Refugee camps are typically perceived as militarised and patriarchal spaces, and yet the Sahrawi refugee camps and their inhabitants have consistently been represented as ideal in nature: uniquely secular and democratic spaces, and characterised by gender equality. Drawing on extensive research with and about Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, Cuba, Spain, South Africa and Syria, Dr Fiddian-Qasmiyeh explores how, why and to what effect such idealised depictions have been projected onto the international arena. In this talk, she argues that secularism and the empowerment of Sahrawi refugee women have been strategically invoked to secure the humanitarian and political support of Western state and non-state actors who ensure the continued survival of the camps and their inhabitants. She challenges listeners to reflect critically on who benefits from assertions of good, bad and ideal refugees, and whose interests are advanced by interwoven discourses about the empowerment of women and secularism in contexts of war and peace.
about the speaker
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh is Lecturer in Human Geography at University College London and Visiting Lecturer at the Refugee Studies Centre. She joined UCL in September 2014, having formerly been a Senior Research Officer at the International Migration Institute (IMI) and a Departmental Lecturer in Forced Migration at the Refugee Studies Centre, both at the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the intersections between gender, generation and religion in experiences of and responses to forced migration and statelessness, with a particular regional focus on the Middle East and North Africa. She has conducted extensive research in refugee camps and urban areas including in Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, France, Lebanon, South Africa, Syria, Sweden, and the UK.
Her recent publications include The Ideal Refugees: Gender, Islam, and the Sahrawi Politics of Survival (Syracuse University Press, January 2014) and The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, a major co-edited 53 chapter volume published by Oxford University Press in June 2014. Elena's second book, South-South Educational Migration, Humanitarianism and Development: Views from the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East, will be published by Routledge in January 2015.
Elena is one of the Series Editors of the new Palgrave Religion and Global Migrations book series and has been the Reviews Editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies since 2011. In January 2013, she was awarded the Lisa Gilad Prize by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) for 'the most innovative and thoughtful contribution to the advancement of refugee studies' in 2011 and 2012. The prize was awarded in recognition of her 2011 article 'The pragmatics of performance: putting 'faith' in aid in the Sahrawi refugee camps' (Journal of Refugee Studies, 24,3).