Social work researchers studying relief efforts for Iraqi refugees

Despite its small size and fragile economy, Jordan hosts about half a million forced migrants and refugees who have fled Iraq since the United States-led war began in 2003, according to the United Nations.

Researchers Kathryn Libal and Scott Harding, both assistant professors in the School of Social Work, say the media have focused on U.S. military casualties and other costs of the war in Iraq, and the success of the “surge” of U.S. troops in the past year, while the displacement crisis has been largely ignored.

“This humanitarian crisis – both inside and outside of Iraq – has long-term consequences for Iraq and neighboring countries,” Harding says.

“If you’re concerned about stability and so-called security of the region, it’s important to understand that Jordan and Syria can’t absorb large numbers of people who don’t have a means to provide for themselves. And if you have generations of young Iraqis who aren’t in school learning a trade, that poses societal and potential security issues.”

Scott Harding, left, and Kathryn Libal in Amman, Jordan,
where they are studying the Iraqi refugee population.
Photo supplied by Kathryn Libal

Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon have the largest numbers of Iraqi refugees.

Libal and Harding are studying refugee relief efforts provided by international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN agencies, and the U.S. government to help develop insights into the evolving nature of humanitarian support for these refugee populations.

Harding says little attention has been paid to the roles these organizations play in shaping and sustaining refugee services in Jordan.

Since 2006, the two researchers have been conducting research to identify the ways in which services are being provided to Iraqi refugees in Jordan. They conducted interviews in the U.S. with NGOs and human rights groups, and then in Jordan, interviewing representatives of organizations working on humanitarian issues.

“We thought that some of the established humanitarian organizations would have a much more visible presence there,” Libal says.

“We thought they’d be providing a lot of services to a lot of refugees, but that wasn’t the case. There were few refugee camps, because most of the people were urban refugees. A significant number were doctors and medical professionals, which will have a long-term effect on the health and well-being of people living in Iraq.”

Iraqi refugees do not have legal refugee status in their host countries, Libal says: “Life is difficult for them. Most will not be granted permission to permanently resettle to the United States or other resettlement countries, and they can’t work legally.”

Harding says that under pressure from the NGOs and the U.S., during the past year, the Jordanian government has begun allowing Iraqi children to attend public school. But even though the children are now eligible, for a variety of reasons school attendance is uneven.

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