Category Archives: Issue N°6 – November 2017

Lessons from the past to better manage the future

Publisher’s comments

The Politics of Fear. Médecins sans Frontières and the West African Ebola Epidemic Michiel Hofman and Sokhieng Au (ed.) Oxford University Press USA, 2017

“The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was an unprecedented medical and political emergency that cast an unflattering light on multiple corners of government and international response. Fear, not rational planning, appeared to drive many decisions made at population and leadership levels, which in turn brought about a response that was as uneven as it was unprecedented: entire populations were decimated or destroyed, vaccine trials were fast-tracked, health staff died, untested medications were used (or not used) in controversial ways, humanitarian workers returned home to enforced isolation, and military was employed to sometimes disturbing ends.

The epidemic revealed serious fault lines at all levels of theory and practice of global public health: national governments were shown to be helpless and unprepared for calamity at this scale; the World Health Organization was roundly condemned for its ineffectiveness; the US quietly created its own African CDC a year after the epidemic began.

Amid such chaos, Médecins sans Frontières was forced to act with unprecedented autonomy – and amid great criticism – in responding to the disease, taking unprecedented steps in deploying services and advocating for international aid. The Politics of Fear provides a primary documentary resource for recounting and learning from the Ebola epidemic. Comprising eleven topic-based chapters and four eyewitness vignettes from both MSF and non-MSF affiliated contributors (all of whom have been given access to MSF Ebola archives from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia for research), it aims to provide a politically agnostic account of the defining health event of the 21st century so far, one that will hopefully inform current opinions and future responses.”

An interview with one of the authors will be soon available on our website: http://alternatives-humanitaires.org

A philosophical investigation and the “Plight of Hospitality”

“Beware of listening to this imposter. You are lost if you forget
that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality among Men, Part Two, 1755

Demise of Hospitality. Lampedusa, Lesbos, Calais… how far will we go? Guillaume Le Blanc and Fabienne Brugère Flammarion, 2017

Guillaume Le Blanc and Fabienne Brugère travelled all over Europe, from the Calais “jungle” to the Refugee Centre at Templehof Airport in Berlin. In this book, they recount their journey, challenging us to question the place of “refuge seekers”(1)The authors chose to use the expression “refuge seeker” rather than “refugee”, which refers rather to a legal status, in particular as guaranteed under the 1951 Convention. in our society.

From the Middle Ages to the 20th century, from Homer to Hannah Arendt, by way of the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau(2)Quoted on p.181 of their book and chosen by us to introduce this review. or Immanuel Kant, the authors remind us of the European tradition of hospitality which contrasts with the image of the foreigner portrayed today, “stripped of any sanctity”. They write, “In effect, we are witnessing the erasing of the metaphysical figure of the foreigner which not so long ago still lingered in our cultures, imbuing them with a fleeting glory, and seeing it replaced with new figures of social disorder: the migrant, the refugee, the immigrant” [p. 170].

This book does not only note that political hospitality no longer exists(3)The authors define political hospitality as a pragmatic, impersonal and public hospitality, as opposed to the ethical, private hospitality “of the home” linked to private and individual values: “To the solitary magnificence of the hospitality of the home, in that lost golden age, we must prefer impersonal hospitality, made possible by the creation of hospitals. In practice, it can be seen that, on balance, hospitality is better provided in the hospital than the home” [p.206]., more importantly it reminds governments of their responsibility to implement genuine welcoming policies. The authors argue that the disappearance of hospitality as a political value has made way for individual ethical obligations and created a society ruled by emergency, limiting the possibility of any long term welcome. This is what they call the “plight of hospitality” [p. 97].

This situation is embodied in particular in the creation of “non places” and “displaced lives”, as seen in the camps, these “places which do not exist on any map. Indeed, that is even how we can recognize them. The jungle in Calais and la Linière camp at Grande-Synthe are places that are nowhere, that do not impinge on the real world, negative utopias that need to be erased at all costs, eliminating any dubious heterotopia from the world. We come across them almost by chance on a scrap of land outside our world, an excrescence trapped between the motorway and the dunes, or when we exit some crossroads leading to a warehouse which must be kept out of sight” [p. 143].

Nevertheless, the authors stress that the emergence of private initiatives providing assistance and solidarity – which can be classified as ethical and compassionate hospitality – leads to grass-roots movements which can force governments to rethink their public policies and the conditions of welcome they provide(4)See for example the http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2016/06/20/des-villes-refuges-pour-migrants_4954053_3232.html or the documentary “Un paese di Calabria” which shows how ethical hospitality has allowed a public reception policy to be implemented http://www.lemonde.fr/cinema/article/2017/02/07/un-paese-di-calabria-quand-les-refugies-ressuscitent-un-village_5075720_3476.html. The hospitality issue must therefore, they say, be discussed and debated in public so it may lead to participatory reception policies.

In the context of the rising power of populist movements in Europe, The Demise of Hospitality is a philosophical inquiry, conducted “in the field”, that everyone should read.

Audrey Sala – Coordinator of the Humanitarian Alternatives review

Translated from the French by Fay Guerry

   [ + ]

1. The authors chose to use the expression “refuge seeker” rather than “refugee”, which refers rather to a legal status, in particular as guaranteed under the 1951 Convention.
2. Quoted on p.181 of their book and chosen by us to introduce this review.
3. The authors define political hospitality as a pragmatic, impersonal and public hospitality, as opposed to the ethical, private hospitality “of the home” linked to private and individual values: “To the solitary magnificence of the hospitality of the home, in that lost golden age, we must prefer impersonal hospitality, made possible by the creation of hospitals. In practice, it can be seen that, on balance, hospitality is better provided in the hospital than the home” [p.206].
4. See for example the http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2016/06/20/des-villes-refuges-pour-migrants_4954053_3232.html or the documentary “Un paese di Calabria” which shows how ethical hospitality has allowed a public reception policy to be implemented http://www.lemonde.fr/cinema/article/2017/02/07/un-paese-di-calabria-quand-les-refugies-ressuscitent-un-village_5075720_3476.html

Humanitarian Visa d’Or of the ICRC, 2011-2017: seven years of reflection

The regional delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in France created in 2011 the “Humanitarian Visa d’Or (Gold Visa)” in partnership with the prestigious International Festival of Photojournalism held in Perpignan, “Visa pour l’image” (Visa for Pictures). With an award of 8,000 euros, this prize recognises the photographer who will have been able to present, in 10 pictures, an issue concerning international humanitarian action and law. Between 2011 and 2014, “care in action” was selected by the jury, comprising representatives of international media and the humanitarian community. Since 2015, the theme of “women in war” has been proposed for the competition. The 2017 award winner, Angela Ponce Romero, 23 years old, exposed her work “Ayacucho, the missing in conflict” in Perpignan and was viewed, as the preceding ones, by more than 40,000 visitors. Read the article

New challenges in the context of violent urban settings

Oscar Felipe Chavez Aguirre • Field Coordinator in Mexico – International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

O. F. Chavez Aguirre

Humanitarian intervention contexts are changing. Between battle-based conflicts and asymmetric wars involving fragile States, rebellions and mercenaries, urban violence – involving paramilitary militias, gangs and other armed groups – has developed. How can humanitarian action unfold in such contexts? Read the article

From resilience to localisation, or how slogans are not enough for an in-depth reform of the humanitarian sector

Perrine Laissus-Benoist et Benoît Lallau • Économistes, Université Lille 1

P. Laisssus-Benoist

B. Lallau

At regular intervals, a new slogan echoes around the humanitarian sector, with unifying virtues that are supposed to embody its reform. Yet fads pass, and often the poor integration of innovations and new technologies is deplored. What must we conclude? The two authors undertake here a critical exercise, starting from resilience, and apprehending the implementation of the relatively recent, but promising, concept of localisation.  Read the article

Partnerships with private operators: the necessary debate among NGOs

Anne-Aël Pohu • Juriste et experte indépendante en développement international

A.A. Pohu

To conclude – temporarily – this Focus, Anne-Ael Pohu addresses the particularly enlightening case of “private development companies”, these companies that were created almost exclusively to intervene on the field of development and humanitarian action. Perceiving public funds, outsourcing to NGOs to fulfil their commitments, they induce a real paradigm shift. NGOs would benefit from opening a real debate not to be swept away by this movement of substance. Read the article

How the arrival of companies re-examines the notions of legitimacy and accountability: the example of cash transfer programmes

Isabelle Schlaepfer • PhD researcher at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester

I. Schlaepfer

Isabelle Schlaepfer invites us to a salutary perspective in the debate on the impact of the arrival of companies in the humanitarian field. Drawing on the recurring question of the legitimacy of NGOs, she demonstrates how the rules of the neo-managerialism influence the way of conceiving and putting into practice the accountability as much towards the donors, the governmental actors as towards the beneficiaries, more and more conceived as consumers of aid. Read the article

When NGOs and lucrative organisations collaborate: the economic integration of refugees in Ecuador

Lucie Laplace • Doctorante en Sciences politiques à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2 et chercheuse associée à la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO)-Équateur

L. Laplace

As the problem of refugees is not confined to the European area, the collaboration between NGOs and companies is in the process of globalisation. Lucie Laplace’s article examines how the social integration of migrants in Ecuador is managed by humanitarian aid organisations within the framework of partnerships with actors from the profit-making sector. An experiment promoted by UNHCR which, according to the author, does not give the expected results. Above all, it would lead to a disempowerment of socio-political and economic actors. Read the article

Reconciliating economics and social concerns: the example of arcenciel in Lebanon

Kristel Guyon • Association arcenciel (Beyrouth, Liban)

K. Guyon

While social entrepreneurship still seems to be a recent innovation in France, the Lebanese association arcenciel chose this model more than thirty years ago. Kristel Guyon explains here the origins, the philosophy, the organisation and both the advantages and disadvantages of this hybrid model. Read the article

Are NGOs the sole purveyors of honourable intentions?

Mathieu Dufour • Directeur financier d’Alima (Alliance for international medical action)

M. Dufour

It’s an NGO that opens the dialogue and, through the voice of its financial director, gives an uninhibited and substantiated speech about companies and the bridges thrown with the humanitarian world. Evoking the virtues of social entrepreneurship, impact investing, blockchain or “social impact contracts”, Mathieu Dufour is not afraid to announce the imminent death of the theoretical break between the private sector and NGOs. Read the article