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Zoë Jordan joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in April 2016. Her thesis title is ‘The role of humanitarian response in supporting refugee hosting networks in urban areas during protracted displacement’.
Some friends from school went to Oxford Brookes for their undergraduate degree. I did not think about it again for several years, until I saw the advertisement for my PhD position!
I had an idea of what I wanted to research during my PhD
for a few years before I applied. I had begun looking at different programmes but
had not found the right fit. When I found this opportunity it was perfect - the
right topic, a great supervisor, a strong research group, and funding. I was
also excited to move to Oxford.
Before starting my PhD, I was managing a humanitarian programme in Haiti. We worked with people who had lost their homes in the 2010 earthquake. The project helped them get back into safe housing, to develop small business initiatives, and to reduce the impact of future disasters. Our other projects worked to secure people’s access to food during an impending drought, and on cholera response and prevention.
I only came back from Haiti four days before I began my programme at Oxford Brookes, so it was quite a change of environment! I had not seen any photos of the University before I arrived on campus and I remember being impressed by the John Henry Brookes Building. I met my supervisor that morning. She was very welcoming and talked through some of the first steps. She also introduced me to other staff and students in the School. One of my new fellow PhD students gave me a chocolate - a good start! Though I had completed a module of an online MA while in Haiti, coming to the campus was still quite a change of pace, as was adjusting to studying full time. Attending Induction and other training sessions from the Graduate College and the Faculty's Doctoral Training Programme was helpful in finding my feet.
The purpose of my research is to improve understanding of refugee hosting in protracted urban contexts. I chose to look at refugee hosting in Jordan, where I worked with Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Somali people. Most of my work focused on the hosting practices and experiences of young, single, Sudanese men. Sudanese refugees in Jordan often have acute unmet shelter, healthcare, education, and food security needs, and extremely limited income-earning opportunities. Many Sudanese report frequent incidents of racially motivated harassment, verbal abuse, and physical violence. I chose to focus on the young men as they are excluded on multiple fronts. Most humanitarian aid goes to the much larger Syrian refugee population and men are rarely a priority in humanitarian response. They also receive limited support - or even hostility - from other urban residents due to widespread racism.
Refugee hosting happens in situations where refugees are sharing space and resources with someone else. This happens at different scales – from a country hosting a refugee population, as with the Syrian population in Jordan, right down to hosting at the household level, where refugees share accommodation with others. My work looks at what happens at the household level, when people are sharing their homes with others. In towns and cities around the world, refugees live with host families. Sharing accommodation with displaced people is a widespread and longstanding practice, offering vital support to thousands of people displaced by conflict and disaster. Hosting can provide shelter, access to food, water, and sanitation facilities, connections to work, safety and protection, and psychosocial support and advice. It can contribute to a sense of belonging, to maintaining or restoring someone’s identity and sense of connection to their culture, history and place of origin, and to beginning a process of integration in their place of displacement. Hosting can also present a danger – overcrowding, poor living conditions, ill-health, stress, a lack of privacy, exploitation and abuse.
Despite its widespread prevalence and recognition of the importance of host families from humanitarian actors, there has not been much detailed work into understanding it. With so much at stake, I think that it is essential that humanitarian actors better understand how hosting works and the impact that their policies can have. In my PhD research, I am seeking to understand how hosting relationships are created and maintained, how they change as displacement becomes more prolonged, and how they are influenced by the actions of humanitarian agencies. Ultimately, I hope to identify pathways for humanitarian agencies to better support hosting practices. This would recognise the enormous value of affected communities’ actions, and support rather than supplant existing community coping mechanisms.
I enjoy being a research student even more than I thought I would. I still think that I am working on an important topic and I have great support from my colleagues at Oxford Brookes. I feel lucky to have this time to read and learn from others’ work, and to study something that I am passionate about. Doing my PhD has given me the chance to live in a new country and to meet people from around the world who participated in my research and at conferences and seminars. I have also begun lecturing, which was an exciting new challenge for me. I have done things that I had not anticipated - learning to climb at Brookes Sport, beginning Arabic classes, and diving with a turtle in the Red Sea.
Some days can be tough, as sometimes you can feel a bit isolated or as though you are not making the progress you had hoped for. I have found speaking to other PhD students to be a good remedy for this. Often they have had similar problems and can offer advice and support. I have a great supervisory team - other students even tell me that they are envious! I also have supportive friends and family. No one else in my family has taken the academic route, so it is not something that they have experienced, but they are always willing to listen or to distract me with a fun activity. The Brookes Wellbeing services can also be a great source of help.
There is a great range of research training offered at Brookes, both from the Graduate College and my Faculty. When I first saw the PhD training planners I was a bit intimidated, but with so much on offer I have easily met the minimum requirements each year. The training covers a huge range of topics, from research skills and ethics applications to career development and public impact. There are also lots of opportunities to present your work and get feedback from staff and your peers, such as lunchtime seminars and annual research student conferences.
The first step is to finish my PhD! I am really keen to publish the findings of my research, so that is a priority. Once I finish, I would like to find a role that allows me to continue research in academia or perhaps in the non-profit sector. One of my favourite things about CENDEP is that it blends academic research with practical application. Hopefully I will find a position that allows me to maintain this balance.