Understanding the UN

“Why did the United Nations make us live this life here?” Gamal asked our Duke Immerse team during an interview. Gamal is an Iraqi refugee who came to Jordan ten years ago. He is an older man with dark olive brown skin and a jet black goatee. Wrinkles have formed across his forehand and under his eyes. His age can be seen in his balding hair and drooping eye lids. He sits on a red chair across from our team, hunched over his legs as he answers questions.

Before coming here, my idea of the United Nations was that they offered the best aid possible. The White Helmets that could be found inside Syria were helping as many people as they possibly could, even if it meant putting their own lives at risk. They were the superheroes of the humanitarian world. Not only is the United Nations providing refugees with a safe place to live, but they are also giving them the opportunity to have some normalcy in their lives.

But as our Immerse team started interviewing both Syrian and Iraqi refugees, it became apparent that neither liked the United Nations. In an interview, one Syrian man stated “Do you think they are [too] stupid to know they don’t know the situation? They know the situation.” An Iraqi man shared “This is the United Nations; this is the organization. So we are suffering as Iraqis from them.” He was referring to the fact that he was only receiving a little amount of money per month to sustain his family. He believed that the United Nations could give them more, but were choosing not to. As a result, I started to see how these families struggled. I realize the Iraqi man received 160 JD, about 225 USD, a month and was expected to keep a roof over his family’s head and feed them all at the same time. Even though160 JD is well above the Jordanian poverty line, there still seemed to be a disconnect between the expectations that these refugees had about the UN and the reality of the aid that the UN provided. Another refugee family our Immerse team interviewed had no furniture in their house except for wheelchairs for their two daughters. Where was the UN support?

I started pointing fingers at the United Nations for forgetting about families like this one. I started seeing what was wrong with the organizations we visited as opposed to seeing the great work they were doing for those in need. I was becoming disenchanted with the humanitarian world.

As it turns out, UN aid was not only going towards these families, but the millions of others like them. The United Nations was responsible for making sure these refugees had a roof over their head, but not necessarily the furniture inside. While the man and his family might need furniture, it is not up to the United Nations to provide it. Other organizations might be able to help but to point fingers at the United Nations for only giving enough is not the correct response. During my time in Amman, it had become easy to point fingers at the United Nations, but I was forgetting what first fascinated me about the organization: the fact that this was an organization of people willing to risk their lives for the aid of others. The amount of money they were receiving was greater than that of the poverty line which 1/3 of Jordanians live below. Even though this money made it difficult to sustain a family, it was enough to put a roof over their family’s head, and still have some money for food left over.

My experience in Jordan has opened my eyes to the nuances of the Unite Nations as a international humanitarian organization. The United Nations concerns itself with keeping people alive, not necessarily providing people with luxuries. They supply those in need with just enough to get by because there are so many people they have to give to. As the refugee crisis grows, the funding does not, so the United Nations has to identify those that are the most in need and help with what they can. The United Nations concerns itself on survival, not necessarily excess. For some refugees, this is enough, but for others, their desperation continues even with UN support.

Josie Tarin is a T’20 Undergraduate. She participated in the 2017 Immerse Project and is a Student Research Assistant with the Institute.

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