The devastating conflict that caused immense suffering in Syria is now over a decade old, but while the humanitarian and political crisis are far from over, international interest in Syria has been waning.

The panel discussion Fortress Europe and the Syrian refugee crisis intends to stimulate critical reflection and debate on the dilemmas facing humanitarian and medical action in the Syrian conflict.

The conflict has had a profound impact in Syria, the region and beyond. At least 400,000 Syrians have lost their lives. More than 6 million refugees, out of a pre-war population of 22 million, have fled the country and 6.7 million are internally displaced. Over 13 million people continue to need assistance, and yet Syria seems to have dropped off the radar.

In this panel discussion, hosted by the Refugee Studies Centre in collaboration with Médecins Sans Frontières, experts with in-depth knowledge of Syria and the region will examine some of the challenges humanitarian organisations faced as a consequence of the war in Syria. They will examine the disjuncture between humanitarian solutions often built around containment policies and refugee populations’ request for protection and need to ensure the dignity, well-being, and respect of the asylum-seekers.

The discussion will focus on the use of siege tactics from Syria to its neighbours and from Europe to its international allies, highlighting how humanitarian actors are at worst contributing to sustaining besiegement and at best diverting attention from the political choices that lie behind the various forms of containment. Humanitarian actors implemented programs seeking to contain – to endlessly besiege – Syrians, rather than to assist them in finding protection.

The discussion will draw from the book Everybody’s War: The Politics of Aid in the Syria Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2021), which was co-edited by Michiel Hofman and to which Dawn Chatty contributed the chapter “When perceptions and aspirations clash: humanitarianism in Syria’s neighbouring states”.

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