By Estella Carpi
… Everyone was there and wanted their logo to be known… it’s a brand. And in the July 2006 war [of Israel on Lebanon] there were definitely more international brands than ever.
(Author’s interview with the Manager of the Social Development Centre, Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs, ash-Shiyyah, Beirut, October 30, 2011)
The visuality of symbols, buildings, and icons can powerfully mark spaces and make such spaces political, culturally oriented, spiritual, and even human. In times of crisis, it is particularly employed to exhibit the presence of humanitarian work. However, such a visuality can take different forms, and humanitarian logos are only one means of expression. Humanitarian logos communicate to the public that the labelled organizations are there assisting the needy, alleviating their predicament, witnessing human suffering, or rescuing lives. During the years I spent researching aid in Lebanon (2010-2020), people have often spoken of the ‘war of logos’ to emphasize the competition between different humanitarian actors intervening in crisis-stricken areas.
In such areas, where migrants and refugees often reside, new local understandings of physical space have arisen. However, aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war. In this blog post, I show how they can become stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life, inviting dwellers to rethink these spaces of coexistence. Aid, therefore, going beyond official humanitarianism, turns out to be a politics of space, changing people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and inducing them to rethink their spatial margins.
After the arrival of refugees from Syria (2011), the aid coming into Lebanon from the Arab Gulf increased, involving both in-kind assistance (i.e. food and school material kits) and cash-based programmes. Traditionally, Islamic charity work objects to iconic politics, adducing Prophet Mohammed’s hadith “the left hand does not see what the right hand gives” (la ta‘lamu shamaluhu bima tunfiqu yaminahu). However, some Arab Muslim philanthropists provide humanitarian aid by making their relief provision visible and, at times, even displaying their own face, their national flag, and their logos. Individual philanthropists in the Arab Gulf often opt to show the national flag and the faces of charity founders.
During my most recent fieldwork for the Southern-led Responses to Displacement project in North Lebanon, many Syrian refugees emphasised that they do not support the politics of some foreign governments in the Syrian conflict and, at times, are reluctant to accept the donations. A Syrian refugee friend told me in Bebnin in the spring of 2019, “We’re using the plates with the Saudi logo to show you we are given this stuff… but we normally don’t like using them as we don’t think Saudi politics helped Syrians in any way…”.
NGOs and UN agencies from the ‘global North’ similarly use logos to mark their humanitarian space, although the space is often shared with other humanitarian actors. I often met refugees who stressed how ephemeral and punctuated (appearing, disappearing, and reappearing over time) humanitarian assistance is: humanitarian logos always remain there, while aid workers show up to provide help only once in a while. Beneficiaries generally interpret logos negatively, as a sign of an increasingly prominent humanitarian-business nexus where assistance needs to be branded to be funded and supported. Yet some refugees I spoke to view the logos positively, as they visually convey the politics that relegate their lives to the margins and make their living conditions precarious and unjust. Such acts of ‘self-visibilization’ enable people in need to battle against the discriminatory and unequal politics of some aid providers.
Logos also inform us about the cooperation between humanitarian agencies which, generally, we would not associate with each other, such as Polish Aid and Australian Aid co-funding a dispensary for Syrian refugees and vulnerable local residents in the village of al-Bireh in North Lebanon.
Spaces of aid are usually remembered by the nationality of the funders, whose logos - often displaying their national flag even for non-governmental funding - are placed on street signs, entrance gates, and indoor walls.
In the sign above it is evident that the funding for what is commonly known in Kweishra (Akkar) as the “Turkish hospital” (al-mustashfa al-turki) is a donation from the Turkish state to the Lebanese state. However, the local residents and Syrian Arab refugees point out that only Turkmen Syrian refugees and a small number of Turkmen Lebanese have access to this clinic.
Beneficiary communities sometimes speak about humanitarian symbols with criticism and question their aid and service provision. A Syrian refugee woman from Homs who relocated to a border village in Lebanon highlighted that rent and medications were the primary needs of her family and community in Lebanon. At a time when e-food ration cards had not been introduced yet, she told me with sarcasm, “I came from Syria to get packages of bread in Lebanon… I don’t give a damn about their ‘grains of hope’: it’s 2,000 Lebanese Lira… I can pay for it. Why don’t they provide medications and cash for rent instead? They provide what is easier for them” (Wadi Khaled, January 29, 2013).
New local understandings of physical space have arisen in areas newly inhabited by migrants and refugees. For instance, in the economically disadvantaged district of Dinniye, local residents told me they used to identify the Emirs’ Castle Hotel (Funduq Qasr al-Umara’) as the luxurious holiday resort for tourists from the Arab Gulf. From 2012 onward, with the arrival of Syrian refugee families, local people conceptualised the area as a hotspot of “relief for the left-behind” (al-ighatha li’l ma‘zulin), where refugees collect aid provided by the Arab Gulf and are temporarily accommodated.
Aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war: they can remain stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life. The Beit Atfal as-Sumud in the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburbs represents a point of call for Palestinian dwellers, providing education, play activities, and medical support and referring beneficiaries to other NGOs and specialistic services. During my visits since 2011, I realized the employees are more trusted than the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA)’s services. The Beit is the spatialization of the most effective aid in the neighbourhood, as known by other migrant and refugee groups who inhabit the area.
A large number of Syrian refugees in rural and peri-urban Lebanon reside in informal tented settlements (ITS) built on pieces of land on the side of public roads, which they need to rent from landowners, rent apartments or occupy empty depots in urban settings. Sometimes, families who were not even acquainted to each other before arriving in Lebanon end up living in the same household to be able to share expenses and make ends meet. A Lebanese resident from the city of Halba contended, “Once we know in which buildings the refugees live, we tend to avoid those areas.” We thus see new borderscapes (Lebuhn, 2013) in the making, where new margins, although not physically marked, emerge in the environment.
Some spaces are neither marked by NGO logos nor emerge as official spaces of aid provision in the public sphere. Yet, within local communities, they are understood as places where aid is likely to be given. Hairdressing and beauty salons for Ethiopian migrant workers became important points of call to weave support networks and exchange resources between Lebanon and Ethiopia or other African countries. Indeed, in Bourj Hammoud, African migrant workers from different national backgrounds said they frequent the same places where it is possible for them to gather information and seek support from other social groups or their countries of origin, beyond their own national belonging.
Football in Lebanon is known to be an activity people are passionate about, a way of connecting them to the world outside, and also a reason for gatherings and social mingling. National flags of other countries are often used to show support to national football teams. However, during my research in Lebanon, I realized there is sometimes a more complex story about the different national symbols exhibited in public space. A Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud told me how they not only support Brazil in football world leagues, but they also cherish the generosity of their relatives who resettled in Brazil in the 1970s and sent material and moral support during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). Showing the Brazil flag outside their balcony became a way to show their gratefulness.
Similarly, a taxi driver, in the municipality of Minieh in North Lebanon, spoke of Argentina not only as his favourite football team in the world leagues, but also as the place which welcomed and supported him, his family and friends during the 1980s. After returning to Lebanon after the end of the civil war, he still preserves his childhood memories of Argentina and hopes his own children will get to know the country at some stage.
Sticker of Argentina on a taxi cab in Minieh, North Lebanon. April 2019.
Humanitarian aid, ultimately, turns out to be a politics of space. It changes people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and induces them to rethink their spatial margins. Moreover, the material manifestations of aid are not exclusively to be found on logos and brands that indicate distribution spots or offices. Symbols, material objects and shops can give rise to different aid imaginaries. While those who believe in a no-profit humanitarianism commonly criticize the logo-marked bond between aid provision and business, alternative spaces of aid do not need to be marked by logos, as they are the result of entangled stories, personal relationships, and transregional trajectories of human support. Intimate memories do not need logos to have their presence acknowledged; it is generally in people’s mental spaces that they are preserved.
 At the outset of the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon (2011-12), many of the ‘global North’s’ humanitarian actors were reluctant to provide cash assistance to refugees, preferring to prioritise the delivery of food, medical, and other items. In 2013 e-food ration cards began to be distributed to refugee households, replacing the old food vouchers. Also, over the last few years, especially after the 2015 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, NGOs and UN agencies agreed on reducing the delivery of in-kind assistance in order to enhance cash assistance. Nowadays, Arab Gulf funded NGOs in Lebanon mostly provide material aid, such as mattresses and food, and, during Ramadan, iftar baskets and dates.
 Established in 1984 after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres.
 UNWRA services are seen as decreasingly sympathetic with the Palestinian cause.
 An independent municipality located at the East of Beirut, historically marked by the Armenian forced migration, and today populated by different migrant groups.
* This research has been conducted in the framework of the project "Analyzing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey", funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582".
By Daniela Paredes Grijalva and Rachael Diniega
Environmental Migration: From Threat to Everyday Experience
Millions of “climate refugees” fleeing drought on their way to Europe or Pacific islanders left with no sovereign territory as sea level rises. Does this sound familiar? Certainly such imagery representing the “human face of climate change” has been successful in gaining public attention to urge immediate action. At the same time, national security policymakers and think-tanks in the receiving countries tend to perceive such mass migration as a threat. Following this securitization logic, nation-states see the need to protect themselves against it.
Migration scholars have countered such “alarmists” by classifying the phenomenon as a routine and integral aspect of a complex web of migration experiences. (Non-)migration decisions range from forced to voluntary, and most movements initiated by environmental changes or disasters will be short-distance, temporary, or within countries. As framings of environmental migration have gained in fluidity and scope, the nuances have been illuminated further through multidisciplinary research spanning the social and natural sciences. We argue that environmental migration demands more refined attention, particularly from the viewpoint of policymaking, in order to move from a logic of protection against migrants to one of protecting them and their human rights.
Securitization paints a simplistic picture. We argue that two particular concepts--translocality and (im)mobility--point towards new directions in understanding the fabric of human-environment relations. We have both begun our doctoral projects researching different aspects of this issue in Morocco and Indonesia. In this essay, we set out to illustrate our preliminary findings on how to expand our conceptualization of environmental migration. Only by capturing the everyday yet complex realities of migrants themselves can we lay a foundation for expanding measures geared towards the protection of human rights that accurately address their situation.
Fig. 01: Rural town in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Integrating Translocality into Environmental Migration
The existing research on environmental migration has widened the conceptual spectrum beyond such dichotomies and categorizations like forced or voluntary, the number of “climate refugees,” and the singling out of isolated reasons for migration. However, strict divisions persist, two of which can be addressed by the concept of translocality. First, current research on climate change and migration primarily focuses on the question of how climate change will affect human migration and emphasizes the urgency for mitigating climate change. Second, in part due to the concept of a unidirectional flow of environment to migration, studies also assume divisions between origin and destination and prioritize rural-to-urban migration.
Broadly defined, the concept of translocality examines the environment and migration as part of the integrated socio-ecological system (Greiner & Sakdapolrak 2013). Rather than looking at migration as a sudden or new phenomenon driven by singular or multiple factors, it assumes that migration (or mobilities) also occurs as a natural part of life trajectories. The existing movements have an impact on the environment, which also in turn affects future migration decisions and perceptions of climate change. They are intricately linked. Thus, translocality integrates the human-environment nexus to examine how environmental factors influence mobility and how mobility itself influences the environment. This directly counters the security narrative that environmental change in place A automatically leads to migration to place B, end of story. Rather, there are ongoing migration pathways and mobilities that occur parallel to or in conjunction with environmental changes and create them.
Translocality also upends the strict categorization of origin, transit, and destination by facilitating the study of multi-directional connections and the mutual (re-)shaping of communities. It challenges the assumption that environmental change is only happening in the place of “origin”, often coded as rural or domestic, versus the destination, often connoted as urban or international. A singular place is connected to others translocally through multiple types of simultaneous mobilities. More often than not, people are not only moving from a location; they are also moving to it or passing through. The localities in question may be rural, semi-urban, or urban. And, returning to the earlier point, each of these location’s environments is affected by each type of mobility and has its own environment that factors into mobility decisions and trajectories.
Translocality thus is a concept that can illuminate the complexity within the environment-migration web. It offers further insights into the ways in which migration has an impact on the environment and moves away from the boundaries of origin, transit, and destination.
Towards an Environment-(Im)Mobility Nexus
Looking at the nexus of environment and migration has too often been framed as a matter of international border crossings by people affected by some environmental crisis. While this is certainly a significant part of the issue, we argue that focusing on the physical movement of people per se obscures the numerous other relevant facets. For instance, it does not allow to adequately understand how the populations in question and the environment mutually constitute each other. What is more, it might project a migrant subjectivity on people living translocal lives.
Migration studies have established that there are multiple factors driving migration and that it may also take multiple trajectories. The (im)mobilities approach builds on these findings and expands the scope of study to include the circulation of ideas, things, and people in everyday life. It further attempts to problematize the notions of forced and voluntary migration by applying anthropology’s holistic view of lived experience. Using mobilities as a concept, ethnographic research has revealed how people, places, things and ideas become connected across time and space.
While notions of mobility are abundant in anthropological inquiry, sociologists and geographers have led the way for a mobilities turn in the social sciences. Anthropologists have in turn pointed out that the very same processes shaping mobility also produce immobility and exclusion (Cunningham & Heyman 2004). Critical anthropological approaches questioning notions of boundedness and sedentary biases—which privilege non-migration--have expanded our perception of human movements.
The analysis through the perspective of regimes of mobility on a global scale can illuminate the forces at play (Glick Schiller & Salazar 2013). The regimes are embedded in particular environments and in social structures and articulations of power at different levels. Thinking of environmental migration in these terms could help us frame the movement of people in the context of environmental change in relation to power asymmetries from the start. What is more, this framework could help us understand how ideas of environmental change and ideas of migration circulate across translocal networks.
Moving Away from Securitization to Human Rights
We feel that it is paramount to gain a holistic understanding of the social and the environmental questions involved in migration. Ultimately, however, the issue of environmental migration is about people, as SarahLouise Nash (2018) reminds us. While it has been important to gain public attention, there is the apprehension that high-profile discussions may instrumentalize statistical projections to inspire fear. Will a translocal and mobilities lens on environmental migration enable us to understand the ways in which people exercise their human rights? Will such a conceptualization shift the debate away from hardline positions advocating securitization and restrictive migration policies?
The human rights community has connected the impact of climate change on human rights and human migration since the advocacy of Small Island Developing States to the Human Rights Council in the 2000s. Human rights narratives on environmental migration often focus on the gap within international protection instruments. They refer to the fact that the Geneva Convention of 1951 does not include environmental factors as grounds for refugee status. In short, there are no legal “climate refugees.” Some actors like the International Organization for Migration, the UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures, and specialized organizations on internal and disaster displacement have raised awareness on the need to consider existing guiding principles and regulations for internal displacement. The acknowledgement of environmental migration in the landmark Paris Climate Agreement COP21 and the Global Compact for Migration reveals an evolving consensus among international actors in the highest levels of climate negotiations and international migration governance respectively. What exactly a human rights-based approach means for environmental migration, however, remains an ongoing task.
Fig. 02: On the move in Eastern Indonesia
The relationship between everyday translocal (im)mobilities, climate change, and human rights is understudied. Both migration and environmental studies show us that the underlying reasons are complex and difficult to pinpoint. At the same time, against this backdrop, it is important to consider that there are ongoing debates at a conceptual and a practical level on the rights of this diverse group of people in international law. By adopting the lens of translocal mobilities, our projects will contribute to identifying which rights are exercised or restricted.
For the case of the Central Sulawesi populations displaced during the triple disaster of September 2018 (earthquake, soil liquefaction, and tsunami), a security-based analysis would focus on how to regulate the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced people to keep order in the relocation sites. Our proposed framework, by contrast, suggests the necessity of investigating how mobilities are shaped by at times long-lasting translocal networks across our field sites. In terms of human rights, the most pressing issues are access to health, housing, and decent work in a sphere not governed by sedentarist rights-granting schemes.
To understand the effect of migration on the environment in Morocco, a securitization approach would emphasize the importance of regulating migration to minimize harm to the environment (and thus prevent further environmental migration). The approach highlighting translocal mobilities, by contrast, would reveal how migration and environmental change interact in non-linear mechanisms and thus which environment- and migration-related human rights are of key concern. This would build a foundation for the inclusion of human rights and local environmental changes in the study of translocal mobilities, allowing us to gain an understanding of which human rights advocacy paths best fit the realities on-the-ground.
To tackle the urgent and multidimensional issue of environmental migration both for policy and academia, collaboration across disciplines is essential to do justice to affected peoples. We wish to move beyond a migration management or securitization view towards a path that listens to people’s stories and asks questions about the realization of human rights. We suggest that cross-disciplinary inclusion of these framings of translocality and mobilities into each of our research projects will add much-needed perspectives for an ethically grounded representation of the people we meet and the realities of their everyday lives. Whether tackling displacement in Indonesia or the effects of migration on the Moroccan environment, translocal mobilities provide a useful framework of analysis and synthesis disentangling the underlying complexity of our dissertation projects. These representational descriptions could then contribute as a lens for developing a human rights-based approach for environmental migration.
Cunningham, Hilary, & Heyman, Josiah (2004). Introduction: Mobilities and Enclosures at Borders, 11:3, 289-302, DOI: 10.1080/10702890490493509.
Glick Schiller, Nina, & Salazar, Noel B. (2013). Regimes of Mobility Across the Globe. In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39 (2), pp. 183–200.
Greiner, Clemens & Sakdapolrak, Patrick. (2013). Translocality: Concepts, Applications, and Emerging Research Perspectives. Geography Compass 7(5), 373-384.
Nash, Sarah Louise. (2018). Between rights and resilience: Struggles over understanding climate change and human mobility. In: Labonte, M; Mills, K (Eds), Human Rights and Justice. Philosophical, Economic, and Social Perspectives; Routledge, London. ISBN 9781138036789.
Daniela Paredes Grijalva is a researcher and DOC Fellow at the Institute for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. For her PhD project in anthropology at University of Vienna she will investigate how (im)mobilities relate to environmental change in Indonesia. In the past she has worked on social protection, migration, human rights and gender. Read more about her work here.
Rachael Diniega is studying for her PhD in Geography as a project assistant at the Research Platform Mobile Cultures and Societies, University of Vienna. She will be conducting multi-sited research in Morocco on the effect of translocal social remittances on the environment. Her interests build from an international background in sustainable development and human rights. Read more about her work here.
by Leonardo Schiocchet, Mirian Alves de Souza, and Helena Manfrinato
Recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO) (WHO n/a) shows Brazil as second in the ranking of the world most affected countries by the covid-19 pandemic, having surpassed 100.000 deaths in August 2020. This number is especially astonishing when considering that it is already larger than the number of immediate deaths caused by the Nagasaki atomic bomb explosion, and close to that of the highest estimates for the Hiroshima atomic bomb (Hiroshima Day Committee. n/a.). There is a consensus among health specialists and humanitarian representatives that in the case of Brazil, governmental responses are largely to be held accountable for the spread of the pandemic (OHHCR April 29, 2020). The Bolsonaro presidency has consistently downplayed social distancing measures calling them “scorched-earth” tactics, promoting instead the use of Hydroxychloroquine, which in turn has been scientifically considered inefficient and even dangerous as treatment for Covid-19 (Cavalcanti et al. July 23, 2020).
In 2018, Brazil became the world’s sixth largest recipient of request for asylum, with Venezuelans accounting for more than three quarters of all claims (61.600) (UNHCR, 2019). This new role as global refugee host has not yet been sufficient acknowledged by the literature on forced migration world-wide, and may appear contradictory to Bolsonaro’s strong and overt anti-minorities stance. As Patrícia Nabuco Martuscelli (2020) notes, the Brazilian legislation towards migration and asylum is “progressive”, since the asylum law (Law 9474/1997)
It is first and foremost important to understand that these laws are reminiscent of the governments of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and of those of the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) (2003-2016). Moreover, the Bolsonaro presidency justifies the presence of Venezuelan refugees in the country as a marker of what it brands “Bolivarianism,” a conservative push in Latin America.
As Martuscelli (2020) explains, uncertainty, fear, and xenophobia are the refugees’ main concerns in their experience of the pandemic in Brazil and government responses to it. As non-citizens, they are more vulnerable to the Brazilian government responses to Covid-19 especially due to the closure of the countries’ borders and of important sectors of the Federal Police, and to the lack of access to emergency benefits. On March 11, 2020 the government halted all asylum deadlines and, on March 16, all immigration deadlines and the meetings of the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) (Portaria Nº 2). In addition, since March 26, the government has published a series of decrees prohibiting the entrance of non-nationals in Brazil (such as Portaria Nº 47 and Portaria nº 255). Aimed at containing the Covid-19 pandemic, these decrees violate Human Rights and interfere with the Brazilian refugee and migration laws, denying the right to apply for asylum and suspending non-discrimination laws that safeguard the right for equal access to public services, including health and social assistance. Such decrees deny the protection against repatriation of refugee family members (guaranteed by the migration law) and the right to documentation, which was suspended by the partial closure of the Federal Police. After the opposition majority votes, and against its will, the government did issue a humble emergency benefit for vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic (Auxílio Emergencial do Governo Federal, popularly known as “corona voucher”). However, refugees were uncertain if they qualify for the benefit given their lack of access to documents and information.
Besides the latest groups of refugees, mostly of Venezuelan origin, there are significant groups of refugees from the Syrian conflict that arrived in Brazil during the PT years, including 3.326 registered Syrians, and 350 registered Palestinians, along with smaller numbers of Lebanese and Iraqis (Governo Federal 2019), although these numbers may be higher in practice. In addition, Brazil has around 3 to 4 million citizens of Syrian origin (alongside millions of Lebanese and Palestinians) that migrated to Brazil especially in the second half the Nineteenth Century and first half of the Twentieth Century (Lesser 2000; Karam 2009; Pinto 2010).
Refugees of the Syrian conflict in Brazil tend to be embedded in support networks led by the established Arab diaspora in Brazil and other Brazilian grassroots initiatives, as stated by the Brazilian specialists on refugees of the Syrian conflict, Mirian Alves de Souza and Helena Manfrinato, interviewed by Leonardo Schiocchet on August 14, 2020. There is no reliable data on how many refugees of the Syrian conflict actually contracted covid-19, with few cases reported among the community. Both Souza and Manfrinato agree that the most immediate consequence of the pandemic among refugees has been a devastating economic downfall.
Souza noted that Brazil applies different standards for the different nationalities among the refugees from the Syrian conflict, including Palestinians. The approval rate of Syrians is close to 100% and that of Palestinians is also very high. Yet Lebanese have a very small approval rate. According to Souza, the situation of refuges of the Syrian conflict in Brazil is “frightening”, given that they depend mostly on jobs in the food service industry, which came to almost a total halt in early 2020 owing to social distancing measures enforced by the government or observed by citizens on their own. Souza points out that in Rio de Janeiro, this business was overwhelmingly in the street food sector. This food is sold at very low prices, and the main consumers are members of the working class, who in general cannot afford to observe social distancing practices. Now that Brazilians are slowly returning to the streets in spite of the covid-19 pandemic the refugees’ situation is recovering slightly.
Manfrinato stated that in São Paulo, too, refugees of the Syrian conflict depend on the food service industry for a living. Yet most food used to be sold in restaurants owned by the refugees themselves. After the covid-19 outbreak, all their restaurants closed due to the lack of clients. A Syrian refugee, who sold food in the streets, created a delivery system in neighbourhoods where few people observed social distancing measures, especially quarantine. But his relative success stands out as rare. Besides, refugees were overwhelmingly unsuccessful in negotiating lowered rents for their shops and residences, and many of them now depend almost exclusively on emergency aid. What is more, racism and xenophobia associated with covid-19 have affected migrants at large.
Few refugees reported that they had access to federal emergency aid. Most of them are benefiting from grassroots efforts by the established Arab community or other Brazilian social movements. According to Manfrinato, one of the largest mosques in São Paulo launched a large operation to distribute food (cestas básicas), blankets and clothes to those in need, including, but not limited to, the refugees of the Syrian conflict. According to Souza, even the refugees themselves, being among the most affected population, started their own initiatives to distribute food to those in need in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. These initiatives (re)approximated the refugees’ grassroots social movement. In Rio, Simsim Culinária (led by a Syrian refugee) participated in Cozinha Solidária, a partnership between Junta Local (a network of small producers and local cooks, including refugees from various countries) and other collectives to distribute food (quentinha) to a favela.
Solidarity among these refugees and Brazilian social movements is not new, but as Manfrinato contends, the covid-19 outbreak led to a reorganization of solidarity, which was based at least as much on ideology and identity as on contextual approximations. For example, one of Manfrinato’s Palestinian interlocutors created an NGO called Refúgio Brasil. The NGO had started with a group of Palestinians helping Palestinian refugees from the Iraqi conflict. With the onset of the war in Syria, it quickly gained momentum and widened its scope, while still being fundamentally funded by the Palestinian community in Brazil. This NGO, as others, used a three-phase approach to their actions: Socorro (help, emergency), integração (integration) and consolidação (consolidation). The first phase is marked by emergency aid, especially food distribution and rent support. The second is focused on generating income and autonomy by offering intercultural courses geared towards the job market. The third and final phase is accomplished by finding jobs for the refugees and maintaining professional psychological support. This NGO was very successful in creating partnerships with other Brazilian social movements and local business. However, the covid-19 outbreak caused most refugees to lose their jobs and residences. It had a devastating effect on these established networks, as it forced all social actions back to the first, emergency phase. According to Manfrinato, this example illustrates well what happened to all other grassroot initiatives in which the refugees and the Arab community were involved.
Both Souza and Manfrinato emphasize that it is equally important to note other effects of the covid-19 outbreak, which are likely to have long-lasting repercussions. The Brazilian scholars corroborate Martuscelli’s point that access to public health care (SUS) poses a problem for refugees. While this access is in theory universal and independent of citizenship, in practice racism and xenophobia occur among the staff of hospitals and health centers. Souza and Manfrinato concur that anxiety and anguish in the face of incertitude have deeply marked the refugee community in question.
In conclusion, the covid-19 outbreak precipitated and strengthened serious economic difficulties, difficult access to basic services such as official records and health care, racism and xenophobia, and the reinforcement of the community’s isolation vis-à-vis others in Brazil and their own families abroad. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the psychosocial outlook of this refugee population. Refugees in general are affected by enforced immobility. The refugees in Brazil are confronted with this problem to an aggravated degree. And while the pandemic led to the emergence and restructuring of important forms of solidarity among refugees of the Syrian conflict, it also significantly restricted others.
Apart from Martuscelli’s recent publication (2020) and the ongoing work by Souza and Manfrinato, very few other studies of the refugees’ experiences during the pandemic in Brazil have been conducted (see for example, Caramuru 2020; Baeninger et al 2020). The facts presented in this blog suggest that the psychosocial and structural effects of the covid-19 pandemic are likely to be long-lasting. While it is necessary to study the current situation of medical emergency, quarantine and social distancing, studies tracking the long-term effects of the so-called “new normality” on social organization are equally pressing.
 Venezuela’s official name is República Bolivariana de Venezuela.
 In September 2020, the government announced that the emergency benefit will be cut in half, despite the increasingly deteriorating economic situation of the country.
Baeninger, Rosana; Vedovato, Luís Renato; Nandy, Shailen (eds). 2020. Migrações Internacionais e a Pandemia da Covid-19. Universidade de Campinas.
Caramuru. Bárbara. 2020. Palestinos migrantes e refugiados e as políticas de "fechamento de fronteiras" na Pandemia da Covid-19. Cadernos de Campo, Vol 19, pp. 278-288.
Cavalcanti, Alexandre B. et al. July 23, 2020. Hydroxychloroquine with or without Azithromycin in Mild-to-Moderate Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2019014. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2019014. Accessed on August 15, 2020.
Governo Federal: Ministério da Justiça e Segurança Pública. 2019. Refúgio em Númros, Quarta Edição. Official Report. https://www.justica.gov.br/seus-direitos/refugio/refugio-em-numeros. Accessed on August 16, 2020.
Hiroshima Day Committee. n/a. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombing: Facts about the Atomic Bomb. http://www.hiroshimacommittee.org/Facts_NagasakiAndHiroshimaBombing.htm. Accessed on August 15, 2020.
Karam, John Tofik. 2009. Um Outro Arabesco: Etnicidade Sírio-libanesa no Brasil Neoliberal. São Paulo: Martins Fontes.
Lei Nº 9.474, De 22 De Julho De 1997. 1997. Define mecanismos para a implementação do Estatuto dos Refugiados de 1951, e determina outras providências. Brasília, DF. http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/l9474.htm. Accessed on August 15, 2020.
Lei Nº 13.445, De 24 De Maio De 2017. 2017. Institui a Lei de Migração. Brasília, DF. http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2015-2018/2017/lei/l13445.html. Accessed on August 15, 2020.
Lesser, Jeffrey. 2000. A Negociação da Identidade Nacional. São Paulo: Editora da UNESP.
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