Accepted paper:

Contested Counting: The Practice and Politics of Refugee Registration in Lebanon

Authors:

Samuel Dinger (New York University)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing upon interviews and observations conducted with NGO workers, refugee advocates, and state agents, this paper unpacks the political and practical struggles behind the enumeration, documentation, classification, and tracking of refugees in Lebanon.

Paper long abstract:

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, over 1.5 million migrants fleeing conflict have taken up residence in neighboring Lebanon. In May 2015 the Lebanese government requested that the UNHCR stop registering new arrivals, effectively shutting down the primary apparatus through which migrants could attain formal legal status, political visibility, and access to services. This request coincided with Lebanese state efforts to close heavily trafficked stretches of the border; securitize and surveil spaces populated by refugees; institute labor restrictions and fees for state-granted residency permits; and begin deportations. In this paper, I examine the ongoing contestations over refugee registration—its agents, sites, infrastructures, practices, and legal regulations—in Lebanon. How did this practice of humanitarian management come to be a key site of conflict between NGOs, refugee advocates, and the state? How do these different regimes of documentation enact different visions of crisis management and governance? And what is at stake in this conflict in terms of the visibility and vulnerability of Syrian migrants in Lebanon? Drawing upon interviews and observations conducted with NGO workers, refugee advocates, and state agents, this paper unpacks the political and practical struggles behind the enumeration, documentation, classification, and tracking of refugees in Lebanon. I argue that registration emerges as a key site for a performance of sovereignty by the Lebanese state premised not on the provision of services to Lebanese citizens or Syrian migrants but rather through the calculated production of status uncertainty, political invisibility, and material precarity.

panel T085
Infrastructures, subjects, politics