The plight of the refugee
As a Fulbright English teaching assistant during the last school year in Amman, Jordan, I thought I would miss the Hill, but the pain of leaving Granville was eased with a busy schedule and new adventures. In addition to teaching, I traveled, studied Arabic, and held an internship with an organization that provides legal assistance to Iraqi refugees in the Middle East. I also stayed busy with a research project investigating Somali and Sudanese refugees living in Jordan. Two years ago, as a Denison student, I lived in Amman during an off-campus study program. I lived with a host family, studied Arabic, and volunteered teaching to Iraqi refugees. In doing so, I met a refugee from Darfur, and another from Somalia, and I started to wonder how refugees from those countries had ever made it to Jordan.
One of my English students, Ali (name changed to protect privacy), fled the genocide in Darfur in 2005. With little education, he based his decision to flee to Jordan essentially on the basis of rumors of better opportunities for work, government benefits, and resettlement in Jordan. After six years of living in Jordan in destitute poverty, working in Jordan’s informal economy for discriminatory wages, and waiting for resettlement, Ali has no end in sight. He lives in a small apartment shared with many other Sudanese occupants, and receives minimal support from international agencies established primarily to address Jordan’s Iraqi refugee crisis.
The ongoing conflict in Iraq has displaced millions of Iraqis, including approximately a half million refugees who continue to live in Jordan. But it has also affected the Jordanian government, which covers the costs for education and health treatment for Iraqis refugees. In turn, more and more international aid organizations have set up shop in Jordan to provide services to the most vulnerable of those refugees.
Meanwhile many American communities have welcomed Iraqis in recent years since the U.S. dramatically increased their admission into the country (from 1,608 to 13,823 between fiscal years 2007 and 2008). But the ripple effects of the Iraqi conflict continue even further, ensuring the ongoing displacement of refugees like Ali. The U.S. has a quota system for refugee admissions, meaning that a given number of slots are made available to refugees from a wide variety of conflicts and places of persecution.
So, when the U.S. started taking serious responsibility for the Iraqi refugee crisis by resettling larger numbers of Iraqis, it decreased slots available to refugees of other countries. Between 2007 and 2009, total refugee quotas from all African nations were cut from 22,000 to 12,000. The result is that refugees like Ali continue in semi-permanent displacement, not allowed to settle permanently in Jordan, his village in Darfur destroyed and family killed, and nowhere else to go.
There is no happy ending to this story—yet. Ali and about 1,000 other refugees from Somalia and Sudan continue to live in poverty in Jordan. And I’m not done, either. I am attending the University of Michigan Law School in order to become an advocate for refugees and asylum seekers. I plan to travel back to the Middle East this summer to continue my research and further my language studies.
But for now, the good news about being in Ann Arbor? I’m only four hours away from Granville.
Editor’s note: Betsy also noted that her post-graduation Granville homesickness was eased by many encounters with fellow Denisonians, and she shared the following photos as proof.