Refugee voices and perspectives must be at the core of peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. It is not just a matter of restorative justice: sustainable solutions can only start when listening to those who, although in exile now, have a necessary and substantial role to play in rebuilding their country. This requires a complete overhaul of current top-down approaches to peace negotiations. The inescapable truth is that peace is inherently fragile if refugees are excluded.
Peace negotiations between adversarial leaders tend to impose a certain framing narrative on those experiencing the conflict, which hardly generates genuine reconciliation. Bottom-up approaches, on the other hand, create conditions for sustainable peace. Moreover, the determination of refugees to be involved in peacebuilding to a great extent depends on how early, and how deeply, their narratives concerning harm, loss and recovery are incorporated into the peace process.
The project's ultimate goal is for Syrian refugee concerns and perspectives to be communicated directly and effectively to peace negotiation tables, peacebuilding processes and international planning.
Our project supports Syrian refugees communities' efforts to identify and discuss their perspectives and concerns as they look forward to their future, including prospects for reconciliation and conditions to return.
Having a safe and friendly environment to discuss what they experience(d) and fear(ed) has been a need for Syrian refugees for a long time. Exchanging perspectives between youth, women and men, not only about the conflict but about Syrian society in general, was an opportunity to increase each other's understanding and due regard, sometimes dealing with highly sensitive subjects such as the increase in child marriages.
In order to discuss Syrians' concerns and hopes and to collect their "voices", we organised focus group discussions and one-to-one interviews with the support of local partners.
Focus groups were composed of 12 to 15 Syrians living in refugee camps in Lebanon or Jordan. We followed a semi-structured design, ensuring balance in gender and socioeconomic representation. Discussions allowed for sufficient time for participants to reflect, listen and share, ensuring safety and confidentiality.
We articulated the discussions around 6 main questions:
The same questions were brought to one-to-one and group interviews with Syrians from an entirely different background, wealthier and now better-integrated in their host countries.
Discussions were facilitated by a local NGO and guided by mediatEUr's mediation experts. They were held in Arabic, with interpretation in English provided for mediatEUr's mappers.
VOICES includes a series of maps that show the synergies and interplay between issues, needs and conditions that could enable the return of Syrian refugees in safety, security and dignity.
Geographical and dialogue maps allow us to provide the bigger-picture while still collecting the necessarily level of detail on a topic that touches the lives of thousands of people.
Elements constituting a shared vision for the future are underlined, with a view to create a common framework for a solution to the conflict that fully incorporates refugees’ concerns and demands.
"If the people one day want life, then destiny is compelled to respond to them."
Author: Miguel Varela
Publication date: Sept. 17, 2019