The Global Refugee Regime in the Middle East since the Late 1970s: Concepts, Actors, Practices


The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the subsequent war there that continued until 1989 caused the world’s largest mass movement of refugees since the end of the Second World War. The Iran-Iraq war led to a further significant increase in the number of refugees in a region of such importance in terms of geostrategy, security, and energy policy for Washington and Moscow and their respective allies.

The project analyses the concepts, actors, and practices of humanitarian aid that have contributed towards the establishment of a global “refugee order”, using the global governance approach which has previously been discussed chiefly by political scientists. Firstly, the norms and principles will be investigated that provided the basis for the different aid concepts and programs. To what degree did moral and philanthropic, religious and ideological motives play a role, what significance did considerations of human rights and development assistance have, and what interests combined to shape the discourse? Secondly, the project will look at the main actors within the global network of humanitarian aid at the international, transnational, and national levels. This includes multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and its UNHCR refugee agency, as well as the European Community, non-state actors such as the International Red Cross, and selected NGOs dealing with refugee aid. The national level will also be explored and illustrated using the example of the Federal Republic of Germany, and specific local practices of humanitarian aid will be researched as well. What problems did aid workers face in the refugee camps, and how were their efforts perceived by the refugees themselves? What role did conflicts over areas of competence play in addition to the competition for limited financial resources and media attention? How did actors deal with the discrepancies between their humanitarian mandate and their dependence on the realities of political power?

On the basis of these points of inquiry, the project seeks to contribute to the history of international relations in a globalizing world and analyse the network-like structures within the political arena of humanitarian aid that began to emerge in the 1970s.