by Annelise Andersen
Mass displacement today
Today one in every 122 people on the planet is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. Movement, it seems, is the new normal.
Global human mobility has always been a part of human life. But in the past to be a refugee was a short-term consequence of conflict. Interventions aimed at ensuring a right to life for refugees in the short term too.
The extreme numbers of people on the move now present us with new challenges. One of these is how to respond to the rise of ‘protracted refugee situations’ – refugees that are in a long-lasting and intractable state of limbo for five years or more.
The effects of protracted refugee situations are dramatic. They can contribute to ongoing crises, disrupt strategies that aim to make them more stable and hinder sustainable development in host countries and those of refugee origin.
The conflict in Syria, now into its eighth year, has caused one of the most well-known and severe cases of long-term displacement today. The number of Syrian refugees that have fled their home country’s violence to neighbouring countries has been immense.
Lebanon alone hosts over a million registered and unregistered Syrian refugees – around one quarter of its total population. This is a lot for a small country, particularly one with such a long history as a host.
The high number of refugees in Lebanon has put enormous pressure on housing and basic services, infrastructure, jobs and wages and educational opportunities, which were already strained prior to the Syrian crisis. Competition for limited resources has also created tensions between host and refugee communities.
The challenge of living, and living well in this context, is overwhelming. Change will not come overnight. So how do you improve the quality of life for people in an ongoing climate of crisis?
This is the question that prompted the beginnings of the RELIEF Centre: the five-year transdisciplinary research project funded by the ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund, and led by Professor Henrietta Moore at the Institute for Global Prosperity, UCL, that I am proud to be a part of.
The RELIEF Centre
My colleagues at the RELIEF Centre focus on how to build prosperous and inclusive futures for communities affected by mass displacement. Our fieldwork is based in Lebanon, the home of our academic partners the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University. However, the plan is that what we learn here will be applicable to other places too.
Our starting position is that efforts to bring about positive change for those affected by mass displacement are more likely to be successful if they are inclusive and sustainable. We apply this thinking across four themes: The Vital City, Creating Value, Future Education and Prosperity Gains and Inclusive Growth.
Each research theme explores different questions about prosperity that go beyond GDP and money, and include quality of life and wellbeing. The answers will form the basis of co-designed pathways towards lives that will be prosperous long into the future. We do this with our community of academic and non-academic partners, including charities such as Catalytic Action and Multi Aid Programs, and United Nations agencies such as UN-Habitat that work in Lebanon (and we have plans to work with many more).
As Communications and Impact Officer I am lucky enough to work closely with all the RELIEF teams and our partners, and there is rarely a dull day in our office. What launch events, workshops and many conversations in London and Lebanon have taught me so far is the value of flexibility, creativity and capacity-building in creating long-term responses to mass displacement that work. This is in terms of who to collaborate with, which direction to take your research in, and how to engage new audiences.
Finding ways of integrating this into the work we do is great fun and opens up all sorts of new opportunities: whether it is running arts events through our cultural committee, being generously supported by the ESRC to take part in media training, or meeting with exciting sustainable businesses in Beirut to discuss setting up Fast Forward 2030 Lebanon – a network and collaborative platform for businesses aiming to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals into their business models.
The year that follows will be a busy one, but also one to look forward to with new ideas, partnerships and innovations.
Annelise Andersen is Communications and Impact Officer at the RELIEF Centre. She embeds public engagement in every aspect of RELIEF’s work. Her responsibilities for RELIEF include devising events, publications and a community strategy, working with the research teams on how they engage stakeholders and communities, preparing the ground with national and international policymakers, and releasing main project findings at public events. Annelise has a background in public engagement, communications and the arts.