Amanda Islambouli (GLS '15) hails from Ridgefield, NJ, but has dedicated her education to human rights issues around the world. Currently completing her master's degree at NYU's Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, Amanda wrote a thesis for her bachelor's degree, titled, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey's Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis: The Roles of and Interactions between Governments, NGOs, and the United Nations. Recently Amanda was invited to present her thesis research with the NGO Committee on Migration, a consultant organization to the United Nations. At a the Committee's meeting in honor of World Refugee Day (June 20), Amanda presented and answered questions on her research, and guided discussions around the important topic.
How did the opportunity for your presentation arise?
I initially became involved with the NGO Committee on Migration when a friend asked me to share some of my thesis research for a document on refugee children that the Committee was writing. I then began attending monthly meetings, helping create documents for international conferences, and more as a member. When June’s meeting came along, Maria Pia Belloni, my mentor of sorts, suggested that I present for the occasion.
Why is World Refugee Day important?
Because refugees have left their home countries, they often do not have legal identification documents. They also live either in camps or in otherwise marginalized locations, and so their visibility is very low. World Refugee Day, as well as the organizations that work tirelessly year-round to help these people (the UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO, the ICRC, the WFP and others), increase awareness about refugees in need.
Describe your thesis topic.
Each of the countries I studied that host significant amounts of refugees -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan -- has its own form of governance when it comes to the crisis response. In Lebanon, the government does not get involved very much, leaving the response to the UN and NGOs. In Turkey, the government controls the response, and does not leave enough humanitarian space, or involvement, for the UN and NGOs. In Jordan, the government facilitates, leads, and coordinates the response, yet still allows sufficient involvement from the UN and NGOs. In my thesis, I argue that Jordan’s government-facilitated system of crisis response is the most effective because it utilizes all three bodies (UN, government and NGOs), coordinating them under the government’s leadership.
What led you to your thesis topic?
It all started when I obtained a Dean’s Global Research Grant through Liberal Studies to travel to Lebanon and do research on Syrian refugee children education there. This led me to a larger question: How is a crisis response best governed? The topic is important to me because despite the fact that there are at least 4 million Syrian refugees currently, the issue is not being discussed widely. Also, I believe that with proper crisis response governance, more people can be helped.
What did your research in Lebanon entail?
In the winter of 2012-2013, I spent three weeks in Lebanon studying the education of Syrian refugee children there. I had the opportunity to interview various professionals working for the crisis response. Among them are: Maria Assi, the CEO of Beyond Association, working with UNICEF to provide education in camps; the Project Manager of Syrian refugees at Lebanon’s Ministry of Social Affairs; and Agatha Abiaad, the UNHCR’s Educational Officer for Beirut. I also had the chance to visit two refugee "camps," or informal settlements, and meet and interview refugees themselves.
How did your GLS coursework influence your research?
I truly think that since I was looking at such a diverse array of sources, topics, and ideas, my GLS background helped me to analyze all of these. I also think that I learned more about human rights and humanitarian subjects in my concentration -- Politics, Rights, and Development -- than I would have in any other program at NYU.
What do you hope to do for a career?
Eventually I want to work in diplomacy, but for the short-term I plan to do humanitarian work, hopefully within the United Nations. First, however, I have one more year left in the five-year M.A./B.A. program at NYU’s Graduate Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, which has thus far been a very exciting and awesome experience.