Shanties Dhuyuleh Internally Displaced Persons Camp. Photo: Amunga Eshuchi.
Jun 22 2017 Posted: 12:30 IST

Humanitarianism is in crisis. From Syria to South Sudan, Somalia to Yemen, war, insecurity, and the spectre of famine threaten the lives of millions of people. But how can history help with the response?

A group of historians and aid workers will meet at the Moore Institute in NUI Galway from the 22-23 June for an Irish Research Council-funded workshop on humanitarian intervention in Somalia since the 1990s. The event is entitled ‘Humanitarian History: Reflections on Somalia’ and the groups aim is to re-insert history into discussions about the on-going humanitarian crisis in that region. What can we learn from the past? What did and didn’t work in the field? What factors shaped the practice of humanitarian aid?

Such an approach is urgently needed. The Somalian crisis helped to re-define humanitarian intervention in the post-Cold War era. It altered understandings of humanitarian aid as a tool of international security, raised questions about NGO engagement with local politics, and offered massive logistical challenges in the delivery of aid. Its legacy still resonates, linking UNHCR involvement in the return of refugees from Dadaab in southern Kenya (home to more than 250,000 people) with the chaos and uncertainty facing arrivals in Greece.

Dr Kevin O’Sullivan, Director of the MA History in the School of Humanities at NUI Galway, said: “I am delighted to collaborate with Trócaire on this project, and to welcome such a diverse group of participants to Galway. This workshop is an exciting opportunity to reflect on the contexts in which aid agencies operate, at home and in the field, the processes that have helped shape their activities, and the deep-rooted, and complex, power relationships that underpin them. More than that, however, it is also a chance to look forward. As we stand waist-deep in a worsening global humanitarian emergency in 2017, reflecting on Somalia's history, we hope, it will offer important insights into the future of aid.”

The workshop’s keynote address will be delivered by Geoffrey Loane of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who was the Red Cross’s regional relief co-ordinator in Somalia in the early 1990s and later managed the International Red Cross response to the Rwanda genocide. Other participants include representatives from Trócaire, Concern, Médecins sans Frontières, Somalia NGO Consortium, the University of Manchester, Tufts University, and the Overseas Development Institute.

Eamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire, said: “Somalia is one of the most difficult situations in which Trócaire has ever worked. Since 1992 Ireland has been at the forefront of humanitarian support in Somalia. The support and aid that people in Ireland have committed to Somalia for over thirty years has saved generations of families. But children have grown into adults knowing nothing but war. It is difficult to watch how Somalia has been abused and neglected at a political and international level. This conference is a chance for humanitarians, global academic experts and Somali diaspora to reflect and learn from the past and look to the future of Somalia.”

The workshop is being organised by the School of Humanities at NUI Galway, in collaboration with Trócaire and funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Scheme.

For more information, visit: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/humanitarian-history-reflections-on-somalia-tickets-34726296287

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