Part of the Fall 2021 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series
Malay Firoz, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University
Humanitarianism is generally framed as a moral project par excellence, because it is concerned not with the political “improvement” of the human condition, but with the limited goal of alleviating immediate suffering. With over 1.5 million Syrian refugees having fled to Jordan and Lebanon, Western humanitarian actors have conceded that their traditional mandate of short-term emergency relief is no longer sustainable. Since 2015, they have advocated for a “resilience-based approach” to humanitarian aid called the resilience agenda, defined as an integrated long-term developmental response that strengthens the ability of refugees and host communities to sustain themselves. Formulated under UN auspices, resilience humanitarianism channels large-scale international assistance to bolster state services and public infrastructure on which refugees and vulnerable citizens depend. In this talk, I argue that the resilience agenda is founded on the flawed assumption that host states in the global South can be financially incentivized to integrate refugees, even as the Jordanian and Lebanese governments have taken harsh measures to undermine the resilience of Syrian refugees. This clash of contradictory mandates—between aid programs designed to sustain refugees and host states anxious to deport them—precipitates an ethical quandary for humanitarianism that I call the “resilience paradox,” and absorbs humanitarian aid into the broader transnational containment program of Fortress Europe.
Malay Firoz is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at ASU. He holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MA in Modern Culture and Media from Brown University, and an MA in Sociology from Delhi University. His research explores the politics of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, using a comparative ethnographic lens to examine a recent turn within humanitarianism towards “resilience-based” approaches to aid. His project traces how the resilience paradigm draws humanitarian organizations into deeper entanglements with the political priorities of asylum states, and analyzes the ethical implications of this paradigm for refugee rights and humanitarian principles. Firoz’s work has been supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and Brown University Graduate School.
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