The edge of humanity

“I grew up in a refugee camp and will die in a refugee camp.”

Those are powerful words for an undergraduate to hear during her first foray into in-person research. Maisam Alahmed, SSH’16, heard them from a man named Mahmoud in Jordan’s CyberCity refugee camp, an abandoned cluster of industrial buildings surrounded by miles of desert.

Born in Palestine, the man became a refugee at age 6, when his native village was annexed to make room for the new nation of Israel in 1948. He became a refugee for the second time during the Six-Day War in 1967, when his new home was also annexed. This time, he fled to Syria, where he lived in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, working as an engineer. When warring factions destroyed much of Damascus in 2012, he fled with his family across the border into Jordan.

“His grandson is now the third generation of his family to grow up in a refugee camp,” says Alahmed.

She is one of more than a dozen students and alumni—most of them from Northeastern—conducting research in Syrian refugee camps across the Middle East and Europe. Their goal is to track the hopes, experiences, and migration patterns of millions of Syrians who are searching for a new home after being displaced by the civil war.

They work through BCARS— the Boston Consortium for Arab Region Studies—a Northeastern-led think tank founded and directed by political science professor Denis Sullivan. The organization is funded by the Carnegie Corporation and includes 13 universities from across the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. Its aim is twofold: to influence international refugee policy and to provide a unique learning opportunity for students.