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Understanding perceptions, aspirations and behaviour in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey

Thousands of Syrians streamed across a bridge over the Tigris River, entering Iraq © UNHCR / G Gubaeva
Thousands of Syrians streamed across a bridge over the Tigris River, entering Iraq

In the context of the current ongoing crisis, this study sets out to understand the perceptions of Syria’s refugees, as well as those of policymakers, practitioners and host communities, in respect of the minimum ‘right to life’ standards for survival in dignity (i.e. health, shelter, water, nutrition and protection and education of children) that should be made available to those displaced by the violence and armed conflict in Syria.

It seeks to understand the discrepancies between the perceptions and aspirations of each group in adequately addressing the protection needs of Syria’s refugees given the non-binding nature of state obligations as set out in the 1951 Convention. It is probing what social factors within the host community, particularly among youth, may positively contribute to interim accommodation and, when conditions permit, the reshaping and re-integration of Syrian society post-conflict.

Preliminary findings suggest there is a significant lack of understanding of both needs and aspirations between Western practitioners and displaced Syrians and host communities. This is particularly acute in Lebanon and Jordan where the humanitarian workers tend to be young, relatively inexperienced Western practitioners. Dependence on translators has meant that ‘filtered’ findings distort data and analysis. The socio-historical context of the crisis is also poorly understood.

This study expects to draw policy conclusions as well as scholarly findings for further study based on an understanding of the socio-historical context of this crisis as well as the data from focus group and semi-formal interviews and questionnaires. By integrating a socio-historical understanding of Syria and its displaced populations in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and grappling with the most significant socially defined notions of hospitality, generosity and dignity, the study anticipates making a contribution to understanding the disparate responses to Syria's displaced masses. Workshops are being held to advocate for better communications and empathy between aid workers and refugees and host community members. Articles have been published in Global Policy and the Middle East Journal of Refugee Studies.

Funding was granted by New York University to extend the study to displaced Syrians in the Gulf States of Arabia. A workshop held in Abu Dhabi in 2019 brought together scholars, practitioners, and policymakers working with displaced Syrians in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf. A special issue on Displaced Syrians based on the papers presented has been published in 2021 in the Journal of Refugee Studies. A follow-on workshop bringing together senior aid practitioners, policymakers, and academics is scheduled for November 2022. New York University Abu Dhabi’s The Institute will host the workshop, ‘Exiles, Migrants, and Refugees from Syria: the Impetus behind the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees’.



  • Dawn Chatty
    Dawn Chatty

    Emerita Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration; former Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, 2011-2014

Selected publications