Diaspora humanitarianism in contexts of forced displacement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology


The role of diaspora groups has emerged as key in responding to humanitarian disasters concerning forced displacement and conflict. Limited but growing scholarly and policy attention recognises diasporas are often the first to respond in emergencies, taking a multi-sectoral and transnational approach, and acting with expertise of the local environment. Online fundraising, communications technology and remittances has enabled the development of international ad-hoc responses that currently operate mostly outside of the formal humanitarian sector, often reaching remote populations that international non-governmental organisations cannot.

Particularly in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis, the Syrian diaspora - comprising voluntary and forced migrants - have been key in local community responses across multiple countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and more recently Sudan. Unrestricted access to Sudan has created intensified flows of Syrians to Khartoum, where they are received by Sudanese and International NGO's, and by Syrian diaspora organisations and local communities. Given that policy engagement remains hesitant to acknowledge the role of diaspora groups as humanitarian actors, and the literature on this topic is currently limited, there is a need to examine new cases where diaspora groups are playing significant roles in responding to displacement crises. Exploring the nature, role, drivers and impact of Syrian diaspora group efforts in Khartoum could contribute to furthering our understanding of diaspora's as a 'non-traditional' humanitarian actor group with different modus operandi for the implementation of aid and assistance, as well as contribute to the development of policy and practice to best respond to humanitarian emergences. The findings will be of interest to scholars researching diasporas, to practitioners and diaspora groups, to humanitarian actors looking to engage with diaspora groups, and to policy makers.

This project will build upon the emerging yet underexplored conceptualisation of south-south humanitarianism which gives attention to local community responses and assistance activities led by Southern actors for displaced populations within the global South. In prioritising theoretical frameworks from the 'South', this study will problematise the dominant humanitarian narratives which have until now largely excluded the phenomenon of diaspora humanitarianism, and will seek to explore diverse models of Southern-led responses to conflict-induced displacement within the 'southern responses to displacement' nexus. This project will also develop the concept of humanitarian infrastructures - which includes an examination of the communications systems and technologies as well as institutions, social networks and personal relations that facilitate or block movement of support.

The aim of the project is to examine diaspora humanitarianism in Khartoum, Sudan through a study of the Syrian refugee communities and the diaspora organisations assisting them. This will be achieved through five objectives 1) To examine the types of assistance that have been mobilised for Syrians arriving in Sudan 2) To explain the reasons why assistance is provided 3) To explain the meanings attached to this assistance by the displaced and those supporting them 4) To look at how the assistance enables or disables settlement 5) To identify the principles and future visions of humanitarianism guiding the assistance.

The thesis would adopt a transnational social field perspective to examine multiple interlocking networks of social relationships through which ideas, practices and resources are unequally exchanged, organised, and transformed. The study will thus employ a qualitative emic methodology involving semi-structured interviews. The ethical issues associated with engaging with vulnerable populations such as refugees would be made central to the research approach.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2400619 Studentship ES/P000711/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2024 Kirsty Hearn