The School of Arts & Sciences

Department of Social Sciences

Dr. Ali Ali Discusses Constraints on Syrians and Lebanon’s Syrian Refugee Policy

Posted March 9, 2017 in Social Sciences

On Tuesday, March 7, 2017, the Department of Social Sciences in collaboration with the Institute for Migration Studies at LAU hosted a one-hour lecture under the title: “Constraining Syrians: structural violence and the preservation of the status quo in Lebanon’s Syrian refugee policy,” by Dr. Ali Ali, researcher at Oxford University.

Lebanon now hosts over a million Syrian refugees, and estimates of the total number of Syrians range as high as 1.5 million. Syrians who were part of established cross-border labour flows to and from Syria before 2011, now find themselves living as refugees in Lebanon, no longer able to access welfare support from Syria which was already on the decline in the 2000s. 
 Since October 2014, Lebanon’s political elites have imposed a policy of restriction and constraint upon Syrians living in the country through a series of measures which have made daily life extremely difficult and precarious for all but those with significant material resources at their disposal. 
 This research explores the reasoning behind decisions to restrict and constrain Syrian refugees by Lebanon’s political elites, which include enforcing controls across the porous border with Syria, and restrictions on work and residency rights. It draws upon qualitative interviews with Lebanese officials at the national and local level, and with international agencies and civil society and community organisations, conducted in 2016. 
 It argues that the restrictions appear to be a deliberate form of structural violence aimed at coercing Syrians - at least those who lack significant material resources - to leave Lebanon. As unrealistic as that goal may be, with few safe options for Syrians, it sends a structurally and at times directly violent message to Syrians (and the international community) that Syrians should not consider settling in the country. The aim of certain elites is to preserve the political and demographic status quo - unnerved by the uprising against Assad-rule in Syria - whilst simultaneously using the presence of Syrian refugees to attain aid and development funding from the international community. 
 Local variations will also be noted, through interviews with a number of Municipal Council officials in areas where there are significant numbers of Syrians, and shows how local identities and histories intersect in different local government approaches to managing Syrians in Lebanon. 
Dr. Ali Ali is a researcher at the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. The research compares and contrasts the different ways in which Syrian displacement has been managed in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  The research is based on field work in the three countries based on interviews officials in national and local governments as well as with relevant international agencies and civil society groups, and observations in the field.
His previous research at the London School of Economics examined the socio-economic implications of the war in Syria during which time he conducted fieldwork in Turkey in regions bordering Syria in 2013 and 2014. His doctoral thesis addressed the relationship between forced migration and state-transformation in occupied Iraq and the coercive pressures imposed on specific social groups in Iraq with implications for displacement. His research was based on narrative interviews with Iraqis living in Syria during 2010 and 2011.
He has taught courses on Refugee and Migration Studies, and presented his research at numerous universities in the UK, including at Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and at research institutes in Jordan and Tunisia.


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