Borders and Migration

Unplanned links, unanticipated outcomes: Urban refugees in Halba (Lebanon)

Much of the literature covering forced population displacement has neglected spatial implications, dealing with place as mere context. Building on a case study of the city of Halba (Lebanon) where it maps a process of contingent encounters through which disparate resources, individuals, and groups are stitched together to generate large-scale housing projects that shelter refugees, this paper demonstrates the importance of studying displacement through a grounded reading of the spatial transformations it implicates. The paper maps multiple private and public actors who exploit cracks and connect seemingly disparate material flows (e.g., humanitarian aid, public housing subsidies) and institutional systems (e.g., humanitarian, public, private, religious) in ways that catalyze and accelerate the production of housing in order to derive profit from the opportunities afforded by the refugee crisis. Thus, developers, buyers, residents, brokers, public agents, and other actors all support a flow of informal profitable exchanges that are far from seamless economic transactions, mixing instead capitalist profiteering with human solidarity, religious morality, or kinship obligations that all buttress the possibility of these encounters and their materialization into new configurations of urban quarters. The arrangements formed through these processes, the paper shows, are strongly reflective of existing social hierarchies and inequalities.

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Volume 40 Issue 3

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