Project ASPIRE, an Initiative on Forced Migration in Jordan and Turkey, Reveals Initial Findings

May 16, 2019 @ 1:06 pm
By Communications Office

Researchers reported on health care concerns among Syrian refugee women in Jordan, as well as on the secondary trauma experienced by health providers working with Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, millions have fled Syria to neighboring countries, leading the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to deem the crisis “the largest political, humanitarian, and development challenge of our time.”

In response, University Professor Nabila El-Bassel set up an initiative called ASPIRE—standing for Advancing Solutions in Policy Implementation, Research and Engagement for Refugees—to bring together faculty from across Columbia University to conduct evidence-based research that addresses the needs of refugees. To facilitate its mission, ASPIRE partners with Columbia Global Centers, as well as local universities, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and various United Nations agencies. Funding has been provided by Friends of ASPIRE, the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics, and the Columbia President’s Global Innovation Fund.

“In order to successfully resettle, refugees require such a wide range of coordinated services, from legal and educational services to healthcare,” said El-Bassel, who co-directs the initiative with Professor Neeraj Kaushal, author of the recent book, Blaming Immigrants. “In a crisis of this magnitude, it’s all too easy to overlook the unique needs of women and those who provide these services.”

At the event held at the School of Social Work on April 25, titled “Syrian refugee health and health service delivery in Jordan and Turkey: Project ASPIRE,” ASPIRE researchers presented the initial findings from its first two studies:

  • Women ASPIRE, which focuses on the health needs of Syrian refugee women
  • Providers ASPIRE, which studies how the crisis impacts refugee service providers in Turkey.

WATCH: Video on Women ASPIRE

Due to gender inequities of health such as early marriage and gender-based violence, female refugees require sexual and reproductive health services in addition to mental health services, all of which are often poorly coordinated or altogether inaccessible to them. According to Women ASPIRE’s preliminary findings, more than half of all women Syrian refugees in Jordan have experienced physical or sexual violence from their intimate partners, and nearly one in ten have attempted suicide. Additionally, nearly half had been married prior to the age of 18. These findings will be used to develop a pilot intervention to improve delivery and programming of gendered health services for Syrian refugee women in Jordan.

Providers ASPIRE, on the other hand, which seeks to help mitigate the secondary trauma experienced by service providers working with Syrian refugees in Turkey, found that more than 40 percent of these providers met the criteria for depression diagnosis. Many also suffered from compassion fatigue and burnout from working up to twice as many cases as usual. Furthermore, Turkish providers have also experienced prejudice and stigmatization from their compatriots for aiding refugees, whom many view as a strain on Turkish society.

“Through their work with refugees, some providers experience a constant barrage of secondhand trauma every single day,” said Kaushal. “This can have extremely negative implications for both their own mental health and their work.”

At the April 25 event, ASPIRE collaborators in Jordan and Turkey—Dr. Maysa’ Khadra from the University of Jordan and Dr. Deniz Yükseker of Istanbul Aydin University—shared the podium with their U.S.-based counterparts, presenting on their respective studies.

“It’s immensely important that colleagues from Jordan and Turkey are able to join us,” said Dr. Anindita Dasgupta, a postdoctoral research scientist and co-investigator for ASPIRE. “They bring a valuable perspective through so much direct experience with the crisis. Thankfully, we have some incredibly generous donors who have made this possible.” She announced that ASPIRE is currently seeking funding to hold similar community outreach events in Jordan and Turkey.

WATCH: ASPIRE 4/25/19 event

The ASPIRE initiative contributes to Columbia University’s wider efforts to better understand and mitigate the effects of forced migration, which were showcased at this week’s Forced Migration Research and Networking Event, hosted by the Global Centers and held at the School of International and Public Affairs.

According to the UNHCR, the worldwide refugee population has steadily grown over the past six years to its current count of 26 million, doubling since 1951. There are a further 40 million people across the globe who have been displaced but remain within their home countries, as well as 3 million asylum seekers. In total, 1 out of every 110 people on earth is either a refugee, an internally displaced person, or an asylum seeker.

Syria remains the country with the highest population of forced migrants, with 12.6 million, roughly half of its pre-war population in 2011. This total comprises 6.3 million refugees, 146,700 asylum-seekers and 6.2 million IDPs. Host countries of Syrian refugees have grappled with how best to absorb and support the high volume of displaced migrants, especially Turkey, which has absorbed more than half. All actors involved in the Syrian crisis—including the Syrian government, rebel groups, Russia, and a U.S.-led coalition—have been accused of severe human rights violations.