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 A hope for generating meaningful, impactful research on refugee camp governance. Photo: Colourbox

A hope for generating meaningful, impactful research on refugee camp governance

The aim for the conference ‘International Dialogue on the Governance of Refugee Camps’ is to advance interdisciplinary research, and revisit policy models and historical legacies on refugee camp governance. So says Associate Professor Tamirace Fakhoury, Global Refugees Studies, one of the members of the steering committee.

Last modified: 30.08.2023

Text: Charlotte Tybjerg Sørensen, Communications Officer
Photo: Colourbox

The Conference ‘International Dialogue on the Governance of Refugee Camps’ takes place on August 31-September 1 at Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Lund, Sweden.

The steering committee of the conference is composed of the following members: Khaldoun AbouAssi, Associate Professor, American University, USA; Silke Boenigk, Professor, Hamburg University, Germany) Tamirace Fakhoury, Associate Professor, Aalborg University, Denmark; Mo Hamza, Professor, Lund University, Sweden and Tina Nabatchi, Professor, Syracuse University, USA.

Eminent scholars and leading authors on refugee governance and camps from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States will participate in a two-day dialogue on refugee camp governance and the growing refugee issue.

More refugees today than at any point in modern history

The background for the conference is despairing. The world has more refugees today than at any other point in modern history. In 2022, the number of people forced to flee their homes surpassed 100 million worldwide. Over 26 million left everything behind, including their native countries, in the hope of finding safety and security.

- With 20 people newly displaced every minute (that’s 30,000 displacements per day) and a projected 150-200 million individuals displaced by climate change by 2050, the problems and challenges of creating and coordinating effective multilateral humanitarian response programs for refugees will only grow. The need for effective responses to the global refugee crisis is particularly urgent in the context of refugee camps, which house over a quarter of all refugees, Khadoun AbouAssi emphasizes on behalf of the steering committee.  

He adds: - As the world’s refugee population continues to grow, so too does the need for understanding about governance issues grow in both scope and urgency.

Generating  comparative and interdisciplinary knowledge on the governance of refugee camps is at the heart of this conference. Indeed, the more we know about refugee camp governance, the more we can inform policy models that remain built on templates that, often times, have not been updated

~ Tamirace Fakhoury, associate professor

- While there is abundant research on refugee resettlement and on the sociopolitical and economic conditions of refugee camps, as well as reports on the technical aspects of camp planning and construction (e.g., layout, water, and sanitation systems), there are critical gaps in knowledge about camp governance, argues Tina Nabatchi,on behalf of the steering committee.

- More specifically, we know that refugee camps are governed through complex, multi-organizational arrangements involving international, national, and local organizations from the public, private, and non-governmental sectors. These actors have tremendous impact and influence on refugees’ daily lives, providing myriad services such as registration and data collection, housing, communications, security, distribution of food and non-food items, water and sanitation, education, and healthcare, among others. However, very little is known about how services in the camps are delivered; how activities are coordinated and by whom; how actors collaborate across boundaries; or how refugees engage in the process of governance. We also know little about how refugee camp governance has shifted and evolved across time and across world regions, Tina Nabatchi elaborates.

More knowledge can provide the keys to unlocking advances

It is well known that refugee camps can vary greatly in terms of the services provided and the quality of life offered, and the researchers suspect that such variations are due, at least in part, to issues of camp governance.

Khadoun AbouAssi explains on behalf of the steering committee:  

- Camp governance directly shapes the lives and experiences of refugees. It determines whether and how well refugees’ basic needs (and economic, social, and psychological needs) are met, and shape their hopes for equality, agency, and human dignity. Thus, camp governance is not just about delivering essential services, but also is about supporting human rights and social justice. In short, more knowledge about refugee camp governance could provide the keys to unlocking advances that help some of the world’s most vulnerable human populations. Here, we hope to critically interrogate conventional policy scripts on refugee livelihoods, resilience and self-reliance.

The conference aims to bring together a diverse group of international scholars with research expertise on refugees.

- Our goal is to spur innovative research and methodologies on how refugee camps are ‘governed’ today, and to revisit historical legacies shaping refugee camp governance, Tamirace Fakhoury says.

- During the meeting, we will (1) engage in an interdisciplinary conversation on refugee camp governance across various world regions, (2) look at the issue of refugee camp governance beyond disciplinary siloes (3) develop synergies for collaborative research and partnerships. By the end of this dialogue, it is our hope that we would have generated a series of conceptual, methodological and empirical reflections, spurring research partnerships and calls for action, she adds.

Hopes to start generating meaningful, impactful research on refugee camp governance

Understanding and answering key questions about the who, what, why, how, and to what effect of refugee camp governance will open avenues for further exploration that ultimately can improve camp management on the ground.

- Our biggest hope is to start generating meaningful, impactful research on refugee camp governance. The more we can understand about camp governance, the more we will be able to improve the day-to-day activities – and long-term effects of those activities – in camps. In turn, this could improve the quality of life for some of the world’s most vulnerable people and improve our ability to deal with growing refugee issues, Khadoun AbouAssi adds on behalf of the steering committee.

About the Conference

  • The conference is taking place on August 31-September 1, 2023, at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Lund, Sweden.
  • Khadoun AbouAssi, School of Public Affairs, American University and Tina Nabatchi, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University are the primary organizers of the meeting.
  • Collaborations on agenda, conference’s trajectory have been formed with Aalborg University (GRS), Lund University, and Hamburg University, and with their input, the steering committee decided on a general agenda for the International Dialogue on the Governance of Refugee Camps and developed a list of participants.

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