Accepted Paper:

Pathways and constraints on the mobility of Arabic-speaking communicators in a humanitarian agency   


Maria Rosa Garrido (University of Fribourg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks into the mobility constraints and the resulting pathways for Arabic-speaking communicators in an international humanitarian agency. It ethnographically defines a complex mobility regime emerging out of linguistic requirements and aceptable “neutral” nationalities.

Paper long abstract:

The goal of this presentation is to understand the complex mobility regime that regulates Arabic-speaking mobile staff at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These humanitarians' pathways are shaped by institutional (linguistic) requirements combined with national constraints on international organisations. My study specifically looks into Arabic-speaking communicators' allocation to delegations and their mobile trajectories in the ICRC's Communication Pool. Methodologically, it draws on a historiographic approach to institutional archives complemented by ethnographic interviews with (former) mobile communicators in Arabic language.

The mobility of humanitarian workers is subject to regulatory processes mediated by not only language ideologies that valorise and test their linguistic competences as technical skills but also nationality categories that allow/deny them access to the operations by national authorities. Allocating these mobile workers to 80 ICRC delegations worldwide is a "puzzle" of nationalities and linguistic repertoires. Mobile communicators are institutionally required to speak English and two other working languages, with Arabic being sought-after. The value and shortage of Arabic speakers might have influenced their repeated assignment to "hardship posts" (e.g. Iraq or Syria) with strict security measures. Consequently, their mobile trajectories have had an impact on their higher turnover. Besides, mobile staff cannot work in the countries of which they are nationals in the interests of "neutrality". Furthermore, the history of wars and alliances makes certain foreign nationalities unacceptable for belligerents. The intersection between the dimensions of language and nationality explains the current shortage of Arabophones whose nationality is accepted to enter Syria for ICRC humanitarian work.

Panel RM-LL06
Speakers on the move: displacement, surveillance and engagement [IUAES Commission of Linguistic Anthropology]