2019 Swiss Humanitarian Awards goes to CERAH Master Alumna

2019 Swiss Humanitarian Awards goes to CERAH Master Alumna


Congratulations to Amera Markous!

CERAH Master alumna Amera Markous has won the 2019 Swiss Humanitarian Award  for her outstanding dissertation “Humanitarian Action and Anti-migration Paradox: A case study of UNHCR and IOM in Libya”. Congratulations! We also thank our long-term partner, the  Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, founder of this award.

We interviewed Amera to learn more about her Master dissertation:

Q: Your paper looks at the “Do No Harm” principle. Meaning the impact that aid has on conflict settings, the positive impact is what organisations aim to achieve to ease the suffering, and the negative is what they need to mitigate, by assessing their contribution and reducing its harm if any. Is this principle central to your paper and argument?

A: Yes, the “Do No Harm” principle is central to my paper, as I was amazed with the idea behind it which came from medical ethics in the oath that doctors take before treating patients. I was curious to explore and see to what extent we, as humanitarians, are actually implementing the same concept as doctors, and if we are assessing the impact of our aid on the ground, or we are just doing it and moving on, unaware of the harm they might be causing in the conflicts they operate in, especially when it comes to migration management and the political agendas around it.

Q: Your paper talks about humanitarian organisations being instrumentalized to organize movement of people according to political agendas. Could you expand on this, and explain how this happens?

A: Since the start of humanitarian action years and years ago, political actors were taking advantage of the position humanitarians have in conflict settings, by supposedly following humanitarians principles and being neutral, impartial, independent and humanitarian, hence manage to gain acceptance of the community and the authorities in charge even in complex conflicts and situations. Therefore, when it comes to migration, politicians, and more particularly donors, use the power they have over the humanitarian organisations they fund in order to pursue their own agendas, and by that they filter the migrants and refugees who finally get settled in their countries, and leave out those who don’t fit their own criteria.  Of course, they won’t be able to do this directly, because they comply with international laws and standards, so instead they use humanitarian organisations who they have power over because of the funds, to instrumentalize their work and organize the movement of people into their countries.

Q: You say that humanitarian organisations have not only been filling the gap in managing migration, but Western states have always used them as transmitters of their migration control and externalization policies. What is the impact of this?

A: I think the impact will definitely be negative, as it will never serve humanitarian principles and the dividing line with politics will always be blurry in such instances. This is because, again, organisations will ultimately be concerned with the donor guaranteeing their survival, rather than the people receiving aid. Unfortunately, this is also a problem of accountability and transparency: humanitarians involved in externalization policies are not admitting the role they have in managing migration for Western states, instead they add humanitarian sentiments to all their work, hoping it actually reflects their mandate.

Q: You state that evidence shows that such externalizations policies by states in different countries have proven to be inhumane and immoral. Therefore, the use of humanitarian organisations is very critical and certainly jeopardizes their core values? Can you expand on this?

A: Indeed, it has been clearly demonstrated in many cases in history, by Australia and the US for example, in which they used offshore processing centres in other countries, to filter migrants and refugees trying to reach safety. Some organisations try to work silently and apply their humanitarian programmes in such situations, but not much change is being done, as long as those who fund them are also the ones committing such policies that contradict the same organisation’s mandate. I believe advocacy plays a bigger role in these situations, rather than feeding a political purpose.

Q: You conclude that organisations in politicized contexts are stuck in the constraints of the host country and the donors, hence they adapt their programmes accordingly without considering the negative implications. Therefore, these adaptations cause harm to the people they serve, the staff and the host community. So what can be done to mitigate or avoid this?

A: I believe this requires more extensive research in cooperation with the organisations themselves, who actually see this as a flaw and want to improve it.  Personally I would say that organisations need to be honest and transparent about their capacities and limitations, and to not raise people’s expectations because this can greatly harm them. They also need to admit to having flaws as such, and decide what the donor can and cannot tell them to do, or else find a different donor that is more compliant with their humanitarian principles and their mandate.

Q: Can you conclude by outlining the top two recommendations of your research?
A: I would recommend organisations to put measures to assess the impact of their policies and programs before it’s too late,  And for staff to be aware and realize the impact that their work might have on the people, because not everything called humanitarian, is actually serving a humanitarian purpose.