Who are the Diaspora Humanitarians? Posted May 5, 2021 by Diaspora Action Australia


(L-R: Apajok Biar, Hadi Zaher, Aseel Tayah, Nora Michael, Louise Olliff)

Who are the humanitarians? For DAA it goes without saying; any discussion about future humanitarian leaders and what reshaping the humanitarian ecosystem might look like has to have diaspora communities involved.

The Humanitarian Leadership conference offered a wonderful opportunity to showcase the transformative and innovative ways of diaspora humanitarianism. We worked to promote the conference with our community partners while bringing four diaspora humanitarians to discuss diaspora-led response in displacement context. Our panel included, Aseel Tayah, a prolific art maker, Apajok Biar, (South Sudan Voices of Salvation), Nora Michael (Assyrian Aid Society-Australia), and Hadi Zaher (Akademos Society).

Dr Louise Olliff, form Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), also joined us, kicking off the panel by framing the conversation. There is still limited understanding and clarity around diaspora humanitarianism and Louise Olliff touched on the main points – e.g., definitions, networks, sphere of engagement – reminding us that diaspora humanitarianism is a dynamic and flexible. Diaspora response involves a broad range of activities including non-quantifiable responses, such as providing a voice when a voice is silence, bearing witness, and acting in solidarity.

Our speakers told us about their projects, from the toy library in Gaza, to flood response in South Sudan, medical assistance in Iraq and educational programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Albeit the geographical regions and communities of reference among our speakers were different, there were some common threads to their work.

Presenters shared feelings of “guilt” and “gratitude”. Guilt, towards the people they left behind, living in dire situations, and gratitude for the opportunities they can enjoy in Australia.

Personally, I wouldn’t feel that I’d be successful in my own right knowing that my own people are suffering” (Nora Michael).

These feelings, coupled with either personal experiences, such was the case of Aseel Tayah, wanting to give children in Gaza the same opportunity given to her daughter to enjoy a toy library, or collective community experiences – like the floods in South Sudan or the attacks in Quetta and Mosul – sparked the humanitarian response of our speakers and their community or organisation.

Yes, we are in the diaspora, we are with you and we will do whatever we can to support” (Apajok Biar).

Presenters showed us diaspora-led initiatives reaching places where traditional NGOs don’t go. They spoke about their connection to local communities and familiarity with the context in which they operate thus enabling tailored and prompt response while aiming for sustainable interventions that can improve people’s life. 

However, it isn’t always a smooth sail. Nora Michael told us how the existing political climate can influence diaspora-led efforts. The Assyrian Aid Society has had no choice but to redirect its resources towards meeting people’s essential needs, particularly during COVID19, instead of fulfilling its objective to improve the life of Assyrian in their homeland, allowing their heritage and culture to flourish.

Technology and social media emerged as a key tool to run fundraising, establish contacts, promote projects.

Coordination and unity were recognised as something missing and needed among diaspora humanitarians. Likewise, partnerships with INGOs were recognised as potential way forward, beneficial to both parties. INGOs have the resources and the know-how, while diaspora have the contextual knowledge and networks. Now the question for traditional agencies is, who is up for the challenge?

Check out the work of our speakers….

Aseel Tayah https://www.aseeltayah.com/read-more-aseel-tayah  

Apajok Biar https://www.facebook.com/SSVSINC

Nora Michael https://assyrianaidsociety.org/

Hadi Zaher https://akademossociety.org/

Thank you to Dr Louise Olliff (RCOA) for her help and support.

For more on the Humanitarian Leadership conference 2021, click here.