Stereotypes and Assumptions

“Iraqi? Iraqi Not Good” -Photo of the inside of a Taxi Cab, Amman, Jordan.

Whenever the group travels to an interview, our Iraqi translator explains the general location to us and then once we are in a cab, we call and put him on the phone with our driver so he can give them specific directions. Typically, after the cab drivers briefly interact with him over the phone, they will try and talk about the fact that he’s Iraqi, saying thing like, “Oh Iraqi? Iraqi Mish Kwayiss” which roughly translates with our limited Arabic to “Iraqi? Iraqi’s not good”.

This comment highlights a larger phenomenon that I have observed in Jordan — the tensions, assumptions and general discrimination amongst Iraqi’s, Syrians, and Jordanians about one other. These assumptions operate both informally with the day to day interactions and conversations heard, and then institutionally, with some programs restricted to certain groups, Syrians getting school fees waived, but Iraqi’s having to pay, a lower rate for health insurance for Syrians and higher for Iraqis, all getting more aid than the Sudanese, Somali and Yemeni refugees. How these tensions operate serve to highlight a larger question posed by those here in Jordan and external NGO’s and governments, regarding who needs help, and in a time of limited resources, who receives aid, and who does not?

On a surface level, the day to day assumptions mostly come from a place of misunderstanding. We have heard many people express the common assumption that Syrians receive the most aid in the form of food vouchers, access to work, and resettlement. The type of aid given to refugees varies largely due to factors of when displacement occurred, number of refugees in Jordan, and other unknown numbers and positions.

The institutional levels here in Jordan are also creating these tensions. The Jordanian government mandates that all NGO’s wishing to work with refugees’ reserve 30% of their assistance or aid, for Jordanians. The Iraqi’s, Syrians, and small organizations we have talked to, like the Collateral Repair Project (CRP) and MECI have told us the discontent many feel about Jordanians receiving air or a spot in a program, when the Jordanian government is supposed to help Jordanians more than the refugees, the organizations expressing tensions about how funding is awarded and the limits of refugees they can take into their programs because they must fulfill the Jordanian quota. Yet many Jordanians do in fact need this assistance, as they suffer from the same problems that refugees have in terms of inadequate schooling, and expensive rates of living in Amman and Jordan. The larger issue of Jordan formal schooling, and the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens, is not being addressed. As a result, NGO’s must work with both communities in order to receive funding, but this lessens the numbers of refugees able to receive this assistance.

There are constructed, man-made divisions specifically amongst Iraqi and Syrian refugee communities when it comes to funding allocation for groups that create hostilities towards the other, and discontent towards the UN, and the Jordanian government. Many organizations we have talked to have pointed to the announcement by the Jordanian government to allow a certain number of work visas for refugees in Jordan to be given. However, these work visas are specifically ear-marked to Syrian refugees, leaving out the ability to work for the numerous other nationalities of refugees in Jordan. With the inability to work being the main factor for economic hardship, and loss of agency, to limit this option to a specific nationality of people will create discontent from other populations not receiving this aid, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese, and even local Jordanians themselves. Talking to the U.S. embassy recently here in Amman, two field officers explained that the U.S government is one of the largest donors for UNHCR, and local non-profits, mentioning that the official U.S. policy is to give equal funding and resources to all refugees, regardless of nationalities. However, as the group, going to organizational meetings and speaking to both Iraqi and Syrian refugees in interviews, there is no equal funding being given, and a large population of refugees, like Yemenis, Somalians, and Sudanese are completely overlooked.

Ultimately, from general misunderstanding of different refugee populations, to limited resources or specific rules for NGO’s to abide by, and overall stereotyping of populations creates tensions between groups that leaves Jordan, and the people living here disjointed, and separated. With long term displacement being the reality for many refugees here in Amman, to avoid talking about these issues is out of the question, but how does one change the narrative of varying groups, when this narrative is given factual evidence by policies implemented by government and NGO’s? As seen from the examples above, the stereotypes and assumptions formed on the ground about refugees or Jordanians do not come from prejudice or stereotyping, but stem from the larger issue of unequal allocation of funding to all refugee groups in Jordan.

Sloan Talbot is an undergraduate student researcher, a participant of Kenan’s Summer Purpose Program, Freshman Focus, Duke Immerse, SuWA, and Citizenship Lab.

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