Author Archives: Andrea Silkoset

“Klimaendringer tar liv”. Frokostmøte 4. november 2019 på Tøyen i Oslo

Leger Uten Grenser inviterer til frokostmøte.

Klimaendringer tar liv

Tid: Mandag 4. november kl. 09:00 – 11:00

Sted: Skatten, Hagegata 22 – 24 på Tøyen

Vi samler feltarbeidere, politikere, miljø- og helseeksperter til paneldebatt: Hvordan skal vi behandle de globale helsekonsekvensene av klimaendringene? 

Klimaendringer utgjør kanskje den største trusselen mot fremtidens globale helse. Det er grunn til å frykte flere humanitære kriser: Kraftigere sykloner, flom, hetebølger og tørke vil ramme stadig flere og drive millioner på flukt. Dårlig matsikkerhet og vannmangel kan bidra til å destabilisere hele regioner. Underernæring og infeksjonssykdommer som diare, malaria og denguefeber vil øke og true fremgangen for grunnleggende globale helsemål. Konsekvensene for liv og helse vil være store og alvorlige.
 
Den rikeste delen av verden står bak de største utslippene, den fattigste – med dårligst tilgang på helsetjenester – rammes hardest av dem. Det skaper flere pasienter det blir vanskeligere å nå. Leger Uten Grenser er tilstede i mange av områdene som er mest utsatt, og ser allerede konsekvensene på nært hold. 

  • Hvordan kan vi skape økt forståelse for sammenhengen mellom klimaendringer og helse?
  • Hvordan kan Norge bidra til å gjøre sårbare land bedre rustet til å møte helseutfordringene knyttet til klimaendringer?
  • Hva kan frivillige organisasjoner som Leger Uten Grensers rolle være i dette arbeidet?

Program

09:00 – Kaffe & rundstykker

09:15 – Velkomst og introduksjon ved debattleder Eirik Bergesen

Paneldeltakere:

  • Espen Barth Eide
    Stortingsrepresentant, Arbeiderpartiet
  • Frederic Hauge 
    Leder, Bellona
  • Karine Nordstrand
    Lege og president i Leger Uten Grenser
  • Ernst Kristian Rødland

Postdoktor Avdeling for samfunnsmedisin og global helse, UIO

  • Høyre : TBA

Innspill fra salen og spørsmål

Debatten vil foregå på norsk.

Møte er åpent for presse.

Påmelding: Send mail til reception@legerutengrenser.no og oppgi navn og organisasjon/institusjon du er tilknyttet. Påmeldingsfrist: 25. oktober.

Begrenset antall plasser.   

R.I.P., Europe

Written by

This text first appeared as a Fieldnote from Lampedusa on the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) webpage and is re-posted here. Antonio De Lauri is a Senior Researcher at CMI and co-Director of the NCHS.

Lampedusa, 9 October 2019, funeral ceremony for the 13 women who died at sea. Photo: Antonio De Lauri/CMI

Lampedusa, 9 October 2019.

A simple, moving ceremony for the people who died at sea on October 7, 2019 took place today in the small island of Lampedusa. Only a few days ago Lampedusa commemorated the anniversary of the tragegy that occured on October 3, 2013 when over 360 persons lost their lives in the Mediterranean waters after the fishing boat that was transporting around 500 people began sinking a few hundred metres from the coast. Thousands of people have died in the Mediterranean Sea in the past few years in the attempt to reach Europe. What happened two days ago was only the most recent episode in this human-made, ongoing catastrophe.

According to the latest figures, at least 40 people lost their lives on October 7, including an infant who was born on the boat during the trip, and many are still missing. All the 13 bodies that have been initially pulled out of the sea were women. Only four of them have been identified by the 21 survivors.

Raised anchor in Sfax, the boat got into trouble a few miles from the coast of Lampedusa. The engine stopped working properly, and water started flooding into the bottom of the boat where a group of Sub-Saharan women were sitting with their children. The boat capsized when approached by the coast guard, pouring all the Sub-Saharans and Tunisians onboard in the water. Two Tunisian guys told me that, right before the boat capsized, they have been able to through a pregnant woman on the coast guard vessel. In the dark water, they said, it was chaos. “People who could not swim tried to grab us. They can pull you down, they make you drown,” one of them said. “The only thing you can do is to swim away and reach the vessel.” 

A sense of loss pervaded today’s ceremony. Not only for the persons who didn’t make, but also for the idea of Europe, itself drowned with those who believed in it. 

The anthropologist Laura Nader once asked: “Is there anything more fundamental to what makes humans human than ideas of right or wrong?” That is a good question. Every discussion about migration, borders and refugees seems to be dominated by pragmatic approaches: Is it convenient, in economic terms, for Europe to welcome high numbers of migrants? Are they really “high numbers”? Are protectionist national regulations in conflict with international law? Who is legally responsible for the boats filled with migrants in need of help in the Mediterranean? These are pertinent questions. Yet, they don’t address the core issue, which is rather a matter of right and wrong. I struggle with the thought of how anyone with a basic moral attitude towards humanity can think that it is right that some people have passports and are free to move around while others don’t even have a passport (or have a passport that “doesn’t count” in the international mobility) and are denied this basic right.

Open borders is the only possible answer to the current dismantling of the European project and, more profoundly, of ideals of solidarity, fraternity and equality. We need open borders simply because it is the right thing to do. It should not be contingent on an analysis of pros and cons, or on considerations of an economic, legal and political nature. The arrogant and violent language of a transnational class of political figures, the tyranny of financial capitalism, the disintegration of socialist ideologies, and the rising of a vulnerable underclass at the European level has transformed a matter of right and wrong into a battle among the poor. “Migrants steal our jobs”, “They receive more benefits than us”, “Italians first” (tragically reproducing Donald Trump’s deplorable motto “America first”). These discourses signal the victory of dominant classes over the subalterns. Local populations in hotspot locations like Lampedusa have shown great solidarity in the past years, often against the will of national governments. But anti-migrant sentiments seem to prevail all over Europe at this point in history. Qualitative studies have extensively demonstrated that irregular migration is a huge business for those in power and for criminal organizations. Whoever today reiterates ideologies of closed borders that hinders mobility becomes complicit in a business whose profit is made from human suffering and human exploitation.

It is always illuminating to try to explain complex things in simple ways. Now, try to explain the politics of borders to a child. How can we explain to a child that some people, who are in dire need, cannot cross a border to enjoy refuge and care in search for a better life? Unscrupolous pragmatists would say that you do that by explaining the child that we have to protect “us” first, that we have to secure jobs for ourselves first, and that this is “our land”. I have deep concerns about who that child will be tomorrow.

A simple, moving ceremony for the people who died at sea on October 7, 2019 took place today in the small island of Lampedusa. Only a few days ago Lampedusa commemorated the anniversary of the tragegy that occured on October 3, 2013 when over 360 persons lost their lives in the Mediterranean waters after the fishing boat that was transporting around 500 people began sinking a few hundred metres from the coast. Thousands of people have died in the Mediterranean Sea in the past few years in the attempt to reach Europe. What happened two days ago was only the most recent episode in this human-made, ongoing catastrophe. According to the latest figures, at least 30 people lost their lives on October 7 and 17 are still missing. All the 13 bodies that have been pulled out of the sea were women. Only four of them have been identified by the 22 survivors.

The boat got into trouble a few kilometres from the coast. The boat’s engine stopped working properly, and water started flooding into the bottom of the boat where a group of Sub-Saharan women who had boarde in Libya were sitting with their children (a group of around 15 Tunisians had joined later in Sfax).

A sense of loss pervaded today’s ceremony. Not only for the persons who didn’t make, but also for the idea of Europe, itself drowned with those who believed in it.  

The anthropologist Laura Nader once asked: “Is there anything more fundamental to what makes humans human than ideas of right or wrong?” That is a good question. Every discussion about migration, borders and refugees seems to be dominated by pragmatic approaches: Is it convenient, in economic terms, for Europe to welcome high numbers of migrants? Are they really “high numbers”? Are protectionist national regulations in conflict with international law? Who is legally responsible for the boats filled with migrants in need of help in the Mediterranean? These are pertinent questions. Yet, they don’t address the core issue, which is rather a matter of right and wrong. I struggle with the thought of how anyone with a basic moral attitude towards humanity can think that it is right that some people have passports and are free to move around while others don’t even have a passport (or have a passport that “doesn’t count” in the international mobility) and are denied this basic right.

Open borders is the only possible answer to the current dismantling of the European project and, more profoundly, of ideals of solidarity, fraternity and equality. We need open borders simply because it is the right thing to do. It should not be contingent on an analysis of pros and cons, or on considerations of an economic, legal and political nature. The arrogant and violent language of a transnational class of political figures, the tyranny of financial capitalism, the disintegration of socialist ideologies, and the rising of a vulnerable underclass at the European level has transformed a matter of right and wrong into a battle among the poor. “Migrants steal our jobs”, “They receive more benefits than us”, “Italians first” (tragically reproducing Donald Trump’s deplorable motto “America first”). These discourses signal the victory of dominant classes over the subalterns. Local populations in hotspot locations like Lampedusa have shown great solidarity in the past years, often against the will of national governments. But anti-migrant sentiments seem to prevail all over Europe at this point in history. Qualitative studies have extensively demonstrated that irregular migration is a huge business for those in power and for criminal organizations. Whoever today reiterates ideologies of closed borders that hinders mobility becomes complicit in a business whose profit is made from human suffering and human exploitation.

It is always illuminating to try to explain complex things in simple ways. Now, try to explain the politics of borders to a child. How can we explain to a child that some people, who are in dire need, cannot cross a border to enjoy refuge and care in search for a better life? Unscrupolous pragmatists would say that you do that by explaining the child that we have to protect “us” first, that we have to secure jobs for ourselves first, and that this is “our land”. I have deep concerns about who that child will be tomorrow.

Joint Special Issue of Disasters and Development Policy Review on Technology

A joint special issue of Disasters and Development Policy Review discusses the role of technology both in disasters and in development contexts more broadly. The special issue is a compilation of articles on the topic previously published in one of the two journals, and it features contributions from several NCHS associates. The articles in this issue will be free to access until the end of April 2020, and the special issue can be accessed here.

In their paper Rethinking Access: How Humanitarian Technology Governance Blurs Control and Care by Katja Lindskov Jacobsen and Larissa Fast the role of digital technology in humanitarian governance is examined. The article looks at the governance of technologies and the digitalized data they produce, before tying such insights into the much-debated humanitarian access challenge. The article concludes that in a digital age, access is no longer only about gaining access to vulnerable populations, but also about preventing access to vulnerable digital bodies.  Read the article in full here.

In her article Control or Rescue at Sea? Aims and Limits of Border Surveillance Technologies in the Mediterranean Sea, Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert seeks to understand what surveillance technologies can and cannot do vis-à-vis the roles they were assigned. The article argues that surveillance of migration in the Mediterranean Sea does not equal actual control as it is limited in its ability to stop, sort or reduce migration flows. Rather, the type of information collected by such technology is best adapted to support search and rescue operations. Read the article in full here.

Audio from Roundtable Debate on Migration Policies Now Available

On 19 September, the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (UiO) and the NCHS hosted a full-day seminar on current trends in assistance to and protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe and the Middle East.

Audio from the final roundtable debate is now available, listen here. In the roundtable were NUPI Research Professor Morten Bøås, Independent Expert and former MFA Director of Department for Migration Tove Skarstein, and Professor at the University of Warwick School of Law Dallal Stevens. The session was chaired by NCHS Director and PRIO Research Director Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert.

First session on ‘Humanitarian Criminalization’. From the left: Bruno Oliveira Martins (PRIO), Katja Franko (UiO), Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO), Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (UiO/PRIO). Photo: Indigo Trigg-Hauger/PRIO.

Preventing the Work of Rescue Vessels in the Mediterranean Will Not Save More Migrants

Written by

This text is based on an op-ed which was first published in Norwegian in Aftenposten 19 November 2019: Å hinder redningsskipenes arbeid vil ikke redde flere migranter. It has been translated by Fidotext and published on the PRIO blog, and is re-published here.

Ai Weiwei’s Soleil Levant – migrants’ lifejackets. This artwork in Copenhagen, by renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, is made up of actual life jackets used by migrants crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos in search of safety or a better life in Europe. Photo: TeaMeister via Flickr.

The Norwegian-registered vessel Ocean Viking, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, has recently been at the centre of a debate that has become dominated by one assumption: that search-and-rescue (SAR) operations are encouraging people to attempt to cross the Mediterranean.

The logic is problematic for several reasons, and I will try to address some of them: 1) the statistics suggest otherwise; 2) it ignores the wider picture – that a range of complex factors drive people to flee their homes, with some heading towards the Mediterranean; and 3) the theory is being used to legitimize non-rescue of boats in distress.

A temptingly simple explanation

The logic has a name, the pull factor – in other words, that SAR operations contribute to “pull” more people to attempt the crossing. The power of this idea lies partly in how it provides a simple and apparently clear-cut explanation for a complex problem — a problem that we otherwise have a hard time understanding, and even harder time addressing. It is also powerful because it is difficult to refute: it is hard to know exactly what makes people decide to embark on this dangerous sea crossing, and there are probably as many reasons as there are refugees and other migrants.

Old rhetoric

In 2004, Erna Solberg, then Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, argued against a local initiative in Trondheim, which sought to provide food and accommodation to asylum seekers lacking refugee status. Solberg claimed that the initiative would “in practice mean unfettered immigration by people from the Horn of Africa”. Today the idea that any measure intended to ensure a minimum level of subsistence for refugees or other migrants will help “pull” more people in the same direction pervades European policy on migration, from Greece and France to Norway.

The pull factor and SAR operations

In particular, the legacy of Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum has served to boost the pull-factor theory about SAR missions in the Mediterranean. Mare Nostrum was established in response to a major shipwreck off Lampedusa in October 2013, which was described by high-ranking EU politicians and the Italian president as a “shame” for Europe. Mare Nostrum was run by the Italian navy as a “military-humanitarian” operation. The number of refugees and other migrants who attempted to make the crossing had already begun to rise before the operation started, and even while Mare Nostrum was saving tens of thousands of lives at sea, the numbers continued to rise.

Critics quickly concluded that the increase was linked to the presence of the SAR operation, and that Mare Nostrum was directly and indirectly encouraging more people to make the crossing. This allegation, which was seen at the time as controversial, has nonetheless become almost conventional wisdom in today’s policy-making.

What do the numbers tell us?

Several researchers have examined the statistical relationship between the numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and SAR capacity. One study, conducted by Elias Steinhilper and Rob Gruitjers, looks at the period between late 2013 and 2017. They divide this period into three periods: an initial period with high SAR capacity (October 2013 – October 2014); a subsequent period with low SAR capacity following the launch of the Frontex-led Operation Triton (November 2014 – May 2015); and a third period with high SAR capacity (Triton II with increased SAR capacity, plus more vessels operated by NGOs). The numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean began to increase before Mare Nostrum was implemented, and continued to increase after it was shut down and throughout the period of low SAR capacity. In fact, the numbers increased most sharply during the period of low SAR capacity, rather than during the two periods with high SAR capacity. This same period also saw the sharpest increase in the number of drownings, compared with the periods before and after.

Another, still ongoing, study conducted by Matteo Villa at ISPI in Milan, is examining the number of migrants leaving Libya in 2019 compared with the availability of SAR vessels on the actual dates the migrants’ boats left shore. The findings show that the likelihood of boats leaving Libya is not affected by the availability of SAR vessels, but rather by wind and weather conditions. Figures from the IOM and UNHCR show that so far this year, on average, 31 migrants leave shore on days when SAR vessels are operating, against 41 migrants on days with no SAR vessels.

A narrow perspective

Even while these figures sow doubt about the existence of any direct link, it is important to point out that the theory itself, assuming that the availability of x number of SAR vessels affects the number of people attempting the sea crossing, is built on a problematic premise. The thinking is based on a very narrow perspective, which views SAR vessels as a unique factor in a world where the availability of more or fewer SAR vessels is the sole factor influencing an apparently inexhaustible number of migrants ready to attempt the crossing. The wider picture, with its multiple factors that either hinder migration or make it possible or necessary for people to leave their homes, is too complex to understand and too difficult to do anything about. This line of thinking posits NGOs’ activities as the simple explanation for an otherwise incomprehensible situation, and thereby also the factor that needs to be addressed in order to resolve the situation.

Humanitarian rhetoric used to legitimize not saving lives

The main problem with this hypothesis however is not only that it appears to be unfounded and based on a narrow perspective, but that it is being used to legitimize both the closed ports and an active policy of not coming to the rescue of vessels in distress. There is in fact a duty, enshrined in the international law of the sea, to provide assistance to vessels in distress and take the rescued to a safe harbour.

Regardless of one’s political standing, it is no easy matter to argue against saving lives at sea. That is also why many of those advancing this argument. are trying to prove that SAR operations will “entice” more people to attempt the crossing, and thereby putting more migrants at greater risk. As such, the policy of non-rescue is presented as a policy that protects more people from drowning.

But hindering the operations of SAR vessels will not save the lives of more migrants, and it will also not address the complex causes of displacement and migration.

What Can Data Governance Learn from Humanitarians?

Written by

Sean McDonald argues that the humanitarian sector has much to offer the technology industry, and explores the relationship between the two. This article first appeared on Centre for International Governance Innovation, and is reposted here.

About the author: Sean Martin McDonald is the co-founder of Digital Public, which builds legal trusts to protect and govern digital assets. Sean’s research focuses on civic data trusts as vehicles that embed public interest governance into digital relationships and markets.

World Food Programme (WFP) aid arrives in in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. The programme recently accused the government of redirecting aid to fund the war and insisted that aid recipients participate in a biometric identity-tracking system, sparking a data governance standoff. (AP Photo/Hammadi Issa)

Over the summer, the World Food Programme (WFP) — the world’s largest humanitarian organization — got into a pitched standoff with Yemen’s Houthi government over, on the surface, data governance. That standoff stopped food aid to 850,000 people for more than two months during the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Essentially, the WFP accused the Houthi government of redirecting aid to fund the war and insisted that aid recipients participate in a biometric identity-tracking system. The government responded by accusing the WFP of being a front for intelligence operations; this was opportune, given the recent controversy over their relationship with Palantir. In the end, the parties agreed to use the WFP’s fingerprint-based biometric identity system, despite reported flaws. The dispute, of course, wasn’t just about data — it was about power, trust and the licence to operate.  

While they may seem worlds apart, the humanitarian sector has much to offer to the technology industry. One of the things humanitarians and technologists have in common is an extraordinary power to operate. For humanitarians, power takes the form of an internationally agreed-upon right to intervene in conflicts – for some, with legal immunity. And technology companies have the ability to project themselves into global markets without the need for traditional government approval.

In one sense, they’re opposites. Humanitarians have had to meticulously negotiate the conditions of their access to conflict zones, based on non-intervention principles, the terms of host country agreements with governments and, increasingly, data-sharing agreements. In contrast, technology companies have mostly enjoyed the freedom to operate globally without much negotiation, taxation or regulation of any type. But, in recent years (as illustrated by the WFP example) humanitarian organizations are starting to face the political and regulatory implications of collecting, using, storing, sharing and deleting data. Technology companies, it seems, are following the same path; they face significant public pushback from nearly every corner of the world, from international standards bodies and antitrust investigations to privacy fines and class action lawsuits.

Humanitarian organizations have considerable history and experience negotiating for the licence to operate in political and unstable contexts – which should inform the people and companies designing data governance systems. Here are five places to start:

Licence to Operate

Humanitarians and technology companies can, and sometimes do, operate in places where the government is actively resistant to their presence. While the stakes are often lower for technology companies, the costs involved in negotiating licence to operate country-by-country, and the technical complexity of maintaining product offerings compatible with divergent political contexts, are high. As a result, most technology companies launch offerings, and then react to, or defend against governmental and public concerns. That approach is decidedly opportunist, sacrificing long-term goodwill for short-term gains. Humanitarian organizations have extensive debates around their right to access affected populations, and under what conditions they earn that mandate. One thing humanitarians can teach technology companies is the importance of contextual negotiations and compromise to improve medium-term sustainability and long-term growth.

The Political Complexity of Neutrality

The technology industry has become a popular political scapegoat, often coming under fire for all kinds of bias. Technology companies arbitrate complex social, commercial and political processes, some without any dedicated operational infrastructure. The larger companies have built trust and safety teams, content moderation units of varying types, and online dispute resolution systems — all of which are designed to help users solve problems related to platforms’ core functions. Each of these approaches has grown significantly in recent years, but largely to mitigate damage created by the technology sector itself – and often without transparency or the ability to shape rules.

Humanitarian organizations, in contrast, are defined by their commitment to several core, apolitical principles: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence and to do no harm. The major humanitarian organizations have built organizations and reputations for upholding those values, often amid violent conflict, that scale globally. The technology industry, and in particular those seeking the licence to provide public digital services or to govern public data — has a significant amount to learn from the organizational structure of complex humanitarian operations. 

Federation

Federation is an organizational structure that manages common infrastructure and operational hierarchies. Federation is second nature to technology companies when it comes to code, but they are just learning how to federate and devolve their organizational structures. Humanitarian organizations have been working through devolved, federated organizational structures for decades — the International Federation of the Red Cross, for example. There is a natural, and well-documented tension between independence and upholding common standards across networks – especially in technology systems. Yet, humanitarian organizations have built federated organizations that enable them to operate globally, while availing themselves of the two most important aspects of building trust: investment in local capacity and accountability.

Localization

In addition to negotiating a licence to operate with governments, humanitarian organizations often invest in domestic response capacity, and in recent years, localization has become a driving strategic imperative. Humanitarians increasingly realize they need to offer value beyond direct emergency aid, in order to foster more durable solutions and earn the trust of communities. Technology companies often make their products available internationally — and they often invest in countries where they maintain a physical presence, but they rarely set up a presence for the purposes of investing in local communities or in ways that extend beyond their business interests. Technology organizations looking to build trust and public approval in the ways they govern data could learn from the humanitarian sector’s investments in local capacity, resilience and independence.

Accountability

While the humanitarian sector faces a lot of controversy over accountability, their typical operating practice is to engage in direct negotiations with local parties, which is different than technology companies, who generally start with one set of terms they apply globally.  The default terms of the technology industry’s cardinal data governance contracts — terms of service agreements and privacy policies — enable them to unilaterally change the terms of the agreement. It’s impossible to rely on the terms of a contract that can change at the whim of one party – or when the underlying goes bankrupt or gets acquired. The actors within the technology industry seeking public trust in the way they manage data can learn from the humanitarian sector about the need for credible parity between negotiating parties and distributed accountability.

The good news is that the humanitarian sector and the technology industry are well on their way to forming deep alliances; the heads of several major humanitarian organizations have placed private sector coordination and co-creation at the centre of their strategies. The World Economic Forum is laying the foundation for private companies to participate in international governance bodies. And, private foundations and investors increasingly play a role in shaping response efforts. 

Unfortunately, these relationships may be a double-edged sword. Technology companies can take advantage of humanitarian organizations’ unique licence to operate to work in regulated spaces, test new products without repercussions and even justify the creation of invasive surveillance. This new generation of relationships between the humanitarian organizations and technology companies offer opportunities for each group to learn from the other’s structural solutions on problems relating to shared issues of trust, neutrality and global scale. Let’s hope that the technology industry chooses to learn from the organizations that have spent the last century building, testing and scaling organizational structures to deliver the best of humanity.

New article: Humanitarian Data Governance

In his newly published article, From Space to Supply Chains: A Plan for Humanitarian Data Governance, in the SSRN, Sean Martin McDonald highlights the relationship between digitization and humanitarian supply chains, with a focus on data protection and governance.

Against the backdrop of the June 2019 ultimatum issued by the World Food Programme (WFP) to the Houthi Government in Yemen – participate in a biometric identification system or receive less aid – McDonald explores the evolving role of humanitarian organizations in a digitalized world. The paper revisits the humanitarian space and access debates, and how current trends in humanitarian response extend operating license granted to humanitarian organization to a much larger group of actors. McDonald examines the operational implications of extending humanitarian license to a larger network of partners, and concludes with five actionable opportunities for humanitarian organizations to begin building supply chain approaches to data governance, toward securing humanitarian space.

The paper was written with funding from the Research Council of Norway, under its “‘Aid in Crisis? Rights-Based Approaches to Humanitarian Outcomes” grant, led by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik. Read the article in full here.

Conference Invitation: “Peace from Below” at the University of Tromsø

The University of Tromsø Centre for Peace Studies invite you to the Critical Interdisciplinary Conference on Studying Peace from Below. The conference will take place in Tromsø, Norway, from 5-6 September 2019. For further details, see the conference site and detailed program.

The discourse and practices of peace building processes in post-conflict and volatile environments that aim to achieve or sustain peace often tend to exclude local communities and treat them as beneficiaries instead of active participants, creators, and agents. This has led to failures, which have prompted questions about the legitimacy of external and top-down peace building approaches and calls for local ownership and participation.

The ‘view from below’ came as a response to this criticism. In such a context, this Critical Interdisciplinary Conference on Studying Peace from Below aims to interrogate and problematize how the ‘from below’ perspective has been used in teaching, research, and policy (in education and research institutions, as well as state, regional, and supranational organizations, e.g. the EU, the AU, the ASEAN, the UN etc.).

Recently, the UN identified peace, justice, and gender equality as some of the important themes to be addressed in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In view of this, we want to explore and better understand the relevance and significance of studying peace from below vis-à-vis the SDGs, with a particular focus on the issues of achieving peace, justice, and gender equality. The core objective is to examine the possibilities, tensions, and even contradictions that are inherent in ‘the view from below’ as it has been conceptualized and applied so far.

To register for the conference (in full or in part), send an email with your name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation to mail@peace.uit.no with subject line #peacefrombelow2019.

Agenda

Thusday, 5 September

08:30 – 09:00 – Registration and Refreshment

09:00 – 09:30 – Welcome note. Conference Team: Marcela Douglas (Director of the Centre for Peace Studies); Kenneth Ruud (Vice Rector for Research & Development, UiT)

09:35 – 11:05 – Session A. Identity, Conflict & Peace

11:05 – 11:25 – Coffee break

11:30 – 13:00 – Session B. Peacebuilding: Actors & (Just) Institutions

13:00 – 14:00 – Lunch (*presenters & by invitation only)

14:05 – 15:35 – Session C. Challenging Peace Processes: Design – Implementation Gap & Grassroots Resistance

15:35 – 16:00 – Coffee break

16:00 – 17:15 – Keynote lecture.

BOTTOM-UP PEACE: THE EXTRAORDINARY POWER OF SO-CALLED ORDINARY PEOPLE – By Roger Mac Ginty (Durham University, UK)

17:15 – 20:30 – Conference reception (*presenters & by invitation only)

Friday, 6 September

09:00 – 10:30 – Session D. Identity Politics & Peace

10:30 – 10:45 – Coffee break

10:45 – 12:00 – Keynote lecture.

RESCUING ‘LOCAL’ FROM ITS ‘GLOBAL’ ENTHUSIASTS: A POSTCOLONIAL READING OF ‘PEACE FROM BELOW’ by Swati Parashar (University of Gothenburg, Sweden and SOAS University of London, UK)

12:00 – 13:00 – Lunch (*presenters & by invitation only)

13:05 – 14:35 – Session E. Migration, Development & Gender

14:35 – 14:50 – Coffee break

14:50 – 16:20 – Session F. Transitional Justice & Reconciliation – Seeking Transformation

16:30 – 17:00 – Closing remarks

17:30 – 20:00 – Conference reception in Ardna (*presenters & by invitation only)

Book review of ‘Refugee Resettlement’ volume in JPR

Garnier, Adèle; Liliana Lyra Jubilut & Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (2018) Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics, and Humanitarian Governance. Forced Migration (38). New York: Berghahn

A brief review of this edited collection by Garnier, Jubilut & Sandvik is now available in the Book Notes section of Journal of Peace Research. The review highlights the importance of the book for scholars and practitioners exploring the linkages of refugee protection with humanitarian practice, and the power asymmetries this implies. Click here to read the review, and read more about the book here.

Europe’s new border guards

Written by

Gunnar M. Sørbø is a social anthropologist, former director of the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), and former Chair of the Board of the NCHS.

This text is based on an op-ed which was first published in Norwegian in Bergens Tidende, 5 May 2019: Europas nye grensevakter.

Are we supporting a development which ultimately sends even more refugees towards Europe?

DOUBLE-DEALING: To a large extent, militia groups allied with the regime in Khartoum have exercised migration control in Sudan. They patrol the border to Libya claiming to stop migrants from traveling north, while simultaneously smuggling people into Libya in cooperation with actors on the other side of the border, writes Gunnar M. Sørbø. Photo by Physicians for Human Rights, USA

More than a million migrants crossed the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe during the 2015 refugee crisis, the vast majority arriving either in Greece or Italy. The following year the European Union entered the so-called “EU-Turkey Deal”, a statement of cooperation between European states and the Turkish government. The agreement was meant to ensure that migrants and refugees arriving in Turkey, most of whom were fleeing Syria, would remain there, and that migrants making it to Greece would be returned to Turkey.

From a European perspective, the agreement with Turkey has been successful. Only about 360.000 migrants and refugees arrived by sea in 2016. The arrivals were distributed quite evenly between Greece and Italy, the two European countries that received most of the migrants leaving Northern Africa. To ensure that the flow of people would be further reduced, the EU as well as several singular European countries made similar bilateral agreements with Libya, and later with countries in the Sahel region south of Libya: Sudan, Niger and Chad.

Norway is among the European countries which has intensified its focus on the region over the past few years. As with other countries, the motivation behind the increased support has not been limited to stopping large-scale migration, but also to stop the spread of Islamic terrorism. This type of terrorism affected Norwegians directly in 2013 when an attack on the Norwegian energy company Statoil’s gas facility in Algeria resulted in the loss of Norwegian lives.

In Libya, the EU made an agreement with the government in Tripoli. At the time, the Libyan authorities had limited territorial control and depended on various militias for survival. Presently, they are fighting the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the eastern part of Libya and is supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Libya has faced political destabilization since the former head of state Gaddafi lost power and was killed in 2011.

Thus, Italy suggested to create checkpoints along the border in southern Libya, an area controlled by militias often in conflict with each other. The countries south of Libya also tend to have problems controlling their border regions, yet authoritarian heads of state have promised to exercise migration control in exchange for much needed financial support from Europe.

This type of “outsourcing” means that Europe has become entangled with some unusual border guards that are difficult to control.

In Sudan, the task of controlling migration has to a large extent been handed to militias allied with the regime in Khartoum. These are the same armed groups that were responsible for excessive use of force displacing large groups of people from their homes during the Darfur crisis of 2003-2004. They patrol the border to Libya claiming to stop migrants from travelling north, while simultaneously smuggling people into Libya in cooperation with actors on the other side of the border.

The same armed forces (Rapid Support Forces – RSF) have also been active at the border between Sudan and Eritrea. Studies conducted through a joint effort by universities in Sudan and the Chr. Michelsen’s Institute/The University of Bergen show that migrants from Eritrea, Syria and other countries continue to journey through Sudan. However, the migrants are paying a higher price than before, taking new routes, and doing so at a greater risk.

While Sudan has received support from the EU for “managing” migration, the regime’s brutal policies and the country’s wrecked economy are contributing to a steady flow of Sudanese people wanting to leave their own country. In 2014-2016, 9,300 Sudanese arrived in Italy, and in 2017, twenty per cent of those granted political asylum in France came from Sudan.

A report from the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands (“Multilateral Damage”, 2018) confirms some of the tendencies we have observed in Sudan. Firstly, new migration routes have emerged, more dangerous and secretive than before, and therefore also more expensive and criminalized. The total number of migrants making the journey has decreased, but evidence suggests that the number of migrant deaths has increased.

Secondly, the overall stability in these countries is threatened as the number of ungovernable militia groups grow. Some of these armed groups profit from stopping migrants, others from smuggling migrants northwards, and a considerable number practice both. In Niger, the ban on migration has disturbed the fragile balance that was established when the Tuareg and Tubu rebels in the northern part of the country entered a peace accord with the government.

The local economy has deteriorated, and new militias have emerged in the border regions. A common denominator for all these countries is that armed groups outside of the state’s control are becoming more powerful and constituting a security threat.

Political developments in Sudan during April and May 2019 have led the RSF leader Hemetti to power as second-in-command in the Transitional Military Council (TMC), now participating in talks with the protesters about a new government. In Libya, both parties in the war for the capital Tripoli are depending on alliances with militias. Many of them are keeping migrants and refugees in custody and subjecting them to torture and extortion, before a small number – barely 500 in the first three months of this year – gets transported en route to Europe.

In a desperate plea for help from the EU, the Libyan Prime Minister is threatening that up to 800,000 people will cross the Mediterranean if Libya were to face political collapse. This is most likely an overstatement, as there are probably not that many refugees and migrants wishing to reach Europe from Libya right now, and because transportation by sea is arranged by mafia-like organizations that may be dissolved if the political chaos in the country is amplified. Nevertheless, the prime minister’s statement speaks volumes about the vulnerability of the agreements that have been made.

Most European countries are aware of the risks associated with “externalizing” border control, but across Europe the field of migration is characterized by realpolitik. Lowering the number of migrants and asylum seekers reaching Europe has become the overarching objective.

We are seemingly becoming less concerned with the policies’ unintended consequences. This is probably caused by European migration policies claiming to answer all our concerns: not just migration, but also security, political stability and terrorism – based on the assumption that human trafficking, drug trafficking, arms dealings and terrorism are driven by a conglomerate of mafia-like organizations and that these are hurting local communities in the affected regions.

However, most people involved in migrant smuggling do not view themselves as criminals, and their activities may also create positive ripple effects in many local communities across border regions. 

Before the overthrow of Gaddafi, when many migrants from other African countries went to work in Libya, assisting migrants was part of the formal economy. Now, the practice is considered criminal. This may result in participants formerly engaged with assisting migrants moving their affairs elsewhere, for instance into activities eroding the state’s control such as revolt and terrorism.

Many European politicians probably recognize that the agreements that are being made strengthen forces we would rather not be associated with, whether this is an increasingly authoritarian president in Turkey or militia groups in the Sahel region. Yet, the question we must ask ourselves is whether this policy is sustainable in the long run. I am here thinking not only of the immense human suffering caused by such policies, but also whether we are supporting a development which will ultimately push even more people in the direction of Europe.