Ninth issue – November 2018


About the critical junctures in humanitarian history

Par Clara Egger  - If ever there was an expression seemingly devised for the study of humanitarian action, the one that fits the bill perfectly is “critical juncture” – a series of events which, when combined, mark a turning point in the history of a society. The history of humanitarian action is punctuated with such junctures, the most visible of which have fuelled the development of a mythical narrative of humanitarian practices. 1968 is one such moment. [Read more]


Biafra: at the heart of postcolonial humanitarian ambiguities

By Marie-Luce Desgrandchamps  - In short, this is where it all began: history and legend, ambiguities and dilemmas, principles and their limits. Drawing on her recent book on Biafra, Marie-Luce Desgrandchamps looks back at what took place in Nigeria fifty years ago. Pierre Micheletti and Bruno-Georges David then discuss how images and representations of humanitarian work have evolved over half a century. [Read more]

“The portrayal of humanitarianism has, to say the least, dramatically changed in 50 years”

Interview with Pierre Micheletti et Bruno-Georges David - From pictures of famished children in Biafra to those of victims of the Sulawesi tsunami, have portrayals of humanitarianism changed very much? Above all, do these images help capture the reality of humanitarian action in people’s minds or do they only camouflage it to better “sell” a cause? These are questions that we asked both Pierre Micheletti and Bruno-Georges David to better understand the constraints and drifts of communication in humanitarianism. [Read more]


Humanitarian implications of a re-assertion of State sovereignty

By Duncan Mclean  - Whilst there is indeed a trend towards the strengthening of State sovereignty, this concept is more multifaceted and ambivalent than it might appear. The author invites us to take stock of its developments, its complexity and the implications for humanitarian work. [Read more]

The endless restructuring of the humanitarian sector : an inappropriate search for performance ?

By Perrine Laissus-Benoist - A refrain constantly heard in the process of professionalisation, the call to restructure the world of humanitarian intervention often takes the form of a reformating based on the principles of neoliberal dogma. According to the author, this quest for performance is ill-suited to the complexity of humanitarian action and poorly serves the populations concerned. [Read more]

Aid workers and the uprooted: chronic of a parallel evolution

By François Grünewald - The issue of population movement didn’t start with the Mediterranean refugee saga. And it only became a “migrant crisis” when the concurrence of conflicts, natural disasters and poverty encountered the incompetence of western nations. In this historical and semantic analysis, François Grünewald reminds us that, since they first existed, aid workers have always provided assistance to “the wretched of the earth”. [Read more]

Sovereignty as responsibility in East Asia’s response to crises

By Oscar A.  Gómez - Though aspects of Oscar Gómez’s article resonate with Duncan Mclean’s opening article, one is not a reflection of the other. The former has the merit of shifting the gaze on this concept to show us how it has evolved over the past fifty years, in East and Southeast Asia. [Read more]

The “hybridisation of humanitarianism”: ordinary citizens in French migrant camps

By Marjorie Gerbier-Aublanc - In 1968, French doctors decided to travel to Biafra to help the Igbo people. Later, they supported migrants in the South China Sea and elsewhere. Now, working alongside NGOs, ordinary citizens scandalised by the treatment of migrants are mobilising here in France in response to this crisis. In doing so, they are inventing a new way of engaging in humanitarian action. [Read more]


The future of humanitarianism

By Dr Randolph Kent  - Going back over 50 years of history in order to consider the future of humanitarianism. Randolph Kent takes up the challenge, pointing out the structural flaws of the system so that it can face up to the stark challenges that, according to the author, are on the horizon. [Read more]


The socio-economic integration of refugees involves recognising know-how, qualifications and skills

By Alessia Lefébure  - Although higher education institutions have been called upon to recruit more students, refugees face multiple obstacles when it comes to accessing them. This is a clear sign that European countries, on this matter as elsewhere, are not without paradoxes or renunciations. And yet, the tools do exist. [Read more]


The United Against Inhumanity initiative

By Khaled Mansour, Jean-Baptiste Richardier and Antonio Donini  - We are inaugurating a new “Tribune” section that will allow for the expression of various initiatives in the humanitarian sector, and original, iconoclastic and even polemical points of view. And it’s the United Against Inhumanity initiative that features in its first edition. Born of urgent expectations, disappointed by the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, matured within the Forum Espace Humanitaire and supported during its embryonic phase by the Humanitarian Alternatives association, it takes its official flight to call for a global mobilisation of civil society. [Read more]


All quiet on the West front

"All quiet on the West front • Without borders ! • Right to interfere! Responsibility to protect ! Call for donations"

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From the Tsunami to the earthquakes in Nepal or Haiti, from the plight of the Rohingya to the Syrian war or the migrant crisis, have NGOs become hypermarkets of solidarity, selling compassion in all departments to today’s captive sensation-hungry consumers? This work tells the inside story of current reality in NGOs and, for the greater good, uncompromisingly questions the way communication is manufactured in the humanitarian sector. [Read more]

Lives in waiting

Reading recommandation of two articles available in open access:

  • “A life in waiting: Refugees’ mental health and narratives of social suffering after European Union border closures in March 2016”

  • “Syrian refugees in Greece: experience with violence, mental health status, and access to information during the journey and while in Greece”

[Read more]

A Guinean jigsaw puzzle

This book is a contribution to the assembly of the jigsaw puzzle of Guinean history, a joint effort which encourages us to probe further than the fault lines of the 20th century. Guinean, French and American authors have collaborated to piece together elements of the history of political violence in Guinea. [Read more]

A humanitarian life

A 5th year medical student and keen traveller, Philippe Chabasse met Bernard Kouchner one evening in November 1978. This would mark the beginning of his commitment to humanitarian work and would lead twenty years later to his award, with his associates in Handicap International, of the Nobel Peace Prize for their campaign against anti-personnel mines. Brimming with anecdotes, this book alternates between stories and analyses of the trends in the humanitarian aid sector and its place in the world of international diplomacy and cooperation.  [Read more]

Syria by Rey

By cross-referencing press records, dissertations and declassified material, Matthieu Rey explains the foundations of contemporary Syria and its turbulent history. He encourages us to follow the still uncertain future development of a political community grouping diverse populations, men and women settling and organising their existence within a certain territory. [Read more]

Mosul in times of the Islamic State

The hitherto unpublished testimonies collected by Hélène Sallon from the inhabitants of Mosul portray its terrifying reality, very few accounts of which – and practically no pictures – have reached us. This exceptional book describes the “new, Jihadist social order” which the Islamic State tried to impose on the whole of society, and under which schoolchildren are taught to count by multiplying tonnes of explosives, and women considered insufficiently covered have their flesh clipped by brigades of women armed with iron-toothed pliers. [Read more]

Social commitment for dummies

The term “commitment” strikes a particular chord nowadays: there is a human need, sometimes a vital one, to feel needed. In a society in search of meaning where young people, generations Y and Z, the “millennials”, feel more and more they want to act for the common good, but increasingly question how best to do this, this is a subject that called for methodical treatment. [Read more]

Memory of a without borders

From young boy to the man he is today, Pierre Micheletti takes us with him on his path from family to the world. From country practitioner to humanitarian doctor, he makes a reality of his eagerness to see new places, meet new people. In so doing, he allows us to accompany him along the routes he followed. We feel as if we are actually rubbing shoulders with the peoples and the notable characters that marked his personal story and that of the world. From Danielle Mitterrand to Fidel Castro, from Tibet to Guiana, from the campesinos of Colombia to the Palestinians of Gaza, from his grandmother to his father, he tells the tale of a life as fascinating as a novel, with all its discoveries and questionings, and with a strong sense that globalisation’s only true value is a spirit of fraternity. [Read more]

Translators :

• Méline Bernard •  Mandy Duret •  Fay Guerry • Alain Johnson • Gauthier Lesturgie • Juliet Powys  •Benjamin Richardier  • Derek Scoins

Retranscription :

• Frédérique Morin-Bironneau

Acknowledgements for their voluntary contribution to this issue:

Brax • Damian Gonzalez Dominguez (CIRC/ICRC) • Fay Guerry • Laethicia Lamotte (Hanicap International)  • Pauline Restoux/ Olivier Vercherand (In medias res)