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Zakaria, a baker on Zaatari’s main market street. Photo: UNHCR/S Baldwin.

In March, Dunya Habash, a student on the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies and daughter of Syrian immigrants to the USA, spoke at TEDxBirmingham in Alabama, sharing her journey of discovery in overcoming her own stereotypes of refugees. The video of her talk is now available online.

In summer 2014, when at college in the US, she wanted to do something to feel more connected to the struggle of her fellow Syrians. She therefore arranged to visit Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan to film a short documentary.

On reaching Zaatari, she was “confronted with a very painful personal truth” – that even she, the daughter of Syrian immigrants, carried with her “several stereotypes about refugees” that she was unaware of. Expecting to see powerless, helpless people, she instead saw and met people who definitely “were not lacking initiative”. In the two years that Zaatari had been open, hundreds of stores had sprung up selling everything from food to toys to wedding dresses to haircuts. Listening to people’s stories and reasons for leaving Syria, she says, no one mentioned ‘economic opportunities’ but rather army raids and barrel bombs.

Habash discusses how stereotypes are perpetrated and reinforced through social media and ‘consumer friendly media’, with news reports that continually focus on the same, limited aspects of a story, usually negative. As she says, ‘bad things make news’.

Watch the TED Talk here >>

Dunya has also written two blogs for the Oxford International Relations Society: ‘The study of Syrian refugees: from the academic to the actual’ and ‘The ‘organized hypocrisy’ of Western refugee policy’. And, multi-talented as she is, she also writes songs, including a ‘Lament for Syria’, on which she is joined by fellow Refugee Studies MSc student Theo Kwek on violin:

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