This op-ed outlines key issues humanitarians should consider when assessing their ‘digital responsibility’ to foster digital refugee livelihoods. This includes in particular the need to develop robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks of outcomes of digital livelihoods trainings for refugees – and spaces for critical engagement with the results of such evaluations, including stopping digital livelihoods programming when risks outweigh benefits. It argues that ethical humanitarian engagement in technology must include the development of coherent, contextualised sets of norms and frameworks for responsibility and protection in the digital sphere, including those that address humanitarian efforts to assist refugees to enter the digital economy.
Humanitarian actors touting financial inclusion posit that access to financial services builds refugees’ resilience and self-reliance. They claim that new digital financial tools create more efficient and dignified pathways for humanitarian assistance and enable refugees to better manage their savings and invest in livelihoods, especially during protracted displacement. Our in-depth, repeat interviews with refugees in Kenya and Jordan refute this narrative. Instead, self-reliance was hindered primarily by refugees’ lack of foundational rights to move and work. Financial services had limited ability to support livelihoods in the absence of those rights. The digital financial services offered to refugees under the banner of ‘financial inclusion’ were not mainstream services designed to empower and connect. Instead, they were segregated, second-class offerings meant to further isolate and limit refugee transactions in line with broader political desires to encamp and exclude them. The article raises questions about the circumstances in which humanitarian funding ought to fund financial service interventions and what those interventions are capable of achieving.
The current scale and duration of displacement prompts renewed urgency about livelihoods prospects for displaced people and the role of humanitarian organisations in fostering them. This special issue focuses on how aid organisations, together with the private sector and other actors, have worked to include refugees in new forms of online work within the web-based digital economy. Building on comparative analysis and a comprehensive review of the field of digital livelihoods among the forcibly displaced, in this introductory article we argue that including refugees in this digital economy is currently neither a sustainable form of humanitarian relief nor is it a development solution that provides large-scale decent work. We show how digital livelihoods approaches have gained a special footing in the middle ground between short-term economic relief and long-term development. Indeed, digital economies seemingly offer a variety of ‘quick-fix’ solutions at the transition from humanitarian emergency towards long-term development efforts. While digital economies harbour significant potential, this cannot be fully realised unless current efforts to include refugees in digital economies are complemented by efforts to address digital divides, uphold refugees’ rights, and ensure more decent working conditions.
Discourses around the so-called digital economy are increasingly more present in contexts of forced displacement, with digital inclusion of refugees being framed by humanitarian agencies as a fundamental human right and an essential tool to promote access to income and skills development. While digital work can certainly bring about positive changes in forced migration settings, imaginaries around the role of the digital in refugees’ economic lives reflect a broader neoliberal project that envisions a retreat of the welfare state and that places on refugees the responsibility to integrate. This article draws on spatial imaginaries frameworks to advance the theoretical understanding of power differentials that are embodied in the use of technologies to promote refugee livelihoods. A combination of interviews, participant and non-participant observations was used to examine the perspectives of Venezuelan refugee women and humanitarian actors in the context of a digital work initiative in the city of Boa Vista, Brazil. The analysis reveals a mismatch between the imaginaries underpinning digital work opportunities and the expectations and plans of the refugee women themselves about the use of ICTs and engagement in digital forms of employability. Such disconnect can reinforce inequalities for refugee’s agency in the digital economy.
This forum brings together a diverse group of scholars from political geography, international relations, critical organisation studies, global development, international studies and political sociology to explore the debates and dynamics of celebrity engagement with development and humanitarianism. The contributions here come from a series of roundtables organised in 2021, including one at the 6th World Conference on Humanitarian Studies of the International Humanitarian Studies Association in Paris that discussed the findings and insights of the book Batman Saves the Congo: How Celebrities Disrupt the Politics of Development (University of Minnesota Press, 2021).
Gender-based violence (GBV) is a complicated challenge embedded in displaced people’s lived experiences throughout the conflict displacement cycle. Despite the awareness of existing institutionalised help-seeking referral pathways, these do not necessarily translate to the full utilisation of such services. This paper examines the critical role of refugee leaders and service providers in potentially enabling and realising a GBV survivor’s help-seeking. By adapting a meso-level analysis, it attempts to explain how social networks built within conflict and displacement contribute to responding to GBV. Based on the review of collected interviews in 2019 from refugee leaders and service providers working with South Sudanese refugees in selected settlements in Uganda, the paper reflects on the importance of network, norms and trust in effectively responding to GBV in conditions of conflict-affected displacement.
Despite its long history, plague has not been an internationally significant disease since the mid-twentieth century, and it has attracted minimal modern critical attention. Strategies for treating plague are generally outdated and of limited effectiveness. However, plague remains endemic to a few developing nations, most prominently Madagascar. The outbreak of a major plague epidemic across several Madagascan urban areas in 2017 has sparked a wider discourse about the necessity of improving global preparedness for a potential future plague pandemic. Beyond updating treatment modalities, a key aspect of improving preparedness for such a pandemic involves a process of sophisticated review of historical public health responses to plague epidemics. As part of this process, this article outlines and compares public health responses to three separate epidemics from the early modern era onwards: Marseille in 1720–22, San Francisco in 1900–04 and Madagascar in 2017. Based on this process, it identifies three key themes common to successful responses: (1) clear, effective and minimally bureaucratic public health protocols; (2) an emphasis on combating plague denialism by gaining the trust and cooperation of the affected population; and (3) the long-term suppression of plague through the minimisation of contact between humans and infected small mammals.
This roundtable was convened on 5 July 2022 and built on five years of collaborative work in Cambodia and ongoing collaborations within the Centre de Reflexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH) at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) between Bertrand Taithe, Mickaël le Paih and Fabrice Weissman. The central question raised in this discussion relates to two profoundly intermeshed issues for humanitarian practitioners and organisations: the use of history for humanitarian organisations, and the need for them to preserve and maintain archives.
This article explores some of the challenges, learnings, reflections and opportunities involved in collaborating with grassroots artist collectives in conflict-affected places in academic settings. Using as a case study the collaborative production of the animated short film ‘Colombia’s Broken Peace’, as part of a wider international research project, I reflect on our experiences in co-producing this piece by drawing out lessons that might be relevant for others interested in undertaking similar inter-disciplinary work. In doing so, I aim to re-frame notions of ‘impact’ and ‘capacity building’ in conflict research to a more complex picture of mutual learning and knowledge exchange.