Recommended Readings

Would you like to read an interesting article or book about topics related to humanitarian aid, but you do not know where to start? We collected a sample of readings, highly recommended by people in the humanitarian sector. They recommend books such as "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari or "City of Thorns: Nine lives in the world's largest refugee camp" by Ben Rawlence. There are also articles and reports that address complex issues in the humanitarian sector, for instance the refugee situation.

Alexander Betts & Paul Collier - Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System

Ton Huijzer recommends “Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System”.

The best book of 2017 on refugees was “Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System” by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier.

The book attempts to find new solutions that go beyond the eternal divide between those who want to close the European borders and those who want to keep the borders open no matter how many refugees or migrants are coming. Betts and Collier dismiss the idea that refugees should always live off humanitarian aid. Aid is not central in their book, but dignity is. Dignity that comes from being able to earn a living, also when you are a refugee. Job creation and the right to work are the first requirements for regaining that dignity. According to Betts and Collier, those jobs should be created in the countries around the war zones that the refugees fled from. Solidarity as they see it is that neighbouring countries give the space, and the rich industrialized world pays for it. This proposed division of tasks led to much critique, as many felt that Betts and Collier just want to fend off refugees from coming to Europe. I think this conclusion was too hastily drawn and agree with “The Economist” that “Refuge is the first comprehensive attempt in years to rethink from the first principles a system hidebound by old thinking and hand-wringing. Its ideas demand a hearing”.

Alexander Betts & Paul Collier. 2017. Refuge: Transforming a broken refugee system. London: Penguin Books Ltd

Yuval Noah Harari - Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Dorothea Hilhorst recommends “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”.

My tip of 2017: read ‘Homo Deus’ of Yuval Noah Harari. Harari spells out what the possible consequences are of current technological developments in biotechnology, artificial intelligence and new generation computers. Lots of good news, but also real possibilities for massive unemployment and – scaring – as the powerful no longer need masses of people to fill up armies and factories, the incentives may fall away for including and respecting people through human rights and democracy. Then what? This theme was also powerfully addressed by Dan Brown in his most recent novel ‘Origin’, who ends his (highly realistic) fiction with a prayer for the future: “May our philosophies keep pace with our technologies. May our compassion keep pace with our powers. And may love, not fear, be the engine of change.”

Yuval Noah Harari. 2017. Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow. London: Random House UK

Thea Hilhorst, Bart Weijs & Gemma van der Haar - People, Aid and Institutions in Socio-Economic Recovery: Facing Fragilities

Dirk Salomons wrote a review about “People, Aid and Institutions in Socio-Economic Recovery: Facing Fragilities”.

Read the review here.

Thea Hilhorst, Bart Weijs & Gemma van der Haar. 2017. People, aid and institutions in socio-economic recovery: Facing fragilities. London: Routledge

Independent Commission on Humanitarian Issues - Refugees: the dynamics of displacement

Ed Schenkenberg, Director HERE-Geneva, recommends the report “Refugees: the dynamics of displacement”.

“….A network of international organisations has been established to assist refugees.. These organisations have developed extensive bureaucracies, spawned a new breed of ‘experts’ in the management of mass migration and spend enormous amounts of money. They are now under unprecedented pressure. So is the notion of international solidarity. The role of the UN system is being questioned. Attitudes towards the uprooted are hardening.”

This was not written last year, although I read it in November 2017 doing a piece of research on the Global Compact for Refugees (GCR). It was not written this decade, not even during the first decade of the new millennium. In 1986, the Independent Commission on Humanitarian Issues published its report “Refugees: the dynamics of displacement.” It is a telling realisation that few, if any, would have noticed the plagiarism had our piece of research included this paragraph taken from the more than 30-year old report. It should be compulsory reading for those who will negotiate the GCR this year and is recommended for everyone else interested in displacement. How to better protect refugees has been known for decades. Sadly, it still needs implementation.

Independent Commission on Humanitarian Issues. 1986. Refugees: the dynamics of displacement. London: Zed Books

Ben Rawlence - City of Thorns: Nine Live in the World's Largest Refugee Camp

Hans van den Hoogen, senior Humanitarian Advisor at MoFA, recommends “City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp”.

“Hell on earth”, “a nursery for terrorists”, “a dangerous no-go area”. These are a couple of descriptions used for Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. Kenya’s government has already announced the closure of the camps around Dadaab several times. However, for around half a million people it is the best, and possibly only, way to survive. The refugee camps around the city Dadaab in northeast Kenya were set up in 1992 to provide shelter for Somali refugees, so last year they existed for 25 years. Ben Rawlence, who has worked for Human Rights Watch in Dadaab, wrote an impressive book, “City of Thorns”, about living in and around Dadaab.

Rawlence describes living and surviving in and around Dadaab on the basis of the life histories of 9 persons. He tells for example the story of Kheyro, who fled from the violence in Somalia as a two-year-old with his mother. He grew up in Dadaab and is a teacher over there now. Or the story of Monday, who was born in 1982 in Sudan and arrived in Dadaab in 2004, after several stopovers in Ethiopia and Kenya. Rawlence presents a realistic image of living in a camp such as Dadaab, and of the interactions between the refugees, the aid workers and the Kenyan authorities, who determine the conditions and rules of aid.

The book reads like a novel, I have never read such a specific and compelling description about the political economy of aid before. I highly recommend reading this book!

Ben Rawlence. 2016. City of thorns: Nine lives in the world’s largest refugee camp. London: Portobello Books

Kirstin Bergtora Sandvik - Now it is time to deliver: Looking for humanitarian innovation's theory of change

Joost Herman recommends “Now it is time to deliver: Looking for humanitarian innovation’s theory of change”.

In this article, Sandvik, who has a strong academic reputation, explores the magic word ‘humanitarian innovation’, that has been one of the focal points in the humanitarian sector in the last few years. At the last World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, 2016), innovative humanitarian practices were discussed as a deus ex machina, and Ban Ki-Moon also declared in his Agenda for Humanity that innovation is the way to go for more efficiency and effectiveness in humanitarian practice. Sandvik investigates the extent to which existing innovations actually lead to change, and questions whether innovation indeed functions as a ‘Theory of Change’ for the humanitarian sector. In her conclusions, she presents three perspectives to take into consideration when measuring the impact of innovation: the perspective of the end user, the context perspective and the perspective of ethical awareness around the used innovation.

Kirstin Bergtora Sandvik. 2017. Now it is time to deliver: Looking for humanitarian innovation’s theory of change. Journal of International Humanitarian Action (2:8).

Further readings