The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Rosenfield symposium features immigration experts

Rawan Awar presented a talk on refugees in Jordan last Tuesday. Photo by Xiaoxuan Yang.
Rawan Arar presented a talk on refugees in Jordan last Tuesday. Photo by Xiaoxuan Yang.

This week, the Rosenfield Program and the Institute for Global Engagement hosted a symposium called the Global Politics of Migration and Refuge. The symposium featured a large number of expert, alumni and refugee speakers who offered differing perspectives on this contemporary issue. One of the speakers, Rawan Arar, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, San Diego, gave a talk called “Shouldering the Refugee Burden: Jordan and the Global Refugee Crisis.” The S&B’s Graham Dodd met with Arar to talk about her experience with immigration and the refugee situation in Jordan.

The Scarlet and Black: What’s your academic specialty?

Rawan Arar: My dissertation work as a sociologist is on refugee reception and international immigration.

S&B: What is the nature of your work with Jordanian immigrants?

RA: So I am a scholar, so my primary goal is to understand what’s happening on the ground and compare it to the literature so that I can help create theories of immigration, and more specifically theories that relate to refugees. So specifically, I look at Jordan as a major refugee host country. I don’t really look at Jordanians that are migrating, mostly what I do is look at refugees that are coming to Jordan. In that case, I’m interested primarily in the Syrian refugee crisis, and that has to do with people fleeing Syria and looking for a safe place to stay, and they cross the border and come into Jordan.

S&B: Can you give a short summary of the situation in Jordan? What are the concerns and major events?

RA: The Syrian war started in March 2011, and since then, refugees have crossed over into Jordan as well as other neighboring states. Over 90 percent of the Syrian refugees actually currently live in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is the major UN agency which deals with refugee hosting, there are about 655 thousand Syrian refugees.

However, according to the Jordanian government, they say that there are about 1.3 million Syrians there that they don’t identify as refugees. So they might be including Syrians that migrated before the war, people who came and did not seek refugee status within the UNHCR for whatever reason.

S&B: Why doesn’t the Jordanian government identify these Syrians as refugees?

RA: Really I would say that if you want to be very specific, you want to look at the UNHCR numbers which say that there are 655,000 Syrian refugees, but if you want to look at what the Jordanians say, the 1.3 million Syrians includes refugees and non-refugees. The point there is there is a distinction between citizens and noncitizens. So people who may not be considered refugees, under whatever mantle, may still have an effect on a society that is taking on a large number of refugees. Here the numbers game is really important because numbers affect how much aid the country receives, and how they allocate those resources that they have. One of the important things to take into consideration is, as a major refugee host country, Jordan is dealing with strains on their health sector, with strains in their schools. Their streets are more crowded, they have a problem with water allocations, they are worried that there isn’t enough water to go around because of the large number of people they’ve agreed to take in.

S&B: Could you give us more information on your background?

RA: I’m Palestinian-American. I have dual citizenship in Jordan and the US, so I also identify as a Jordanian. I guess I have a multitude of identities based on where I grew up and where my family is from. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where I went to high school and did my undergrad at UT San Antonio.  … I then went and did my Masters at UT Austin in Women’s Studies, and I spent a year there taking classes. My second year I was a rotary scholar. As a rotary scholar, I moved to Jordan and worked with Iraqi refugees in 2009 and 2010. After that, I moved to Northern Ireland, and I worked at the Irish School of Ecumenics, which is peace and conflict resolution through religion. I was a visiting scholar there. I ended up working on a project that looked at how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incorporated in politics in Northern Ireland. Then I started a Ph.D. program at UC San Diego, which is where I currently am. I’ve been researching refugees since 2009, so it’s a topic that, intellectually, I find very exciting because it brings together, first and foremost, issues of human rights, and we are dealing with a real problem that we need people to think about and try to find solutions for, and, at the same time, it also engages some very important concepts that relate to the sociology of international immigration and political sociology.

S&B: What do you think is going to happen in Jordan in the future? What is the worst case scenario, and what would you like to see happen?

RA: One of the things I was most impressed with in Jordan was the way that Jordanians who are working with refugees are doing so, especially people who were graduating college and looking for jobs around the time that the refugee crisis happened. These people are the ones who ended up getting jobs working in the camps or working with NGOs, and I didn’t really think about that role very much before being there and being on the ground, but I met some absolutely incredible people who have dedicated their lives to helping the Syrian refugees through work and, also, they do it on their personal time. … The dream is always that things will calm down and that people will be able to come home. If I can look into the future and hope for something for the people that I talk to, I think that’s what they want. And I think that the people in Jordan are working really hard to take care of their own citizens as well as the people that are displaced.

S&B: Can you compare the way the EU and Jordan have handled the refugee crisis? Are there lessons either side could draw from the other?

RA: I think the EU is a big place, and we’ve seen a lot of different ways in which the refugee crisis has been handled. I think one of the things that really struck me was during one of my interviews with a Jordanian citizen, because I conducted interviews with citizens, refugees and government UN officials, they said we always thought the West was supposed to be this beacon of human rights, but where are the human rights when we are the ones hosting a large number of refugees? But by the same token, I’ve seen people in the EU who are working so hard and actually innovating the way that we deal with refugees on a global context.

S&B: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like people to keep in mind?

RA: I think language is really important, and I think it’s really important that we don’t make victim synonymous with refugee. Nobody wants to always be characterized as a victim, because sure these people have gone through a difficult time in their lives, but they want to contribute, they want to be respected for their thoughts and ideas, just like anybody else. So I think that, when we are thinking about the refugee crisis, it’s really important to also question what it means that we are constantly framing it as a crisis and victims that just need constant aid.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *