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Refugees Are Focus of New Academic Programs in Jordan

AMMAN— Jordan has long had thousands of refugees from neighboring countries, a situation that has intensified with the Syrian conflict. Now universities are beginning to offer degrees that specialize in studying the topic.

The University of Jordan, the kingdom’s largest public university, began a professional diploma program in refugee and forced migration studies last year. In starting the program, the university’s Center for Strategic Studies said the program would seek to improve understanding of “the impact of refugee crises on Jordan in particular and the Middle East in general.”

This year, the German Jordanian University, a public institution just south of Amman, launched a master’s degree program in social work that focuses on migration and refugees. The program seeks to prepare social-work professionals for work with nongovernmental organizations and public-sector agencies that serve refugees and deal with problems faced by refugees and their host communities.

At Yarmouk University, in Irbid in northern Jordan, the Center for Studies of Refugees, Displaced Persons and Forced Migration focuses on guiding master’s degree students in conducting research on refugee issues. The scholars’ papers focus largely on the psychological needs of displaced people, an area that experts have said is too little studied. (See a related article, “Refugee Youth Traumatized by War: Overwhelmed, Understudied).

The new programs come at a time when Jordan faces increasing political and economic challenges in coping with the number of migrants and refugees it shelters. In the latest crisis, more than 620,000 Syrians fleeing war in their country have been registered as refugees in Jordan by UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency. Over the past few decades, the kingdom has also taken in large numbers of Palestinians, Iraqis and others fleeing war and persecution.

The programs and their graduates hope to bring new insights to the challenges facing displaced people and their host communities, including problems like negative media portrayals that can escalate tensions. The programs will build on an academic foundation of refugee studies that began at other institutions ranging from the University of Oxford to the American University in Cairo.

Theeb Ghanama, an architect and human-rights activist, was in the first class of  graduates of the University of Jordan’s diploma program.

“This study helped me better understand the issue of asylum, forced migration, the suffering of refugees, their legal and human rights,” said Ghanama. He said it also made him more aware of the importance of portraying refugees in the media in a way that protects their dignity and directs coverage away from hate speech and stereotypes.

Despite the fact that some of the centers only recently opened, they appear to have drawn wide interest among potential students.

At the University of Jordan, “a large number of students have applied for the diploma,” said Yasmin Al-Dhamin, head of the Center for Strategic Studies’ media and events management department. The center admitted only 7 students in the program’s first year.

The program’s students come with master’s or bachelor’s degrees in a wide range of specialties: journalism, media, public administration, American studies, diplomatic studies, development and human rights, economics, political science and civil engineering.

The program’s curriculum includes two semesters of academic courses, a research project at the end of the study, and practical training with an organization dealing with refugees.

The German Jordanian University’s master’s degree program is divided into four semesters. It is designed for candidates with bachelor’s degrees in disciplines such as social work, sociology, and medicine, but also considers applications from graduates of other disciplines.

Yarmouk University’s Center for Studies of Refugees, Displaced Persons and Forced Migration focuses not only on supporting research but also on translating it into practical applications. The center has formed partnerships with several international organizations and civil-society institutions that have assisted it in carrying out field research.

The center is increasing its research staff “to confront the emerging requirements of new horizons of research and knowledge imposed by the rapid growth of the refugee and displacement phenomenon in the region and the world,” Fawwaz al-Momani, director of the center, said in a message on the center’s website. The center is also developing master’s-degree level courses for students of Yarmouk University. It plans to offer a course next year called “Applications in Migration and Refugee Studies.” The course was developed jointly with the University of Lund, in Sweden, and in cooperation with Yarmouk’s department of geography.

Unlike other universities in the kingdom, Yarmouk does not offer any specializations or courses related to refugee and migration issues at the bachelor’s-degree level. It does offer courses on disaster management and social development.

Ahmed Al-Orood, a researcher at the Yarmouk center who is working on a paper on the importance of providing access to master’s degrees for Syrian refugees through open-learning platforms, believes that producing research papers will attract financing of projects serving refugees and the local community. “Organizations and donors are asking for proposals for projects that address refugee problems,” he said. “Without studying refugee and migration issues, serious proposals and good financial support will not be possible to achieve.”

It’s too early to say what the job prospects are for graduates of the new programs, said al-Momani, despite the fact that there are dozens of international and local organizations seeking to serve refugees in Jordan.

But “the labor market will certainly benefit from this discipline’s graduates,” he said.


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