The Duty to be Generous (Karam: Contesting Rights-based Asylum in the Middle East)

By Dawn Chatty
Submitted to Session P4495 ((Un)Settling Arab Refugees: Regimes of Inclusion and Exclusion in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, 2016 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Refuge and asylum in the Middle East has become a highly contested notion with many Western concepts competing with local and regional understandings. The Western legal standard of providing protection to a category of people who have crossed international borders and fit the definition of ‘refugee’ is a rights-based construction fashionable in public discourse at present. Such people, who are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence; have a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution (see Article 1A(2)) are deemed worthy of our sympathy and have rights enshrined in the UN 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Local and regional constructions of duty-based obligations are, however, not appreciated or understood in the international arena. This paper explores the local culturally specific alternatives to UN rights-based recognition of ‘protection’ to people classified as refugees. None of the countries in the Middle East adhere to 1951 Convention; even Turkey does not accept the 1967 Protocol which extends the definition of ‘refugee’ to outside the European arena. Thus, it is not surprising that the current migration crisis in Europe revolves around notions of what is protection and who is a refugee. An alternative which this paper explores is the ‘duty’ approach to providing refuge and asylum, the social and sometimes religious duty to provide asylum to a stranger. In the Levant this is best expressed thorough the institutions of Karam and Sharaf (generosity and hospitality). Using as case studies the Syrian response to the Iraqi refugee crisis which commenced in 2003 and the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian response to the Syrian refugee crisis which started in 2012, this paper will show the disconnect between Western rights-based approaches to refuge and the duty-based approach commonly accepted in local Middle Eastern civil societies and national ideologies.