or INGO ‘experts’ treating members of grassroots movements in a patronizing manner can all contribute to the disempowerment of impoverished communities.

Furthermore, the top-down nature of INGOs – meaning internal organization systems where directors and a board of ‘experts’ are the ones making the decisions – can have negative effects on poverty reduction as well. A top-down approach can place people who are incapable of grappling with the poor’s plight in charge of their wellbeing, constituting a clear clash. Grassroots and social movements often serve as proof that there is indeed a drive and creativity amongst the poor, and that given the proper resources, they can create innovative and lasting solutions to their problems. A bottom-up approach, with autonomy and independence from INGOs, results in self-directed development projects grounded in existing social and grassroots movements. Multiple authors have demonstrated that such initiatives can find success without the help of INGOs.

In closing, INGOs and grassroots/social movements often have similar objectives at their core. They are all seeking to end poverty, empower the poor, and repair the problems and inequalities that exist globally. But a growing donor-dependency complex among INGOs, as well as the short-term, project-oriented, and top-down nature of INGOs, have created a negative relationship between the two groups. As a result, linkages between INGOs and local movements often promote external interests, create a dependency, and disempower the poor. Nevertheless, INGOs still have a place in the fight against poverty. The co-existence of INGOs alongside grassroots and social movements can create a multiplicitous, diverse civil society which can effectively combat unfavorable circumstances. In order to truly realize their purported goals, INGOs must work in solidarity with grassroots and social movements. Rather than taking funding for themselves and creating short-term programs, INGOs should simply act as facilitators, advocates, and educators of existing, successful movements founded by impoverished communities. In that sense, INGOs should be considered as complementary mechanisms, not supplementary.



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Syrian Refugee-Host Community Relations in Nova Scotia

Title: Syrian Refugee-Host Community Relations in Nova Scotia

Writer: Ainslie Pierrynowski

Nova Scotia’s resettlement of 1 079 Syrian refugees between November 4th, 2015 and August 31st, 2016 is not only notable for the relatively large number of Syrian refugees which the province took in—the third highest number per capita of all the Canadian provinces[i]—but also for the remarkable level of community support involved in the process of resettling Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia. Prior to the Federal Government’s plan of November 2015 to resettle 25 000 Syrian refugees in Canada by February 2016,[ii] few services for refugees and sponsorship groups existed outside of the province’s capital and urban centre of Halifax[iii]. As of November 6th, 2016[iv], this is the sole Nova Scotia community with programs in place to accept government-assisted refugees. As news of the Syrian refugee crisis permeated local and national media, however, grassroots-organized rallies in support of resettling Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia took place in various locations, namely Halifax,[v] St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish,[vi] and Cape Breton[vii]. Furthermore, a public meeting in favour of supporting Syrian refugees was organized by community members in Sydney,[viii] and 2015 saw newly formed private sponsorship groups arise across the province, like Lifeline Syria Cape Breton in northern Nova Scotia (created in September 2015) to Digby Welcomes Refugees (created in November 2015), located at the province’s southern tip.[ix] Public opinion toward refugees seemed generally positive in Canada overall and particularly in Atlantic Canada, according to the most recent information available at the time of writing. A December 2015 Forum Research poll found that 48% of Canadians supported the government’s recently announced plan to bring in Syrian refugees,[x] while a Nanos Research survey conducted at the same time found that 65% of Canadians support taking in 25 000 refugees by February 2016 (as prescribed in the government plan) or taking in even more refugees.[xi] In fact, the latter poll found that support for taking in more than 25 000 refugees was highest among Atlantic Canadians, at 45%, compared to 28% across Canada.

The seemingly positive reception of Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia seems surprising in light of Atlantic Canada’s reputation for having an unwelcoming attitude toward outsiders without roots in the community, referred to derisively as “come-from-away’s” (CFAs).[xii] This attitude had been identified in a 2007 study[xiii] as one of the primary reasons as to why immigrant health professionals frequently choose to leave Atlantic Canada in favour of other provinces. This “quasi-racist clannishness”[xiv] renders immigrants subject to distrust and subtle discrimination and hence puts them at a disadvantage in terms of employment and job opportunities. For instance, a nurse, who had moved to Atlantic Canada six years before being interviewed, cited a co-worker’s degrading comment that newly hired nurses “from away” were different and “not like [them]”[xv] and claimed that hiring practices that seemingly favoured locals over more experienced newcomers.[xvi] Indeed, Nancy W. Jabbra found that Nova Scotia is relatively ethnically homogenous, with the Nova Scotian population consisting of 73.3% people of British descent, 12.2% those of French descent, and 14.6% those of other origins, compared to 41.5% people of British descent, 28.8% people of French descent, and 30.2% people of other origins in Canada’s population as a whole.[xvii]

Several factors can help to explain Nova Scotians’ apparent positive reception of Syrian refugees, despite the purported prevalence of hostility toward newcomers in Atlantic Canada. First, the Nova Scotia government’s statement on Syrian refugees,[xviii] as well as media interviews with members of the Nova Scotian public, cite altruistic, humanitarian reasons for accepting Syrian refugees. Indeed, one donor to a Halifax organization supporting Syrian refugees claimed that seeing Alan Kurdi’s photograph emotionally moved her and prompted her to act,[xix] as did several attendees at a Cape Breton meeting in support of accepting Syrian refugees.[xx] According to University of Prince Edward Island professor Don Desserud, Atlantic Canada’s post-Confederation economic stagnation has fostered Atlantic Canadians’ apprehensiveness toward outsiders, who are perceived as “looking down at”[xxi] economically insecure Atlantic Canadians. Therefore, if Atlantic Canada’s unwelcoming attitude toward outsiders can indeed be attributed to the perception that affluent newcomers look down on Atlantic Canadians[xxii], then Syrian refugees’ dire plight may explain Nova Scotia’s more sympathetic reception of this group.

Second, collective memory may play a role in Nova Scotia’s acceptance of Syrian refugees. In particular, Stephen Augustine, Dean of Unamaki College—a Mi’kmaq studies institute at Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton University—alluded to Cape Breton’s history of accepting immigrants from other areas of the world in an attempt to convince his community to take in Syrian refugees.[xxiii] For example, one Halifax donor who supported Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia paralleled her grandparents’ journey from the Soviet Union to Canada reflected in Syrian refugees’ migration to Nova Scotia, hence her support for Syrian refugees coming to the province.[xxiv] Further, support from a substantial community of Syrian and Lebanese descent in Cape Breton, owing to immigration to Nova Scotia during the early 20th century and the Lebanese civil war in the 1970’s[xxv], has also contributed to the growth of Lifeline Syria Cape Breton.[xxvi]

Third and finally, support for Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia has been shaped by the province’s economic reality. The 2014 provincial government commissioned-report on the Nova Scotian economy, Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians,[xxvii] also known as the Ivany Report, argued that urgent action was needed to combat Nova Scotia’s post-Confederation economic stagnation due to the decline of its manufacturing, mining, forestry, and fishing industries, as well as the province’s aging population and substantial outmigration rate.[xxviii] Specifically, the report contended that Nova Scotia must drastically increase its intake of immigrants to sustain itself financially.[xxix] Meanwhile, according to Jabbra, newcomers to Canada have been drawn to economic opportunity in more prosperous areas beyond Atlantic Canada, hence Nova Scotia’s comparative lack of diversity and high provincial outmigration rates.[xxx] Thus, Nova Scotia is trapped in a Catch-22, in that the province needs more people to buy Nova Scotian products and start businesses, but Nova Scotia needs to provide economic incentives so that newcomers come to and remain in the province.  As a result, multiple Nova Scotian political leaders and organizations have echoed the Ivany report’s financial arguments for increased immigration in the context of taking in Syrian refugees, including Nova Scotia Member of Parliament and President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison,[xxxi] the Halifax Chamber of Commerce,[xxxii] and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.[xxxiii] These individuals and groups argue that the influx of Syrian refugees will increase Nova Scotia’s dwindling population and thereby provide more people to work, start businesses, buy Nova Scotian products, and ultimately fuel the province’s economy.

As such, the reasons behind Nova Scotia’s acceptance of Syrian refugees are multidimensional, founded on humanitarianism, collective memory, and economic forces. Nonetheless, the Syrian refugee experience in Nova Scotia has not been free of difficulties. For instance, Syrian refugees have struggled with relatively high food prices and fulfilling religious and medical dietary requirements, which has been compounded by the language barrier[1]. Owing to the food insecurity faced by many Syrian refugees in the province as well as an economic downtown in the Albertan oil sector (where a substantial number of Nova Scotians were employed), food bank usage has surged by over 17% in Nova Scotia in 2015.[2] Given the social and financial concerns of both host communities and Syrian refugees in the province, Syrian refugee-host community relations in Nova Scotia may very well structure the future of both groups.


[1] Olesya Shyvikova, “Syrian refugees grapple with dietary needs and high food prices,” CBC News, 10 May 2016,

[2] Michael Lewis, “Influx of Syrian refugees fuels surge in food bank use, report says,” The Toronto Star, 15 November 2016,

[i] Kashmala Fida, “Maritime Provinces Lead the Way in resettling Syrian Refugees per Capita,” CBC News, March 1, 2016,

[ii] Department of Immigration, Citizenship, and Refugees, “Backgrounder: #WelcomeRefugees to Canada,” Government of Canada, November 24, 2015,

[iii] —, “#WelcomeRefugees: Key Figures,” Government of Canada, November 6, 2016,

[iv] Ibid.

[v] CBC News, “Halifax rally wants country to let in more Syrian refugees,” CBC News, October 10, 2015,

[vi] Kristian Rasenberg, “StFX for SAFE to hold Peace for Syria Walk,” The Xavierian, October 10, 2016,

[vii] Tom Ayers, “Rally for Refugees set for CBU,” Chronicle Herald, September 16, 2015,

[viii] Ken MacLeod, “Meeting confirms desire of Cape Bretoners to host Syrian Refugees, Cape Breton Post, September 8, 2015,

[ix] Refugees Belong, “Other Sponsorship Efforts,” Refugees Belong, ACCESSED DECEMBER 10, 2016,

[x] Éric Grenier, “Is Canadians’ support for taking in Syrian refugees increasing?,” CBC News, 10 December 2015,

[xi] Josh Dehaas, “Exclusive poll finds huge support for Syrian refugees,” 23 December 2015,

[xii] Michael Macdonald, “Cliquish Atlantic Canadians rethink an unfriendly phrase: ‘Come from away,’” The Canadian Press, 7 July 2016, Factiva, Document CPR0000020160708ec770003s.

[xiii] Godfrey Baldacchino, Sarath Chandrasekere, & Pat Saunders, “INTERNATIONALLY EDUCATED HEALTH PROFESSIONS IN ATLANTIC CANADA,” Canadian Issues Spring 2007: (2007), 104-107, accessed December 10 2016,

[xiv] Ibid, 104.

[xv] Ibid, 106.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Nancy W. Jabbra. “Ethnicity in Atlantic Canada” Canadian Ethnic Studies-Etudes Ethniques Au Canada, 20 no. 3: (1988): 1, accessed Decmber 10, 2016,

[xviii] Government of Nova Scotia, “Refugee Response,” Government of Nova Scotia, 16 March 2016,

[xix] The Canadian Press, “BR-Syrian-Refugees-Donors,” The Canadian Press, 25 December 2015, Factiva, Document BNW0000020151226ebcp0000o.

[xx] Ken MacLeod, “Meeting confirms desire of Cape Bretoners to host Syrian Refugees, Cape Breton Post, 8 September 2015,

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Michael Macdonald, “Cliquish Atlantic Canadians rethink an unfriendly phrase: ‘Come from away,’” The Canadian Press, 7 July 2016, Factiva, Document CPR0000020160708ec770003s.

[xxiii] Tina Roache, “Mi’kmaw professor calling on Indigenous leaders to push Canada to accept more Syrian refugees,” APTN National News, 17 September 2015,

[xxiv] The Canadian Press, “BR-Syrian-Refugees-Donors,” The Canadian Press, 25 December 2015, Factiva, Document BNW0000020151226ebcp0000o.

[xxv] Nancy W. Jabbra, “ Household and family among Lebanese immigrants in Nova Scotia: Continuity, change and adaptation,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 22 no. 1: (1991), 41, accessed December 10, 2016,

[xxvi] Cedars Club, Posts on 12 Feburary 2016, 4 February 2016, 30 January 2016, 26 Janurary 2016, 4 January 2016, 17 December 2015, and 15 November 2015 in “Cedars Club Sydney,” Cedars Club,

[xxvii] Ray Ivany, “Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians,” One Nova Scotia Commission (Government of Nova Scotia), February 2014, accessed December 9, 2016,

[xxviii] Ibid, 12-16.

[xxix] Ibid, 24.

[xxx] Nancy W. Jabbra. (1988). Ethnicity in Atlantic Canada. Canadian Ethnic Studies-Etudes Ethniques Au Canada, 20(3), 2, accessed December 10, 2016,

[xxxi] Michael Macdonald, “Cliquish Atlantic Canadians rethink an unfriendly phrase: ‘Come from away,’” The Canadian Press, July 7, 2016, Factiva, Document CPR0000020160708ec770003s

[xxxii] Fabian, Sabrina. Syrian refugees will help stimulate economy, says Halifax Chamber of Commerce, 13 November 2015, CBC News,

[xxxiii] Demont, John. Halifax at Forefront of National Refugee Effort, 4 October 2014, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (originally published in The Chronicle Herald),

Sudan’s Joint Assessment Mission

Title: Sudan’s Joint Assessment Mission

Writer: Shania Beste


Problem: Aid Effectiveness

There has been a rise in concern on the effectiveness of development assistance and how aid is allocated to countries in need since the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005. An issue that lies here is that the Official Development Assistance provided to countries in crisis can sometimes harm rather than help (Booth, 2012).

An Example: Sudan’s Joint Assessment Mission

The colonial and post-independence governments did not provide South Sudan with basic public institutions and the war between the two states of Sudan had destroyed what little there was. Whatever new government was to be established would need to build the public service from scratch.  As primary school enrolment was the lowest in the world, teachers were paid $92 dollars a year with only 6% of them being qualified. Health wise Sudan was not prospering as 45% of the children were malnourished with one in four children dying before the age of five.

Photo taken in Zam Zam Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp in North Darfur, Sudan, in 2003.

South Sudan hardly had any links to the outside would as there was just a broken down railway from Wau to North Sudan, barges along the Nile towards the north and a broken down gravel road that travels from Nimule to Uganda and then to Mombasa (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

After 20 plus years of war between Sudan and South Sudan, the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army and the National Congress Party came together to develop a framework for sustained peace, development and poverty eradication.  The framework, later named the Joint Assessment Mission had the goal to be a six year $16 billion-dollar program to consolidate peace and to facilitate development (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

The Joint Assessment Mission program planned to allocate $8 billion dollars towards health, education, roads etc. 23% of the total budget was to be allocated towards capacity building and institutional development, and towards governance and the rule of law (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

Sudan was expected to have substantial oil revenues, as it was estimated that aid donors would need to contribute a little bit less than half of the total. The program aimed to revamp the public service, to have rural markets in 86 counties, 30,000 primary classrooms with teachers to teach in those classrooms, 4,000 new wells and water systems to serve 3.2 million people and 2,800 new doctors and nurses (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

A 2010 evaluation reported that, “At current rates, it seems highly unlikely that the Multi-Donor Trust Fund target of 44 schools will be met. In contrast, by the end of 2009, the Basic Services Fund had succeeded in completing 34 schools.  Another 12 schools are expected to be completed by June 2010, bring the total to 46.”  They managed to reach a total of 46 schools as opposed to the promised number of 3,750 schools (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

The Joint Assessment Mission had decided to allocate $750 million for national infrastructure in South Sudan with an additional $150 million for local roads, which was part of the Roads Master Plan to be completed by the end of 2006 and implemented by 2011.  But in 2010 it was reported that, “…although one of Dr. John Garang’s priorities was the building of trunk roads, many donors preferred, initially at least, to fund more media-friendly projects.”  The Roads Master Plan was completed in 2012 instead and the only international link was the 67 kilometre tarmac between Juba and the Uganda border at Nimule (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

That same evaluation estimated that between 2005 and 2009 donors had spent nearly $3 billion dollars, which was on target for the Joint Assessment total of $4 billion dollars by 2011.  But issue behind that amount being spent is to figure out what the money actually bought (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

The Joint Assessment Mission failed for a number of reasons. It did not meet the goals that it set out to achieve, the money donated by donors could not be tracked down to see what it was actually used for and because attention was taken away from certain developmental issues in Sudan and put towards other issues (Sudan Tribune, N.D).

The Solution: Country Ownership

Photo of Paleki Ayang, Executive Director of the South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network, addresses the Security Council open debate on “The role of women in conflict prevention and resolution in Africa”, 28 March 2016

Country ownership is the full and effective participation of a country’s population through legislative bodies, civil society, both the private and local sectors, and regional and national government, in conceptualizing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating development policies, programs and processes. What country ownership aims to do is to have an effective use of development assistance which results in communities experiencing change that they believe is good, that they have a voice and are committed to sustainability.  Country ownership works in the way that at the simplest level at the heart of it there is the participation of both citizens and the government in development efforts, which allows for better targeting of resources, strengthened accountability among various stakeholders and finally increased sustainability and success. Empowering and supporting effective states and their citizens to take responsibility for their own developing, using local systems and local resources to help countries become less dependent on other countries is a key factor to “smart development” (InterAction, 2013).

The CMIC: Aid Effectiveness and Country Ownership

The Community Mobilization in Crisis Project lends a few elements from the concept of country ownership, where it seeks to have the citizens of countries in crisis to take responsibility for developing, use of local systems and local resources to help countries in crisis to become less dependent on external help for development.  As well, when it comes to aid effectiveness, aid programs must decide on how they choose to provide aid, whether it be by doing all the work for those in need or by teaching them how to sustain themselves.  The Community Mobilization in Crisis aims to further mobilizers’ skills in mobilization and group abilities.  Another main goal of the Community Mobilization in Crisis Project is to deliver community interventions by providing training in the skills and tools that help communities to identify their own needs and priorities, to use available resources and to become agents of their own community-based solutions.


Booth, David. (2012) Aid effectiveness: bringing country ownership (and politics)

back in, Conflict, Security & Development, 12:5, 537-558

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How welcome are refugees in Spain?

Title: How welcome are refugees in Spain?

Author: Madeline Sykes


Photo taken by Madeline Sykes. Madrid’s city hall, Palacio de Cibeles, still displaying the Refugees Welcome sign in March 2017.

When it appeared on the façade of Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles in September 2015, the now-famous Refugees Welcome sign was a bold statement. Its authors, the left-wing municipal party Ahora Madrid,[1] knew that the sentiments behind the phrase were shared by many residents calling the city council to offer aid to asylum seekers in the city. It was, however, an optimistic statement –based on the lack of political action following it, some might even call it an empty promise.

Shortly after the sign went up, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy bowed to domestic and international pressure, announcing that Spain would participate in the EU’s new quota system for refugee redistribution. Under it, Spain would take in 15 888 refugees from Greece and Italy and 1449 from states bordering Syria by 2017. Six months after the introduction of the quota system, only 18 had arrived in Spain. [2]  By September 7, 2017, that number had risen to only 1980.[3] If the welcome mat has already been rolled out, why has the Spanish government been so slow to open the door?

The answer is complex, but two factors appear to be key in explaining the sluggish pace of refugee resettlement. The first is the absence of a government for most of 2016. Following the inconclusive results of the 2015 general election, no party was able to secure the majority of support needed to form the government. As a result, Spain was kept under the watch of a caretaker government through 10 months of interparty negotiations and a second, also inconclusive, election. Ultimately, Rajoy managed to get the votes needed to secure his investiture as Prime Minister in October 2016.[4] The second, more worrisome factor is the lack of political will on the part of the central government. Many in Rajoy’s cabinet consider Spain’s most pressing –and only – concern to be the country’s deficit levels well in excess of the EU’s targets and its 17.1% unemployment rate as of July 2017.[5] In their minds, the state simply cannot afford to take on so many refugees. Of course, Spain has also not been immune to the fearmongering that has affected much of Europe; the Sectorial Undersecretary of Rajoy’s Partido Popular, Javier Maroto, said in an interview in 2015 that, “. . . [A]mong the Syrians who enter there are many jihadists. They are people who one day put a bomb in any of our cities . . .”.[6] Regardless of whether the government has been unable, unwilling, or simply afraid to act, they are unlikely to make their quotas all the same.


Photo taken by Madeline Sykes. Scenes from an #InauguramosUnaCiudad protest in Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid

In spite of bureaucratic inertia, many in Spain are mobilizing to do what they can to help refugees. Several grassroots organizations have formed in Spain in response to the refugee crisis, including Madrid for Refugees, a charity formed largely by expatriates eager to help the asylum seekers in their adopted country. Their volunteers act as a support network for refugees, helping them to secure housing and jobs as well as holding drives to collect such essentials as clothing and household supplies for them.[7] Some of the fundraisers they hold allow the refugees they help to promote their skill set; a migrant from the Gambia identified only as G.B. gives boxing lessons in the Parque del Buen Retiro.[8] A Syrian named Khaled and other “chefugees” cook dishes from their homelands at fundraising banquets held in local restaurants.[9] They also maintain an informational campaign about the plight of Europe’s asylum seekers both over social media and through events like the “Stepping Stones” exhibition displaying photos of the migrant influx in Lesbos.[10] Through such activities, Madrid for Refugees hopes not only to raise funds for its own activities but to inform and mobilize others on these issues.

Photo taken by Madeline Sykes

Apparently, such campaigns are having some success. Several protests have taken place in the streets of Spain’s major cities calling for local and regional governments, in addition to the central government, to live up to Spain’s commitments under the quota system.  Among them was the #InauguramosUnaCiudad (We inaugurate a city) campaign by Amnesty International. Taking place on March 4, 2017, the initiative saw simultaneous demonstrations in cities across the country in which participants rallied around the phrase “Yo acojo” (I welcome).[11] The demonstrations may not have pushed the central government into action, but they did result in 68 municipal governments creating 2741 new spaces in refugee reception centres. In spite of the economic and political grievances that strain and divide the electorate, a large portion of the Spanish population is willing to welcome refugees into their communities and will likely continue to demand that their government make good on the claim still emblazoned on Palacio de Cibeles.












Traditional Foreign Aid

Title: Traditional Foreign Aid

Writer: Sebastian Tansil


Aid usually comes in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA) which is defined as “flows of financing administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of development countries as the main objective and which are concessional in character with a grant element of at least 25 percent.” (OECD 2003)

ODA has been criticized for a variety of reasons. Some of them include: the potential mal-intent of traditional donor countries who inscribe their foreign aid within a broader foreign policy agenda based  more on their national self-interest rather than on the genuine welfare of recipient countries, the risk of the aid being “captured” by corrupt bureaucracy instead of it actually going to the poorest, the “waste of aid” because of a lack of institutional capacity in distributing the money to the poor, and maybe sometimes the burdensome series of conditions attached to aid by Northern countries which are bureaucratically challenging alongside it being ideologically imposing to reflect more the neoliberal market-based political economies of Northern donors.

This “top-down” approach to foreign aid has been criticized for its lack of equal “partnership” between donors and recipient states, leading to a lack of effectiveness in policy coherence between the aid and non-aid policies of donor countries in actually bringing about long-term development. This stubborn power relationship between donor and recipient countries has made it difficult for developing countries to achieve genuine “country ownership” – the ability of recipient states to effectively take ownership over its own long-term development needs and processes (Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness 2005). The necessity of country ownership is important for truly effective aid and long-term development. This requires recipient states to have the needed capacity in its institutions and governance to manage the humanitarian, capital investing, development needs of its own country.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed addresses a discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals, entitled, “SDGs in Action: Country-led, Country-owned”. 21 September 2017, United Nations, New York

Unfortunately, the principle of country ownership is very hard to achieve in crisis zones where “fragile states” do not have the institutional or governance capacities to steer their own policies and implement/apply mechanisms of foreign aid onto their local populace. In crisis zones, foreign aid becomes difficult to manage by the recipient state and harder to manage in assuring it trickles down from state bureaucracy and into the most poor and marginalized individuals and communities of society.

The Fragile States Principles (2007) drafted by the DAC Fragile States Group gave a nuanced analysis on states with limited institutional capacity – evaluating the “deterioration of state-society relations, at the exclusion of constituencies such as women, the poor and ethnic minorities.” Northern donors in response have sought to assure more “effective” management of its own aid to recipient societies by “bypassing the state” altogether through non-governmental channels where arguably “compliant” NGOs faithfully execute the services and aid in a manner which reflects Northern interests. This bypassing of the recipient states arguably further exacerbates the capacity of states in crisis situations to build its own governance capacities.

Knowledge Sharing, Discourse Change and Empowering Social Change Leaders

Phronesis is “the practical wisdom born of an intimate familiarity with a practice that could help people act effectively in particular situations”. (Schram 2013, pg. 369) This technique “features a problem-driven approach that mixes methods to address issues of power involved in specific public problems people are struggling to address” (Schram 2013, pg. 360), and aims to identify tension points within social and political relations that admit of possibilities for change (Schram 2013, pg. 371). Phronesis seeks to directly meet the needs of communities and “prioritizes working alongside marginalized and ordinary people and communities to build knowledge, working from the assumption that “ordinary people, provided with tools and opportunities, are capable of critical reflection and analysis” (Maguire 2014, pg. 421).

Although the development community has a lot of expertise and wisdom on advancing social change, that knowledge often resides in silos, either locked in individual heads or buried within organizations. This limited access to learning, insights, evidence and best practices constrains what a lot of local actors can achieve–both individually and collectively as a community sector seeking to create impact and bring about change.

I’ve found while researching for CMIC that there is a large wealth of organizations which tackle this exact development need/area. A lot of grassroots knowledge sharing organizations have the objective of surfacing these ideas, experiences and practices, so that they can be equipped to tackle the real-world reality of social change and community development. As a grassroots organization, they have the unique ability in highlighting voices on various relevant issues facing all kinds of local leaders.  In other words, there is a substantial portion of independent grassroots knowledge-sharing organizations which seek to bring about best practices in community development and social change tailored to empower social change local actors in their particular context.

One such example is the India’s Development Review (IDR). The IDR is “India’s first independent online media platform for leaders in the development community. [Their] mission is to advance knowledge on social impact in India by publishing ideas, opinion, analysis and lessons from real-world practice. [Their] job is to make things simple and relevant so [Indian community development leaders] can do more of what they do, better.” (

Their founding team is composed of four women who have a combined experience of more than 50 years in nonprofit, private sector, CSR, consulting and journalism. They bring to light narratives of social exclusion and marginalization in different aid programs, provide practical tips and share experiences on how various nonprofits and companies can partner with the government from the grassroots level to achieve sustainable development goals and long term social change.

Their articles and content have assisted many local Indian community leaders running nonprofits, CSR, and consulting firms in mobilizing local actors to participatory social change. Their content has also affected mainstream western academia as their articles are featured in The Economist, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Times of India, The Economic Times, Mint, the Guardian and Next Billion, among other publications.

Similarly, the Community Development Resource Association (CDRA) “is a non-governmental African organizational advancing conscious and continuous learning about development processes and art of intervention. They do this through organizational interventions, training, accompanied learning and collaborative explorations. Out of active reflection on different experiences, and through writing and disseminating, they share insights and lessons gained, seeking to impact on wider development thinking and processes. They strive to bring to birth new consciousness, creativity and strength in those with whom they work (on the grassroots), thus facilitating a more collective development” (

With founding members with different professional experience and from different parts of Africa, the CDRA researches extensive policy analyses on sustainable development strategies alongside planning, monitoring and reporting mechanisms for various community development actors. It provides training material for change agents to be equipped with policy and reporting tools from the various articles and tutorials they provide. It wouldn’t be until 2007 when the Barefoot Guide launched an alliance among the major knowledge sharing grassroots development policy organization.

Barefoot guide, originally stemming from CDRA, would amalgamate the wider community of community development practitioners to bring about extremely accessible resources for social change actors. They publish Barefoot Guides through collaborative Writeshops focusing on different spheres of social change practice with the participation of over 240 practitioners from all continents. Each Barefoot Guide describes on the ground experiences, deep analyses and helpful frameworks, written in straightforward language and artistically illustrated with images and poetry. For them, “accessible practice description is key to enabling the full and joint participation of a wider variety of stakeholders, particularly to include leaders at local or community level in practice dialogue with government officials, donors and NGO practitioners. Academic texts, while helpful for some, often serve to exclude and undermine the participation of community stakeholders in their own processes of change” (

If we take a constructivist/de-constructivist lens, emphasis is placed on the expression of pervading ideas and norms which focus on aid practices as discourse and ways of exerting power. The aid industry continues to struggle with the question of how research influences policymaking, while it is equally possible that policy influences research, particularly when much of the development research is traditionally directly funded by the Northern aid industry itself.

“For many European countries the aid industry had its origins in the colonial period, and early development projects were set up by colonial administrations. Academic research informed the colonial administration and western anthropologists were the ones who educated administrations about local populations.” (Haan 2009, pg. 65)

Photo taken in Jan 2007, In Ramallah/Al-bireh, on the main street heading to Jerusalem/Qalandia Checkpoint of a poster on advertisement space, printed as an advertisement for the USAID

Thus, it is interesting to see how research and articles from non-Western sources originating from grassroots offers a form of “resistance” to traditionally dominant Western conceptions of aid and effective development (who have also dominated the discourse and terminology of the aid regime). Knowledge sharing grassroots community development organizations have the potential of decolonizing knowledge practices and subverting the hierarchies of global power that are at work in how research is structured.

Scholars have emphasized the importance of developing and articulating new ontologies and epistemologies that better reflect non-western viewpoints. The global political economy of scholarly knowledge demands that work be produced in English for an audience in the Global North (Hanafi 2011), just as the global aid system demands that NGOs and groups working for change in the Global South spend a disproportionate amount of their time translating their work into English, and into frameworks most relevant to their Northern funders, in order to continue to exist.

Organizations like CDRA, Barefoot and IDR contribute to a growing resistant literature who seek to publish research and resources grounded in the experiences of conflict and displacement, supporting local community development actors with the grassroots connected work they are already doing. They provide new narratives and discourse of engagement that arguably “reflects the reality of the ground as barefoot as possible” ( This counter-narrative can change the way aid is structured and the way aid is perceived by DAC countries that have a narrow-minded view of how they want to administer ODA. This narrow-minded view suits the “West knows Best” dogma that has generated multiple criticisms from the development community and grassroots actors who are radically more connected with the needs of the recipient state and local community.

In other words, Foreign aid doesn’t simply need to look like the form of giving financial transfers but can also be knowledge and information sharing to local grassroots actors to do their own unique development work. This allows them to be locally rooted and internationally connected, providing them with the tools to address more “endogenous” issues of under-development. These tools will help community development actors be leaders. Leadership is approached not as a position, but as a practice, helping the local community accept responsibility for enabling others to achieve solutions under conditions of uncertainty. This sort of practice is a way of allowing more people to join in the work and to take part with their own creative ideas, identities and aesthetics.

A portion of traditional ODA could be used to support these endogenous locally rooted research knowledge-sharing initiatives and scholarship money could be re-directed from Western pre-colonial aid institutions to partnered universities in recipient states. This allows for a change in culture from the bottom-up regarding ownership, equipping local actors to take their own initiative in bringing about social change and advocating as well for their own long-term development needs. It is recognizable, however, that those Western research institutions in recipient states will continue to advocate for their own self-generated material. Higher education institutions and universities in DAC countries can counter this work by leveraging the work and research of grassroots communities, giving it credence and value. A bottom-up change in Western academia from Western-centric models of community development (which has exclusively focused for instance on North American impoverished communities) to the work of local community development actors in these crisis zones could change the culture in how aid is perceived and understood.

It is good to see that many news article agencies (The Economist, Globe and Mail, etc.) and universities like Harvard, University of Toronto and University of Ottawa have started the work of bringing about that perspective change. As community-based approaches become useful to how the international community responds during crises, the scholarly community is coming to realize that we lack the research to understand how these factors matter to organizing and mobilization processes. The North needs to have a clearer comprehensive understanding of how community mobilization can be a key element in bottom-up development which can work in tandem with top-down approaches of the recipient state to achieve overall country ownership.