Anthropology and Sociology
26 July 2022

Researching Comparative Humanitarianisms through Podcasts

Following a first experiment in academic podcasting I carried out last year with my colleague and fellow anthropologist Ian M. Cook from the Central European University - and with the logistical support of my fantastic TA Victoria Priori and the technical support of Guillaume Pasquier at the Library (special thanks to both!) - students enrolled in my course ‘Comparative Humanitarianisms’ (DE149) this year were given the opportunity to produce a podcast instead of an essay. 

Contrary to last year when students were asked to document humanitarian responses to the Covid-19 pandemic (listen to last year’s podcasts here), no special focus was imposed this time. Students were left free to choose as a group which specific aspects of contemporary humanitarianisms they were interested in researching. 

Unsurprisingly, many of them decided to examine the war in Ukraine and the special treatment and expressions of solidarity Ukrainian refugees fleeing their war-torn country received in Europe by contrast to other asylum seekers from the Middle East or Africa facing similar situations, and yet left to die at sea or to wait for indefinite time in camps. 

The podcasts ask a series of important questions about the ‘hierarchies of humanity’ that the humanitarian system tends to reproduce, in spite of its rootedness in the ideal of universal compassion toward suffering others. They interrogate the meaning of solidarity in an unequal world, people’s motivations to help in moments of crisis and whether humanitarian action is the best framework to address systemic inequalities between the Global North and the Global South. 

Through interviews with humanitarian workers, refugees, asylum specialists, activists and concerned citizens, students explored the limitations, potential and ethical dilemmas of humanitarian action, the domestic dimension of international humanitarianism, as well as the ambiguous nature of international law for granting protection to specific categories of populations such as refugees.  

Podcasting requires much more than technical skills: it is a craft that requires talents in research, interviewing, sound arrangement and writing. For most students, it was the first time they tried their hand at producing such an audio format. The experience fostered their enthusiasm and creativity as well as their critical thinking. As a group testified in the reflexive piece it submitted simultaneously to their podcast : 

“This project allowed us to enhance our analytical capabilities. We believe that these skills will represent a significant added value in our future professional experiences. On a more personal level, after two years of COVID-19, we enjoyed meeting up to work together on the podcast. As we met up weekly, we got to know each other better, our cultures, backgrounds, and opinions, forging a closer relationship”.

Questioning European Humanitarian Responses After Ukraine


By Marisa Giustiani, Astrid Laurent and Agathe Le Vaslot

This podcast aims to present a fresh perspective on the EU response to the Mediterranean migration "problem" in light of the wave of solidarity toward Ukrainian refugees that followed the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This solidarity greatly contrasts with the reception of asylum seekers fleeing wars in the Global South. Although the respective situations of refugees are relatively similar, the nature of the EU’s response underscores a certain tension between humanitarian values and the securitization of borders. 

We interview Stéphane Decrey, head of Citizen Mobilization at SOS Mediterranee Switzerland, to discuss the different ways in which  borders materialize depending on one's ethnicity, class, and citizenship status. SOS Mediterranee is a citizen-led NGO involved in the search and rescue of migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea. Founded in 2015, its operation started in February 2016. The NGO has since provided assistance to more than 34,000 people crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The Need To Help


By Seraina Afra Billeter, Sol Leiden Santos, Carola Nicole Vargas Rivera, Valentina Saponara  

In the podcast ‘Humanitarian Work and the Need to Help,’ we share the story of Jason Erazo, a humanitarian doctor from Honduras. The interview examines Jason’s main motivations for continuing his work in this field, in spite of the many difficulties he continuously encounters. Jason tells us about his experience of working for the Red Cross when Honduras was hit by the ETA and IOTA hurricanes. We learn about his passion for helping people, but also about the challenges he faced and his feeling of helplessness. The podcast compares Jason’s experience with the ones of Finnish Red Cross workers documented by Liisa Malkki in her book The Need to Help, as well as the one of Sea Watch captain Pia Klemp presented in her 2019 Berlin Ted talk

Worthy Of Protection


By Marie-Simone Kadurira, Monica Selasi Botchway, Kaitlin Large, Yuyi Shen

In 2022, the world witnessed the greatest form of solidarity from European countries toward Ukrainian nationals fleeing the war in Ukraine. Switzerland, whose immigration policy is normally quite restrictive, has shown a willingness in accepting more Ukrainians. Ukrainians fleeing their homeland to Switzerland because of the conflict are guaranteed entry for up to 90 days without a visa. The Swiss government has activated for Ukrainians the “S status” for “people in need of protection”. This is the first time the “S status” is put in practice since its release in the 1990s. With this special S permit, people can stay in Switzerland for at least a year with residence rights and rights to accommodation, support, medical care, and family reunification as ell as the right to work. Based on interviews with Joelle Spahni, a migration lawyer from the Swiss NGO AsyLex and Aresu Rabbani, a refugee born in Afghanistan and who currently volunteers at AsyLex, the podcast seeks to understand why Ukrainians are receiving more rights than asylum seekers of other nationalities. This podcast reveals the complexities of triage in humanitarian practices and the hierarchies of life that are maintained and reproduced as a result. 

Easy Labels, Complex Identities- An Exploration Of The Meanings Of The Word Refugee


By Amelia Giancarlo, Amanda Monroe, Ashling O’Donnell, Tessa Jager, & Xia Zizhou

The podcast "Easy Label, Complex Identities: An Exploration of the Meanings of ‘Refugee’" focuses on the individual experience of living in and through the refugee label, as well as how the label itself shapes individual identities. By analyzing an interview with Rex (pseudonym), a refugee from the Philippines, journalist and human rights activist currently living in a refugee center in Switzerland, the podcast revisits governmental and humanitarian responses to refugees. It suggests restructuring responses as respectful exchanges so that refugees can be acknowledged and empowered, instead of being rendered helpless and hopeless by mere compassion.

Voices of Solidarity


By Jessica Espinosa, Juan Luna, Manuela Ramirez & Ilaria Bracco 

The war in Ukraine has uprooted over 10 million people. This situation represents the largest refugee crisis in Europe this century. Over the past months, the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag has become a familiar sight of solidarity. People in Europe and worldwide have shown that they are ready to take action to support the Ukrainian population. While this considerable mobilization to help the Ukrainian people - which shows a sense of connection, compassion, and humanity - should be appreciated, the sufferings of millions of people affected by war, natural disasters, and epidemics in other geographic areas should not be forgotten. This podcast examines what solidarity means and how people express their solidarity during humanitarian emergencies. By analyzing the case of Ukraine, we aim to understand why people have reacted differently in the case of this particular conflict. Our purpose is to better understand the positive examples of mobilization that may be replicated during future humanitarian emergencies and, focusing on the different degree of emotions triggered by other crises, shed light on the structural inequalities that characterize our societies.