Humanitarian assistance as performance? Expectations and mismatches between aid agencies and refugee beneficiaries
When relief organisations provide assistance for refugees, aid providers expect particular responses from their beneficiaries that align with the desired outcomes of a given intervention. Yet, in practice, refugees often do not ‘perform’ to the script prepared by the organisations. When refugees’ responses to aid interventions fall outside of expectations, some aid workers struggle to understand the causes of mismatches, leading to the creation of labels such as ‘refugee syndrome’. Drawing upon two case studies in refugee camps in East and West Africa, this article examines the roots of such disjuncture between refugees and relief agencies through a lens of performance. While shedding light on dramaturgical setting in refugee assistance, the article particularly explores the social and political dynamics between different actors in the humanitarian sector and offers a theoretical approach to describe why such gaps emerge and endure in implementation of aid programmes.