Conflicting missions? The politics of Evangelical humanitarianism in the Sahrawi and Palestinian protracted refugee situations

by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

Working Papers WP 12-06
April 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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This paper analyses the contradictory motivations, actions and implications of a network of American Evangelical organizations which is actively involved in humanitarian and political projects directly affecting two groups of protracted refugees in the Middle East and North Africa: Sahrawis and Palestinians. Following a brief introduction to typologies and key characteristics of ‘faith-based’ and ‘Evangelical’ humanitarian organisations, this paper examines how, why and to what effect American Evangelical groups provide relief aid to Sahrawi refugees in their Algerian-based refugee camps, and vocally advocate in favour of the Sahrawi quest for self-determination over the Western Sahara before the US Congress and the United Nations. While this first mode of Evangelical humanitarian and political intervention explicitly invokes a human rights discourse and international legal frameworks, the second case-study underscores the ways in which these same actors effectively render Palestinian refugees invisible, implicitly negating international law and UN resolutions enshrining their right to return and the right to meaningful Palestinian self-determination. Ultimately, the paper addresses the implications of these contradictory Evangelical interventions through reference to international humanitarian principles, interrogating the proposed ‘humanitarian,’ ‘political’ and ‘religious’ dynamics in such initiatives.

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