As we start 2024 with multiple crises taking place around the world, we offer some reflections on the importance of diaspora networking and knowledge exchange to support humanitarian response, post-crisis reconstruction, and peacebuilding.
At the Diaspora Humanitarian Exchange Group in 2023, we have seen how the diaspora have responded to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the tragic earthquake that affected Syria and Türkiye in February, the renewed outbreak of conflict in Sudan in April, the Moroccan earthquake and flooding in Libya in September, and
There are always antecedents to any crisis, and painful histories and memories that run through communities at home and abroad. For so many in the diaspora, crises in their countries of origin or heritage are a recurrent phenomenon, experienced by each generation. Communities are traumatised and re-traumatised, often across generations.
In November 2023, Shabaka was invited to participate in the inaugural Ulpiana Forum in Pristina, organised by the Kosovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora. The focus of this meeting was on the importance of diaspora engagement for national reconstruction and the role of inter – and intra- diaspora exchange and learning. Although not yet recognised as a UN Member States, Kosovo is now at peace and growing economically, is recognised by 123 states around the world, and in 2022 signed an agreement to start the process of accession as a European Union Member State. These achievements have been helped in no small part by major contributions from the Kosovan diaspora around the world, not just financial.
Shabaka’s research on how diaspora communities respond to these crises highlights their motivation and commitment to help in times of crisis. Community members will make great sacrifices to mobilise money and relief supplies, exchange their skills and knowledge with people in need ‘back home’, and volunteer their time to provide assistance. Diaspora provide critical, if unrecognised, protection for people displaced internally and to neighbouring countries. Those with specialist skills such as health professionals have mobilised to provide medical services both remotely – for example, advising their counterparts in Sudan how to perform an emergency caesarean by mobile phone under fire – and have deployed to conflict zones and at the borders. Some will travel to provide assistance on the ground, despite the risks to themselves.
Others work to raise public awareness about humanitarian needs in conflict zones, and to call for an end to the conflict. In her opening address at the Ulpiana Forum, Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, HE Donika Gërvalla-Shwarz, highlighted the vital role played by the Kosovan diaspora around the world in bearing witness to the Kosovan genocide, and raising international awareness about it. The same is true for those in the Jewish community trying to keep the 07 October hostages in the public eye, and all those urging Israel to call for a ceasefire despite the animosity this can expose them to.
With so much suffering in these conflicts that digital technology and social media bring to our attention in real time and often graphic detail, it can be easy at times to become paralysed with grief, fear, and hopelessness. The very tools that enable us to see what is happening and respond, also leave us vulnerable to mis- and dis-information. Politicians in affected regions and around the world try to exploit these crises for domestic political advantage, seemingly oblivious to the increases in community tensions and hate crime that they cause.
For example, in Europe and North America, political pressures to disregard the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and take a particular ‘side’ has also translated into increasing surveillance and even criminalisation of diaspora communities, organisations, and individuals. These political responses not only have a chilling effect on community life, organisation, and freedom of expression, but also highlight the contradictions inherent in the humanitarian system. In the last year, conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan, and Gaza have elicited very different responses from governments, humanitarian partners, and the media in terms of resource allocations for supporting affected populations, displacement policies, and support for peace negotiations.
As a result of these contradictions, inter-diaspora exchange and allyship is more vital than ever. At the DHEG, we have seen multiple examples of both, exchanging skills, knowledge, and experience, and offering peer support and advice in difficult times. Moreover, the enormity of humanitarian needs means that many in diaspora communities will feel compelled to step up their humanitarian activities, working closely with their local partners.
And in this, there are also perhaps glimmers of hope. Despite the failures of the international aid system, the diaspora and their local partners are realising new ways of humanitarian action, based on mutual aid and equal partnership. They are also demonstrating the importance of solidarity – humanitarian action should not be a zero-sum game, and support for one crisis should not mean a lack of support for other crises.
Shabaka is grateful to British Red Cross for the opportunity to develop the DHEG pilot in 2023 as part of the Diaspora Humanitarian Partnership Programme, and we are committed to taking this work forward with participants over 2024 to enable inter diaspora exchange, peer support, and advocacy.