2018: The Year in Humanitarianism at PRIO

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28 December 2018

2018: The Year in Humanitarianism at PRIO

PRIO researchers have been prolific contributors to the field of humanitarian studies in 2018. The contributions are mainly in the field of humanitarian technology and refugee management.

PRIO researchers have also contributed to teaching in this field. The PhD course ‘The Anthropology of Humanitarianism’ took place at PRIO on 28-30 November 2018 under the auspices of the UiO/NTNU/PRIO research school. The course was organized by Åshild Kolås, Cindy Horst and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, and featured guest lectures by Antonio de Lauri (CMI), Sidsel Roaldkvam (SUM) and Bill Derman (NMBU). This course explored the role of Anthropology in the framing of the humanitarian effort, and the challenges as well as possibilities of the ethnographic method in the humanitarian field. While power and reflexivity have been central to ethnographic analysis of humanitarian action, contemporary discussions about the need to ‘decolonize academia’ indicates that this thematic subfield need to grapple much more deeply with questions of power, hierarchy and inclusion/exclusion. The course explored how the debate about “decolonization” relate to earlier debates on the tight links between colonization and academic knowledge production, and efforts to incorporate indigenous knowledge and emic understandings into the production of academic knowledge.

Humanitarian technology

Much of this work has been in the broader context of forced migration. Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert has contributed the article ‘Control or rescue at sea? Aims and limits of border surveillance technologies in the Mediterranean Sea‘ to Disasters. The article seeks to understand what role various surveillance technologies, such as radar, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles, can play in this respect (legally and technically), in comparison to the role that they are assigned (that is, political expectations). Jumbert argues that to unravel what surveillance technologies can and cannot do vis‐à‐vis the aims of control and rescue, there is a need to comprehend what information can be collected and what information is needed to fulfil these objectives.

In collaboration with Rocco Bellanova and Raphaël Gellert, Jumbert has also published a policy brief on ‘Smart Phones for Refugees: Tools for Survival, or Surveillance?‘ The brief looks at how several European governments allow – or seek new legislation to allow – the search of these devices and related digital traces in order to verify asylum seekers’ identity and run security checks. The authors ask some critical questions about the proportionality of such measures; the rights of the persons whose personal information is being searched; and, overall, the digital vulnerability of migrants and refugees.

Together with Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, partner in the new Do No Harm: Ethical humanitarian innovation project funded by NORGLOBAL/the Research Council of Norway, Sandvik published ‘UNHCR and the pursuit of international protection: accountability through technology?‘ in Third World Quarterly. Better management and new technological solutions are increasingly portrayed as the way to improve refugee protection and enhance the accountability of humanitarian actors. Taking concepts of legibility, quantification and co-production as the point of departure, this article explores how techno-bureaucratic practices shape conceptions of international refugee protection. The authors examine the evolving roles of results-based management (RBM), biometrics and cash-based interventions as ‘accountability technologies’ in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ international protection efforts. The article was also covered by UNHCR it its blog. A review of Sandvik and Jacobsen prior collaborative book, UNHCR and the struggle for accountability: technology, law and results-based management published by Routledge in 2016 can be found here.

Bringing attention to the gendered aspects of the interface between technology and displacement, Sandvik has published ‘Technology, Dead Male Bodies, and Feminist Recognition: Gendering ICT Harm Theory‘ in the Australian Feminist Law Journal, also blogged at INTLAWGRRLS. Drawing on anthropology, feminist science and technology studies (STS), and critical masculinity studies, this article contributes to a theory of male harm by reflecting on examples of data-driven screening practices in refugee protection and targeting practices in drone strikes as a way of making sense of the relationship between technology and men’s suffering. The article identifies and unpacks the shifting composite of attention and dis-attention to male vulnerability and intersectionality residing at the heart of the gendered and racialised logic of screening and targeting.

PRIO researchers have also looked at the interfaces between technology, humanitarian logistics and global health: Together with Chris Wilson, Jumbert has published an article on global health technology entitled ‘The new informatics of pandemic response: humanitarian technology, efficiency, and the subtle retreat of national agency’ in the Journal of International Humanitarian Action. Based on a review of uses of communications technology in humanitarian and pandemic response, the article proposes a three-part conceptual model for the new informatics of pandemic response. This model distinguishes between the use of digital communication tools for diagnostic, risk communication, and coordination activities and highlights how the influx of novel actors and tendencies towards digital and operational convergence risks focusing humanitarian action and decision-making outside national authorities’ spheres of influence in pandemic response. Together with Tina Comes and Bartel van de Walle, Sandvik has published ‘Cold chains, interrupted: The use of technology and information for decisions that keep humanitarian vaccines cool‘ in the Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management. The article analyzes how far technology and information enable, facilitate or support the planning and implementation decisions in humanitarian vaccine cold chains for vaccination campaigns.

Finally, focus has also been given to the role of technology in natural disasters. In her policy brief ‘Digital Communication in Natural Disasters: Humanitarian Disaster Response in the 2015 Nepal Earthquake‘, Elida K. Jacobsen looks at how effective distribution of digital information during disasters. However, there are several limitations to such communication, including infrastructural damages caused by natural disasters, inequality of digital reach, potential misrepresentation of affected communities and the drawbacks of governing disasters from afar.

Refugee management

Several PRIO researchers have contributed to a groundbreaking volume on refugee resettlement – the first of its kind. Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance, published in Berghahn Boooks Forced Migration series, is a result of BRAGS-collaboration. The volume is edited by Adèle Garnier, Liliana Lyra Jubilut and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik. The Introduction: ‘Refugee Resettlement as Humanitarian Governance: Power Dynamics‘ can be found here and has also been blogged: The post ‘What are the issues facing refugee resettlement?’ was published by the World Economic Forum.

Linn Marie Reklev and Jumbert’s chapter ‘Shaping the political space for resettlement: The debate on burden-sharing in Norway following the Syrian refugee crisis’, looks at how the Norwegian political debate on the Syrian refugee crisis shaped the political space for burden-sharing in refugee protection, resettlement in particular. Reklev and Jumbert identify three discourses that dominate the Norwegian refugee field: the ‘cost-and-capacity’ discourse, the ‘nation-state’ discourse and the humanitarian discourse; and then examine how the interaction between these discourses create the space for actual policy initiatives. They also investigate how the image of Norway as a humanitarian power was contested and negotiated in this process.

Based on a previous article published in the International Journal of Refugee Law, Sandvik contributed the chapter ‘A Legal History: The Emergence of the African Resettlement Candidate in International Refugee Management‘. The chapter proposes a critical legal history of international resettlement through a discussion of the gradual incorporation of African refugees into such schemes.

Amanda Cellini’s chapter ‘Current Refugee Resettlement Program Profiles‘ offers a systematic comparison of all existing twenty-seven resettlement programs as of the end of 2016. Cellini focuses not only on respective resettlement statistics on their evolution in recent years but also on resettlement’s national regulatory basis, main resettlement actors, eligibility criteria, and the involvement of UNHCR.

Jumbert has also contributed a book chapter, ‘European Responses to the Mediterranean ‘Refugee Crisis’ and the Fear of Saving Lives‘, to Kuzelewska, Weatherburn; & Kloza, (eds), Irregular migration as a challenge for democracy, published by Intersentia, which examines the debate on the effects of Search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, and whether they create a pull-effect encouraging more migrants to take on the risky journey.

Finally, Torkjell Leira has published the policy brief ‘Brazil’s International Humanitarian Engagement: The Missing NGO Channel‘. This policy brief studies Brazilian humanitarian engagement and Brazilian development NGOs working internationally, with a special emphasis on Haiti, and promotes a set of policy recommendations to Brazilian and Norwegian authorities.