Accepted paper:

Acting mindfully in grey zones

Author:

Brigitte Vettori (University of Vienna )

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the balancing act which constitutes the work of humanitarian organisations for and with Iraqi refugees in Syria. I argue that a successful work within grey zones is only possible if people and organisations involved pursue a common ulterior goal, accept to deal with half-truths, and adapt work routines to local options and possibilities.

Paper long abstract:

Iraqi refugees in Syria very often experience double bind situations: while it seems unlikely that they can ever return to their former home country the attempt to create for themselves a life of confidence and security in Syria, or in a third country of their choice, often turns out to be all but impossible. My paper focuses on the balancing act which is an essential part of the work of local and international organisations in Syria which have been supporting Iraqi refugees in precarious situations since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. I present examples from my own work experiences and research within an Iraqi refugees project, showing how local employees and international staff together tried to ameliorate the precarious living conditions of Iraqi refugees, while they themselves worked in grey zones, fraught with challenges they had to face. I describe some of these challenges, focusing on examples of how the team members' own life experiences impacted the co-operation and how their approaches to assignments changed as they worked within the confined frame of the project and in a state like Syria where activities of NGOs are hardly tolerated, if not forbidden. Finally, I point out factors that supported or hindered a successful co-operation. And I argue that only if people and organisations who work in grey zones pursue a common ulterior goal, accept to deal with half-truths, and adapt work routines to local options and possibilities a "creative management of uncertainties" is possible.

panel W015
Living uncertainty: navigating gray-zones of unreliable realities in the Middle East (EN)