Commoning in refugee camps: In conversation with Yafa el Masri

Commoning in refugee camps: In conversation with Yafa el Masri


In this audio interview, Future Natures sits down with Yafa El Masri to discuss commoning and the commons in refugee camps. This conversation delves into the research that Yafa has been doing for several years in Lebanon. It uses language of care, mutual aid and place-making to describe life in refugee camps.

Yafa grew up in the Bourj Albarajenah Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. Her lived experiences, as well as time spent there as a researcher, has led to her view of the camp as a space of ‘exception’. Yafa draws on the power of a commoning framework to deviate from the mainstream view of refugees as ‘helpless victims’ or as ‘passive’ recipients of humanitarian services. Instead, Yafa explores the commons as emerging from voluntary processes of self-organisation.

The refugee camp provides a material basis that partly allows reproducing everyday life independently from monetised income. This includes the commoning of care beyond the private/public sphere, decolonising education, food provisioning and infrastructure.

Women in these refugee camps have very strong bonds of sisterhoods. They are assisting each other in subverting whatever oppression they are going through. The commoning of the food is… the method in preserving people’s dignity”

Yafa El Masri

Yafa leads us through her anti-colonial feminist approach, which is particularly useful for analysing the work of the ‘sisterhoods’ cultivating solidarity food economies in Bourj Albarajenah. You can read more about this in her most recent paper here.

Below are some images which help us situate ourselves in the Bourj Albarajenah camp in Beirut as we listen to Yafa talk about her work.

The image shows several women sat on plastic chairs in a passageway in the refugee camp. The pained concrete walls to the sides of the passageway appear old and worn. One woman is stood up talking to one sat down. Above, there are several entangled electrical cables.
Solidarity and friendship in the camp is practiced daily through morning walks through camp alleys, visiting food markets to buy herbs for example. These activities provides women with protection, support, and strength to make life in the camp.

August, 2021. Image Author: Yafa El Masri.
Residents of Bourj Albarajenah refugee camp are organising a food-sharing activity. There a people sat on chairs surrounding black plastic crates full of vegetables. People are preparing food ingredients, and are engaging in the process of food preparation in a collective manner.
Residents of Bourj Albarajenah refugee camp organise a food-sharing activity. The produced meals go to families suffering food insecurity.

August 2021. Image Author: Yafa El Masri
A street view from one of the passageways of Bourj albarajenah refugee camp. Towards the sky there are a mass of entangled electrical cables. There is a wall on one side of the passageway covered in graffiti. In the background there are several walking through the passageway.
One of many passageways of Bourj Albarajenah refugee camp. The camp is characterised by maze-like hallways like these which people often use as public and social spaces.

August 2021. Image Author: Yafa El Masri