Jason Hart (University of Bath)
Safe as Houses?: Shelter and Home in Displacement Camps
Forced displacement is commonly conceptualised as a temporary condition: an exceptional period between flight from danger and either return or resettlement elsewhere. Yet, for millions of people around the globe their experience of displacement is measured in years if not decades. A sizeable minority of long-term displacees are housed in camps. Although typically created as a straightforward response to an emergency, displacement camps inevitably evolve into something more ambiguous: blurring the lines between ‘temporariness’ and ‘permanence’. In large part this evolution is the result of efforts by residents to improve their conditions and create ‘home’. A fundamental challenge to this quest is achieving a sense of being safe within the shelters provided. Debates about security in displacement camps have tended to focus on camp-wide issues, such as inter-group conflict, or on intra-household issues, such as domestic violence. Commonly overlooked are the dynamics of (in)security experienced at the level of the household. Drawing upon an ongoing project at the University of Bath – Healthy Housing for the Displaced – as well as the author’s earlier fieldwork in a Palestinian refugee camp, this presentation will explore the very different ways in which ‘(in)security’ at household level is conceptualised across diverse locations. Such differences are explained in terms of culture, geography, policy, and other factors. The seminar will conclude by considering (a) the ways that displaced people themselves seek to address specific sources of insecurity in the effort to create home, and (b) the implications for agencies managing camps and providing aid to residents.