Mednicoff Works to Create Opportunities for Syrian Refugees in Jordan
Friday, June 26, 2015
Friday, June 26, 2015
David Mednicoff, assistant professor of public policy visited the largest refugee camp in Jordan on June 6 as part of a delegation affiliated with iPlatform for Global Change, an organization he helps lead. As a result of this visit, this international nongovernmental organization is now working to further the educational opportunities for youth in the Za’atari camp, located less than 20 miles south of the Syrian border.
“We were all inspired by the people we met at the camp, but also aware that the programs we saw are limited in scope,” says Mednicoff, who also heads the Middle Eastern studies program. “It is far too easy for young refugees, if they feel hopeless, to head back over the border to Syria, where ISIS or other armies await.”
The Za’atari camp is home to more than 82,000 people, nearly all of whom are from southwestern Syria, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR). During their visit Mednicoff and his colleagues met with UNHCR and Jordanian military officials who manage the camp, as well as with staff from UNICEF and the Norwegian Refugee Council. They also spoke with young refugees preparing to take their entrance exams to study in Jordanian universities.
These students completing secondary school are a testament to the relatively sophisticated civil order in the camp, says Mednicoff. But there are also opportunities for those who don’t want to attend school formally; relief agencies have established vocational training programs to teach skills such as electronics repair, hairstyling and clothes making. Many young people have gone on to open small businesses within the camp.
“Za’atari has reasonable facilities, including several schools and mosques,” Mednicoff says. “Much more is needed, though, as well as a plan to find more permanent homes for these people, who are part of the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.”
More than 625,000 Syrian and 48,000 Iraqi refugees currently live in Jordan, according to the United Nations. And with no end in sight to the political and military crises throughout the Middle East, officials expect these numbers to grow. Jordan allows refugees to access basic social services and provides security to refugee camps, but the kingdom’s weak economy prevents it from fully and permanently integrating all of its refugees.
This has prompted organizations such as iPlatform to create initiatives to help ensure “that this generation of Syrians is not a lost generation,” says Mednicoff, who heads the organization’s Committee of Academic Fellows. Leaders at iPlatform are discussing partnering with the Hult Prize Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative to establish a scholarship fund that would allow Za’atari residents and low-income Jordanians from the area surrounding the camp to attend university. In addition, Mednicoff and others are working to provide youth in the camp access to online lectures, videos and other e-learning resources. “We want to be able to help young people at Za’atari further their vocational, civic and academic training,” Mednicoff says.
He has written about his recent experience for The Conversation.