Accepted Paper:

The "microcosm" of a refugee project in Syria on the brink of the Iraq war  


Brigitte Vettori (University of Vienna )

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the NGO work with Iraqi war refugees. I will discuss the "microcosm" of multiple actors of an international Caritas project in Syria and highlight the manifold challenges and chances during the implementation of this humanitarian work, I was part of.

Paper long abstract:

In 2003, the whole world watched what would happen in Iraq. But five years later even the most compassionate readers had lost their interest in this humanitarian disaster; reports about war and conflict between the differing fighting groups were starting to go largely unnoticed. Recently there has been renewed interest in the (outcomes of) the persisting Iraq war though, not least because of the upcoming US-presidential elections and the collateral press release regarding the fifth anniversary of the war as well.

On the brink of this conflict zone in Syria and nearly unnoticed by the public, a project for Iraqi refugees was implemented under the guidance of international Caritas organisations. Manifold project actors negotiated needs and requirements for their target groups as well as for themselves. I was part of the project as team leader and researcher in 2003, and did participant observation during a restudy in 2007.

In my paper, I will reflect on the conflicting interests and synergies that arose out of my double role. I will particularly focus on the challenges and chances experienced during the implementation of this project. I will discuss ethical questions raised by Syrian staff as well as reports about Iraqis steering the activities of the NGO by acting and reacting to the "help" given to them.

The analysis of the "microcosm" of this NGO project touches the fields of refugee studies and the anthropology of organisations. Moreover, the results of this analysis may be of interest for the practical NGO work in general.

Panel W050
Studying anthropologists in war and conflict zones: spies and freedom fighters, scholars and advocates