The initially peaceful movement that took place in Syria in 2011 escalated into a full-scale conflict. This caused many Syrians at home and abroad to reclaim their sense of national belonging and generated collective action with the aim to, first, play a part in the social and political transformations inside Syria and second, to respond to pressing needs of Syrian people both inside and outside the homeland. Many countries in Europe and the Middle East witnessed the emergence and strengthening of a vibrant and politically engaged civil society led by Syrians to address pressing demands on the ground. Maastricht University has been commissioned to conduct a research study by the Danish Refugee Council’s Civil Society Engagement Unit (CSEU) to investigate the conditions that influence the space and actions of Syrian civil society organizations in Lebanon, Turkey, France, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom.
The research made use of an action-based approach, in which future scenarios and potential strategies for action have been elaborated collaboratively in a participatory manner. Next to serving as a tool to generate knowledge, the aim was to provide a space for the development of future scenarios and joint strategies for action for the Syrian civil society in the respective host countries. The study yielded a range of practical considerations relevant to stakeholders who seek to engage with Syrian diaspora actors.
Democratizing decision-making processes at the international level.
A future political settlement in Syria should be Syrian-led with decision-making roles in all aspects of recovery and reconstruction, including peacebuilding initiatives, return and reintegration. A top-down agreement faces the risk of breaking down due to lack of nuanced understanding of the Syrian context, whereas local and grassroots ownership in peacebuilding can render it successful and durable. A greater representation of the Syrian diaspora in international decision-making processes should be selected in a transparent and democratic manner. The selection mechanisms should facilitate representation of different political (independent) voices and allow space for bottom-up politics. This requires acknowledgement of multiple lines of fragmentation and internal divisions that exist within the diaspora.
Safe space for dialogue – dealing with fragmentation in a constructive manner
The conflict dynamics inside Syria were also reproduced in the diaspora, as arising fragmentations to a certain degree mirrored the social, cultural and political divisions present in the homeland. A conflict- and context-sensitive approach in engaging with diaspora groups requires an awareness of the potential risks and limitations as well as of the socio-political dynamics present in the process of diaspora mobilization. Stakeholders should not search for a unified voice and representation among Syrian diaspora actors but rather create a space for discussion and debates, in which diversity (instead of uniformity) leads to future ways of cooperation, action and positive social change.
The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, together with GIZ, supported the publication of the study, in the framework of DRC’s work on diaspora. There is a strong link between violent conflict, peace and migration. While it is obvious that fragility and armed conflicts invariably trigger involuntary migration movements, the fact that migration-related challenges also go on to influence the conflict dynamics and therefore the conflict transformation dynamics is still an underexplored area. The study contributes to improving our understanding of these dynamics through the lens of the crisis in Syria.