Researchers Study the Humanitarian Support to Iraqi Refugee Populations

Researchers in the School of Social Work studying the humanitarian support to Iraqi refugee populations say the news media have largely ignored the displacement crisis, as large numbers of forced migrants and refugees have fled Iraq for such countries as Jordan and Syria since the U.S. war in Iraq began in 2003.

Since 2006 Kathryn Libal, assistant professor of social work, and Scott Harding, assistant professor of community organization have been researching the ways in which services are being provided to Iraqi refugee populations in Jordan by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), U.N. agencies and the U.S. government. They have conducted interviews in the U.S. with NGOs and human rights groups and in Jordan with representatives of organizations working on humanitarian issues.

Jordan hosts about half a million Iraqi refugees, according to the United Nations. “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.”

The research indicates that Jordan and Syria are ill-equipped to handle large populations for a long period of time, and resettlement is not a viable option for most.

“They’re both developing countries,” Libal says. “They have their own vulnerable populations, so to absorb another large population makes it even more challenging.”

Many of the NGOs, she says, believe the President of the United States plays a key role in asserting the importance of addressing refugee and displacement needs. “They’ve said if the president doesn’t take a leadership role, it’s very difficult to get other countries to participate in the endeavor.”

Harding adds that while there is a debate in social science literature  about the role of humanitarian  groups, their research shows that these groups play a vital role: “Because of the pressure and political advocacy of these groups, U.S. policy has changed significantly and the United Nations has done more. Advocacy does work, even on a global level.”