First edition of the “Rencontres de la Fondation Croix-Rouge française” (French Red Cross Foundation Gatherings)

On May 30th, 2018, Humanitarian Alternatives participated in the first edition of the "Rencontres de la Croix-Rouge française" (French Red-Cross Foundation Gatherings), a Humanitarian and Social Research event organised at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The event allowed to discover the results of the Foundation’s seven 2017 research fellows – that we will present below– and to keep promoting a space for reflection between researchers and professionals of the sector.

Jean-Jacques Eledjam – President of the French Red Cross and of the French Red Cross Foundation – and Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), opened a day of debates, and officially presented the launch of the French Red Cross Foundation, whose objective is to promote research and innovation in humanitarian aid and to put innovation “in the service of the most fragile and of social cohesion”(1)Jean-Jacques Eldedjam‘s address.

“Humanitarian aid in street situations”

Jeanne SEMIN – Anthropologist
Marjorie GERBIER-AUBLANC – Sociologist

Jeanne Semin, “Towards a concerted plan to remove children from the streets of Saint-Louis in Senegal: humanitarian transition and ethical principle of autonomy”: Jeanne Semin analysed the organisational network that helps Talibé children, showing the diversity of actors, the coordination difficulties but also the contentious relationship with the State. Her research also aims to break with the “beneficiary” analysis, depicted as a passive agent, and to show the capacity of street children to have a say in their future.

Marjorie Gerbier-Aublanc, “Human improvisation: possibilities and limits of citizen solidarity in Calais and Paris migrant camps”: Sociologist Marjorie Gerbier-Aublanc sought to analyse aid in camps, implemented by citizens she calls “ordinary” (characterised by their being disconnected from public affairs and from the realities of public policies) in the politicised and standardised humanitarian space. She studies the spontaneous origins of these grassroots movements, their “organisational DIY-ness” and their capacity to last. The relationship of grassroots movements with humanitarian aid professionals and the political sphere are also thoroughly studied in her paper.

“Organising the security space in Africa”

Alvar Jones Sanchez – Anthropologist
Tatiana Smirnova – Anthropologist

Alvar Jones Sanchez “Peace committees for conflict resolution in Casamance: from popular illusion to political denial”: The research of Alvar Jones Sanchez focuses on programmes implemented by humanitarian aid actors to involve populations in building peace in Casamance. Indeed, in this region of Senegal prey to a 35-year-old independence conflict, many humanitarian donors have entrusted this mission to humanitarian organisations. The peace building strategy consists in choosing individuals at the local and community levels and to train them in conflict resolution. Locally-based conflict resolution aims to help resolve the national conflict. However, Alvar Jones Sanchez develops a constructive criticism of this humanitarian practice, in this particular case. Indeed, the initiative’s exteriority and lack of coordination with other conflict resolution processes (traditional, administrative, etc.) seriously harm the efficiency of “peace committees”.

Tatiana Smirnova “Boko Haram and the displaced people in Niger’s Diffa region: thinking and building the humanitarian response in an insurrectional context (2013-2016)”: Tatiana Smirnova's research focused on the Diffa region in Niger. She tried to understand the articulation between humanitarian aid and the Boko Haram conflict’s dynamic. From 2013 to 2016, she analysed how actors (NGOs, local authorities, etc.) have developed a humanitarian response to the increasing refugee influx. She also wished to study how this aid is perceived by the beneficiaries and the insurgents. The issues of displaced people safety, camp building, but especially the State’s role – or “lack” thereof – have a major place in her research.

 “The humanitarian transition in the light of intimate relationships, community links and local communication”

Pierre Boris N’Nde – Anthropologist (Absent)
Marie FIERENS – PhD in information and communication sciences (video presentation)
Amalia Dragani – PhD in social anthropology and ethnology

In the 7th issue of Humanitarian Alternatives, you will also find Pierre Boris N’Nde’s article on the role of the State and private companies in the humanitarian sphere, through the example of a cash transfer program in Cameroun (available here).

Pierre Boris N’Nde “Security environment and humanitarian offer: the evolution of perceptions for the refugees of the Gado Badzeré site in Cameroun”: Pierre Boris N’Nde’s article deals with the evolution of refugees’ representations regarding the humanitarian offer in a refugee camp in East Cameroun. He analyses these representations in the light of the camp’s security environment.

Marie Fierens “Humanitarians and journalists in East Democratic Republic of Congo: a negotiated friendship”: Marie Fierens’ research deals with the relationships between humanitarian aid professionals and local journalists in East DRC. Information and its dissemination appear to be a major humanitarian issue. Her work highlights the difficulty for various actors to reconcile the humanitarian imperative with other stakes, especially democratic or commercial.

Amalia DraganiHumanitarian transfer in the light of intimate relationships: extreme heterogamy and new social cadets in Niger”: Amalia Dragani chose an unusual topic for her research. This analyse allowed her to study these marriages’ perceptions among host societies and the humanitarian sector. She also tried to understand the spouses’ benefits in this situation, seriously challenging the thesis that the relationship is particularly beneficial to the “local one”.

Debate: “Solidary ties throughout migration”

Annabel Desgrees Du Lou – Demographer, Research Director at IRD, deputy director at Institut Convergences Migrations
Damianos Kattar – Member of the Lebanese Red Cross, Professor in Economics and Strategy, former Minister of Finance and Economy of Lebanon
Marguerite Barankitse – President and Founder of Maison Shalom in Burundi and Rwanda
Pierre Micheletti – Co-Manager of the Master’s degree Politiques et Pratiques des Organisations Internationales at the Grenoble IEP, Vice-President of Action Contre la Faim  

Serge Paugam – Director of studies at EHESS, Research Director at the CNRS
Mahaman Tidjani AlouAssociate Professor at the universities of CAMES, former Dean of the Abdou Moumouni University’s faculty of Economic and Legal Sciences 

According to Serge Paugam(2)For further information: Interview with Serge Paugam:, the concept of “solidary ties” highlights social integration processes, and the inter-individual aspects of solidarity. His typology of social links is established according to the recognition and protection that they offer. Each type of social link refers to different moral conceptions and integration logics. A break in solidary ties can therefore be analysed as one of the causes of migration: individuals cannot find recognition and/or protection in their host country’s solidary ties, and they are forced to leave. But it can also be analysed as a consequence of migration. This break of social links is often compensated by the encounter of individuals from the same nationality or ethnic group in the host country. The creation of these communities allows migrants to find solidary ties again, reminding of Durkheim’s mechanical solidarity. Integration within the host society as a whole – divided between those accepting the migrants and those rejecting them – becomes a true challenge for these migrants.

As for Mahaman Tidjani Alou, he questions the notion of public service. Indeed, the migratory issue calls for a reflection on its boundaries, its competencies and its accessibility. He also wished to refocus the debate on the notions of man and heart, which, according to him, must be at the centre of all political, social and humanitarian answers to the migratory issues. Two major questions have thus been defined for this debate:

  • How to (re)build solidary ties with vulnerable populations and allow them to start over?
  • What role can the humanitarian sector play in the reconstruction of solidary ties?

The four participants have developed their input on the theme of “Solidary ties throughout migration”. Their diversity of experiences and areas of expertise allowed a comprehensive view of the subject.

Annabel Desgrees Du Lou – Demographer and Research Director at the IRD, used her research on HIV-positive African women living in France to discuss the theme of the debate. More precisely she studied an association in Paris that helps these women and aims to (re)integrate them into society. One of this association’s first actions is to welcome HIV-positive African women around one big traditional meal. It allows to establish solidary ties within a familiar context: mealtime. It also aims to create solidary ties through identification. Indeed, the women who run this association are former “beneficiaries” who have become “role models” for current “beneficiaries”. Annabel Desgrees Du Lou has raised one major issue of reconstructing social links within host societies: how to value the irreplaceable place of peers, without necessarily indulging in communitarianism?

Marguerite Barankitse, Founder of Maison Shalom in 1994, presented the work that she does in her home country, Burundi. Maison Shalom is a children’s shelter that has helped more than 20,000 children, regardless of their origin or ethnic group. Forced into exile in 2015, she has continued her work from abroad. Her participation reminded us of the importance of commitment, determination and heart in humanitarian aid.

Pierre Micheletti, Vice-President of Action Contre la Faim and professor at the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies (IEP), chose to study health centres for socially-underprivileged people in Grenoble. These associative structures seek to limit social inequalities in access to healthcare. It allowed him to question the importance of public authorities in reconstructing social and solidary ties, in situations of social insecurity.

Finally, Damianos Kattar brought his double expertise as a politician (former Minister of Finance and Economy of Lebanon) and as a humanitarian (member of the Lebanese Red Cross). His address focused on Lebanon. This country has a population of 4 million and currently hosts 2 million immigrants(3)Source:, mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians. For him, this situation calls solidary ties in Lebanon into question, for it creates economical and social difficulties. This demographic accumulation is not favourable to decent reception conditions for refugees, and to establishing solidary ties that bring recognition and protection.

The participants’ addresses were followed by a debate with the French Red Cross Foundation research fellows and with the audience. Notably, Alvar Jones Sanchez’s address reminded that “humanitarian aid still has trouble evoking migrants without making them an absolute alterity”, orienting the debate towards the difficulty for NGOs to reconcile compassion-based – or even victimizing – fundraising speeches and concrete action, which – according to him – should be based on interdependent and equal relationships in order not to be counterproductive.

Jean-Christophe Combe, Director of the French Red Cross and Secretary of the French Red Cross Foundation, gave a closing speech to this day of reflection.

1 Jean-Jacques Eldedjam‘s address.
2 For further information: Interview with Serge Paugam:
3 Source: