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“It’s Being, Not Doing”

Hospitality and Hostility between Local Faith Actors and International Humanitarian Organizations in Refugee Response

Olivia J. Wilkinson

ABSTRACT

Local faith actors are deeply involved in assisting refugees around the world. Their place in refugee response, however, can be in parallel with and, at times, in disagreement with the efforts of international humanitarian organizations. Focusing on the interactions between local faith actors and refugees and local faith actors and international organizations, the lenses of hospitality and hostility are used to analyze the tensions between these types of actors. Through a review of the literature and interviews with 21 key informants, I show that processes of marginalization occur to the extent that local faith actors lose their positions of host to the dominance of the international humanitarian system, and feelings of hostility ensue. This demonstrates to international actors why they might be ill received and how they can approach partnerships with local faith actors in more diplomatic ways.

Open access

Heather Wurtz and Olivia Wilkinson

Abstract

Power dynamics of global decision-making have meant that local faith actors have not been frequently heard in the context of refugee response. The development of new global refugee and humanitarian frameworks gives hope that there will be greater inclusion of Southern-led, faith-based responses. A closer look, however, demonstrates discrepancies between the frameworks used in global policy processes and the realities of local faith actors in providing refugee assistance. We present primary research from distinct case studies in Mexico and Honduras, which counters much of what is assumed about local faith actors in refugee services and aid. Interventions that are considered to be examples of good practice in the global South are not always congruent with those conceptualized as good practices by the international community. Failure to recognize and integrate approaches and practices from the global South, including those led by actors inspired by faith, will ultimately continue to replicate dominant global power structures.