Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

Teresa Perosa is a graduate student at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. After working for six years as a journalist covering world affairs based in her hometown of São Paulo, Brazil, she is pursuing a master's degree in international affairs, concentrating in human rights & humanitarian policy and specializing in gender and the Middle East. She worked as a special correspondent reporting from Colombia, Venezuela, the US, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Her work on the Za'atari Refugee Camp, in northern Jordan, was awarded at the International Red Cross Humanitarian Journalism Prize in 2017. At SIPA, she is President of the Gender Policy Working Group (GPWG), a student-based organization which aims to foster the debate on gender in the different areas of policy, and is the Communications Chair of the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG). Teresa holds a BA in Journalism from the University of São Paulo. Her interests include refugee and migration policy, gender, post-colonial and critical theory. After returning from her fellowship over the summer, Teresa discussed with AP the impacts the fellowship had on her. "Working on a CBO helped me to better understand the challenges of program design and implementation for refugees, especially in a hotspot on this issue, like Amman".

On the permanence of the temporary

18 Jun

The Za’atari refugee camp, in northern Jordan, seen here in 2016. The camp is home for 78,000 Syrian refugees.

Last time I was in Jordan, back in 2016, I spent most of my time and focus in Za’atari, the largest refugee camp for Syrians, in the northern part of the country. The camp was completing 4 years, and its size was winding down after it had peaked in 2013, with astounding 200,000 residents, most of them from Dara’a, the southern Syrian province, nearby the Jordanian border. By then, the residents amounted to around 78,000, give or take, living in caravans (a.k.a. containers) in the middle of the desert.

The lowering in numbers, I was explained at the time, was a combination of factors: some got resettled in other host countries, like Canada and Australia; others tried their luck in the hands of smugglers through the Turkey-Mediterranean route, and a bigger contingent left the camp and established themselves in cities around Jordan. The few families which I had contact with in Za’atari conveyed to me this sense of pause in their lives. “Temporary” was the word often used by refugees, international organizations officials, field officers. The camp is temporary. This situation is temporary. Their status is temporary. Full lives on hold. Until the war ends. Until resettlement is given. Until they can go back to work. Until they get to live again, not just survive.

As of April 2018, the last fact-sheet made available by the UNHCR on the current status of Za’atari puts the number of its residents at 78,804 – that is, the same levels of two years ago. The overall number of refugees in Jordan, in and outside camps, did not wind down either – the country is the current home for roughly 740,000 refugees, between Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Sudanese, Somali refugee populations, amongst others.

The reasons behind this stability are not really difficult to assess. In 2015, when the heightened attention on refugees over the thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean, coupled with the desperation scenes seen both in what were before trendy European seaside cities and as survivors tried to make their way through Europe, produced somewhat higher levels of resettlement in some countries of the continent. However, the political climate which emerged from this, fed by economic anxiety and, many times, by blatant xenophobia and racism, could not be worse for refugees and migrants. It resulted in a more closed world than the one envisioned for the 21st century. It meant keeping “undesirable people” away at all costs. It meant depriving people of opportunity, even though the crisis was – and is – not over.

This time, in Amman, the bulk of my work will be with urban refugees, most of them Iraqi, which means their offers for resettlement are even more scarce than those available for Syrians. As of today, there are 55,500 registered Iraqi refugees residing in Jordan. The majority do not have permits to work nor to pursue higher education in public institutions, which renders them even more vulnerable and fundamentally dependent on humanitarian aid.

They rely so much on what Mirian Ticktin called the regimes of care, “which include humanitarianism, certain movements for human rights (…), a set of regulated discourses and practices grounded on this moral imperative to relieve suffering (…) [which] come together through a diverse set of actors such as NGOs, international institutions, legal regimes, corporations, the military, and states”. According to her research, it has been seen that the structures formed by the regimes of care can “ultimately work to displace possibilities for larger forms of collective change, particularly for those most disenfranchised”.

This understanding comes from the fact that the structural, fundamental issues related to the vulnerable status of those groups cannot be solved within the humanitarian realm. They need to be addressed at the political level. They involve decision making regarding the conflicts themselves and their avenues for solutions, as well as foreign policy decisions by the world powers which more frequently than not foment said conflicts. They mean, in the frontline of first response, refugee resettlement and humane immigration policy. They extend even to the field of climate change. And all of these issues are political.

While the political solutions and resolutions do not come, humanitarian aid is necessary to relieve suffering in the short term, as refugees would be in a far worse situation without it. But as the temporary quickly converts to permanent, what is the role to be played by humanitarian actors? In which ways their mere presence can be a deterrent for States to assume their responsibilities? How they interact with the political space while claiming to remain detached from it?

As an aspiring human rights and development researcher and practitioner, at this point, I have no answers. But I look forward to engage further with those questions in mind during my time in Jordan. And I hope that, while sharing, I can foster those discussions elsewhere too.

Posted By Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

Posted Jun 18th, 2018


  • Samantha Givens

    June 19, 2018


    Teresa, what a beautifully written blog. I’m excited to read more and hear about your lived experiences along the way. Thank you!

    • Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

      June 24, 2018


      Glad you enjoyed, Sam! Thanks!

  • Ali West

    June 20, 2018


    Teresa, I am excited to learn more about this situation through your time in Jordan. I wish you all the best, you will be doing great work!

    • Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

      June 24, 2018


      Thanks for reading, Ali!

  • Corinne Cummings

    June 20, 2018


    Hi there, Teresa. I am one of AP’s new interns. It’s a pleasure to meet you via your blog posts. Your journalism background is very apparent in your blog posts, specifically through your captivating writing, which is quite riveting! You are tackling critical issues in Jordan; I commend you for the work that you are doing there. Your blog post was chalk full of great information, especially your commentary on addressing important issues of refugees and migrants, such as those coming from Iraq, on a political level, rather than dealing with fundamental concerns through a humanitarian lens. Good luck with your journey for the next ten weeks. I am excited to read your future work and further explore the developmental measures that you undertake in Jordan. Best wishes, Corinne.

    • Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

      June 24, 2018


      Thank you so much for your comment, Corinne, very nice to meet you as well!

  • Allyson Hawkins

    June 24, 2018


    Teresa, love the Ticktin reference. Her research is excellent to keep in the back of your mind as you come across different “regimes of care” in Jordan. Looking forward to following your work with CRP!

    • Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

      July 2, 2018


      Thanks for reading, Allyson!

  • Princia Vas

    July 2, 2018


    Thank you for sharing this with us,Teresa. Looking forward to learning more about your experience in Jordan through your blog posts!

  • Iain Guest

    July 8, 2018


    Interesting analysis and a very useful presentation of Jordan’s refugee crisis. Two comments. First, the number of urban refugees (who are not registered by the UN and live in a kind of limbo) is very high. Their needs are arguably more important than the needs of those who do not get conventional humanitarian aid. I’d certainly like to know more about how they live and how they deal with the challenges. Second, the regimes of care that you describe are ALWAYS trying to figure out a route to a more permanent solution, even if traditional options (like resettlement) are closing off. CRP is a case in point. We’ve always thought that the Hope Workshop is a great model for addressing the emergency need while preparing refugees for the future. Not sure that politics need to enter into the equation…. Welcome more thoughts from you on where the refugee protection regime is heading!

  • Donna Olson

    July 10, 2018


    Thank you for this thoughtful introduction to the factors at play for the residents of these camps and others who have been displaced!

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