Month: February 2009

Faculty researchers address advocacy and social service provision for Iraqi refugees

Professors Scott Harding and Kathryn Libal have been conducting research on advocacy and social service provision for Iraqi refugees. Over the past two years they received separate large faculty grants in support of the research. Scott’s grant allowed them to conduct interviews in the United States, Jordan, and Turkey on what humanitarian organizations were able to provide for Iraqi refugees in Jordan in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Despite its small size and fragile economy, Jordan hosts an estimated 500,000 forced migrants and refugees who have fled Iraq since the U.S.-led war began in 2003. Little attention has been paid to the roles that NGOs, states, and inter-governmental or international organizations, such as the United Nations, play in shaping and sustaining refugee services in Jordan. Examining the implementation of a UN-led refugee relief effort that relies upon substantial inputs from NGOs and the U.S. government can help develop insights into the evolving nature of humanitarian support for refugee populations. More specifically, the study illustrates the extent to which local and international social workers and other humanitarian workers are involved in setting and implementing refugee policies and practices.

Kathryn’s grant allows them to extend their research to US refugee policy-making, with a focus on resettling Iraqis to the United States. While a large body of scholarship concerning refugee policy in Europe has emerged in the past two decades, such work remains sparse for the United States and is rare with reference to asylum seekers and refugees from the Middle East. While the United Nations stresses implementing a “rights-based” approach to refugee policies and practices, the United States has developed narrower categories of priorities, often based on justifications of national interest or mirroring foreign policy aims. The relatively limited scope of US refugee policy in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been challenged by US non-governmental humanitarian and human-rights organizations. Thus, nongovernmental politics has been critical in pushing Congress to expand its funding for humanitarian relief efforts in the Middle East and admitting tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees to the United States over the next five years. By examining how community-based and non-governmental organizations help set national priorities and policies related to refugees, especially for vulnerable groups like women, children, and religious minorities, the study augments the ethnography of policy-making and the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and grass-roots social movements in influencing these processes. Thus, it analyzes the overlapping and/or competing interests of community-groups, NGOs, and government policy-makers in setting refugee admissions targets and priorities, funding resettlement programs, and fostering the integration of refugees once settled in the United States through limited social programs.

Scott and Kathryn have presented papers at a number of national and international conferences, including at the annual meetings of the Council on Social Work Education, the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, the Middle East Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the Peace and Justice Studies Association. They recently returned from an international conference on migration held in Bonn, Germany, where they outlined strengths and weaknesses of US resettlement policy for Iraqi refugees. If you are interested in the topic, see Scott Harding’s essay, “Man-Made Disaster and Development: The Case of Iraq,” International Social Work 50(2007):295-306. Also look for Kathryn and Scott’s forthcoming chapter, “Challenging US Silence: International NGOs and the Iraqi Refugee Crisis,” in S. Martinez (Ed.), International migration and human rights: The global repercussions of US policy. Berkeley: University of California Press, February 2009.

Scott Harding (Ph.D., University of Washington, Social Welfare, 2000; M.S.W., California State University, 1992; B.A., California State University, 1984) is Assistant Professor of Community Organization and Kathryn Libal (Ph.D., University of Washington, Anthropology, 2001; M.A., University of Washington, Anthropology, 1993; and B.A., Lewis and Clark College, Honors in Comparative Religion, 1990) is an assistant professor at the School of Social Work.