Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Refugee citizens in a camp city

Prompted by a post at the anthropology blog Savage Minds announcing the relaunch of Allegra Lab, I looked into it and quickly decided to add it to my feeds. Here’s how they describe the site’s purpose:
‘Allegra Lab: Anthropology, Law, Art & World’ ( is a collective of academics, an association and an online experiment founded in 2013. It explores creative ways to fill the ‘dead space’ that exists between traditional modes of academic publication and ongoing scholarly and societal debates. Allegra Lab discusses issues related to anthropology, law, art and beyond, and it is run by a diligent editorial team of professional scholars.
Today they feature a great article by law and human rights scholar Geraldine Renaudiere, “When Camps become Home: Legal Implications of the Long-Term Encampment in Zaatari.” The number of Syrian refugees in the Jordanian camp in what the UNHCR calls a “protracted refugee situation” is large: Zaatari is, according to Renaudiere, “the world’s second-largest refugee camp and the fourth largest city in Jordan.”

It’s a quick and worthwhile read.* From the conclusion:
Indubitably, the worrying situation taking place in Zaatari reflects the shortcomings and the weaknesses of an International protection system which, however well-intentioned, is no longer adapted to the nature of conflicts in the current international environment. It particularly challenges two fundamental assumptions which somehow shaped the refugee protection regime: first, contrary to preconceived ideas, refugees should not be reduced to vulnerable people, unable to assume responsibility or to take their fate into their own hands. On the contrary, despite instability and lack of autonomy, the present example have shown that people progressively re-create social bonds and re-establish a semblance of society thanks to solidarity, structure mechanisms and collective organization.

Secondly, refugees’ protection cannot be limited to temporary response or short-term initiatives. As clearly demonstrated by the case of Zaatari, beyond the emergency stage, a stronger protection framework is needed, especially through human rights standards and effective enforcement mechanisms. This cannot be reached however without external support and assistance from both international organizations and host countries. While the former should better adapt structures of the camp over time, optimize the social organization and progressively grant refugees greater autonomy, host countries’ stronger involvement and support is not only welcomed but will soon become a matter of necessity. In fact, considering its geographical expansion and its population growth, the camp of Zaatari could progressively reach the borders of surrounding Jordan towns.
* Could have used a bit more proofreading/editing – the word “the” is frequently missing, for example.

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