‘Without Exception’ – One Year On: Refugee Hosts’ International Conference

On the 25th and 26th of October 2019, Refugee Hosts’ International Conference, ‘Without Exception: The Politics and Poetics of Local Responses to Displacement’ sold out to an international audience who joined us both in person and via live stream. Here we mark the conversations that took place and invite further conversations relating to ‘without exception’, a theme that has permeated the research and writing of Refugee Hosts, challenging the exceptionalist and presentist bias in which refugee studies and policies are often framed. We look forward to hosting further conversations on this theme on our blog.  

To celebrate the conference’s one year anniversary we are delighted to release the video below which features conference contributors discussing how Refugee Hosts’ research has influenced their work and re-framed debates and dominant narratives relating to migration, faith-based responses, refugees, hosts, and refugees as hosts and humanitarian actors in contexts of displacement. We are very grateful to Sarah Clarke (Article 19), Prof. Sari Hanafi, (American University of Beirut), Saiful Huq Omi (CounterFoto Centre for Visual Arts), Dr. Olivia Wilkinson (Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities), Fernando Espada (Save the Children), Dr. Tamirace Fakhoury (Lebanese American University), and Bayan Itani (Refugee Hosts) for contributing to the video.

Throughout the conference leading academics, practitioners, creatives and experts, including Refugee Hosts’ PI, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Co.Is Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge, Prof. Alastair Ager, Dr Anna Rowlands, Refugee Hosts’ writer-in-residence, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, and researchers Dima Hamadmad and Bayan Itani, came together to challenge, inform and debate dominant humanitarian discourses, the politics and ethics of knowledge production about displacement, and current theory and practice in relation to forced migration. 

A number of themes, drawn from Refugee Hosts’ 4-year interdisciplinary research in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, framed the conference. Videos of keynotes, panel presentations, workshops and conversations relating to each theme discussed at the conference can be accessed below:

Making space to reflect

In the spirit of the conference, we also sought to critically assess the challenges faced in organising the event, and the extent to which it was possible to overcome barriers to inclusion, such as the refusal of the Home Office to grant visas to Palestinian and Syrian colleagues. This piece highlights the significant issues higher education institutions in the Global North face in their attempts to decolonise knowledge. 

Moving the conversation forward: Beyond Exception

Since the conference last October, the world has been gripped by a global health crisis. Media coverage here has emphasised the exceptional and unprecedented nature of Covid-19 and its impact on communities and states around the world.

However, as with our conference’s interest in challenging exceptionalist and presentist framings of migrant and refugee ‘crises’, it remains critically important to situate seemingly unparalleled events in relation to long-standing and interrelated forms of violence and injustice. Covid-19 has generated challenges for all of us, yet its impact will be felt unequally and inconsistently. In the context of our research sites, we have sought to address how ‘exceptional’ crises like Covid-19 relate to experiences of displacement and statelessness that are part of the long-standing aspects of everyday life in our field sites.

For example, our project PI Prof Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has addressed how the networks and infrastructures of refugee-led support in Baddawi refugee camp have adapted to Covid-19, providing local-level advice and support for camp residents in a context of precarity. As with the camp’s response to refugees from Syria, community-level support remains at the forefront of everyday life in cities and towns affected by crisis.

These responses, far from being exceptional in nature, become closely linked to existing contexts of inequality and exclusion, whether they are local, national or international in dimension.

Following the arrival of this deadly pandemic, other pieces in our blog have similarly addressed Covid-19 in relation to wider contexts of displacement, emphasising how responses since March 2020 risk compounding inequalities, including by obscuring a focus on wider contexts in which displaced peoples are responding to the pandemic in favour of an overly-visible focus on Covid itself.  These pieces can be read here and here.  

We invite further contributions that address responses to displacement in a way that challenges exceptional narratives of crisis. The conference spoke to the value of addressing interlinking forms of exclusion and inequality through a focus on everyday lives. As we continue to encounter seemingly ‘new’ and ‘unprecedented’ crises, it seems more important than ever to focus on underlying political and historical inequalities that both determine how such crises are experienced and responded to.

Please do send submissions or ideas to Sorcha Daly on Sorcha.daly@ucl.ac.uk

You can still join the conference conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #RHIC19 and #PoliticsAndPoetics and by tagging @refugeehosts

Featured image: Looking over Baddawi Camp, (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, 2018.

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