The Making of a 'Crisis': Syrian Refugees and the Politics of Health in Jordan

Change log
Lupieri, Sigrid 

In recent years, the pace at which apparent refugee and health ‘crises’ – and their humanitarian responses – are being subsumed within foreign policy agendas appears to be accelerating. From the Syrian ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe in 2015, to the outbreak of Ebola, the Zika virus and, more recently, Covid-19, attempts at tackling these ‘crises’ have not only conflated cross-border mobility with illness and disease, but have also served as a justification for sealing national borders. Yet there has been surprisingly little research on the intersection between forced migration, global health, and humanitarian assistance, particularly in the context of refugee hosting countries in the Global South. Building on scholarship on refugee and forced migration studies, global health security, and international relations, this thesis provides a new perspective on how the politics of health care undertaken by donors, host states, and non-governmental organizations affects the priorities of refugee health responses. This thesis considers the case study of Jordan, a country in the Middle East which hosts one of the largest refugee populations relative to its national population in the world. Based on six months of fieldwork, I investigate the ways in which the arrival of an estimated 650,000 Syrian refugees between 2012 and 2019 transformed Jordan into an arena in which large- scale national and international interests, foreign policy objectives, and power dynamics collide. Findings show that health policies affecting refugees have been increasingly co- opted within the foreign policy agendas of both donor and refugee receiving states, with wide-ranging effects on the allocation of humanitarian assistance. Such effects include a disproportionate focus on infectious diseases at the expense of more prevalent chronic diseases, and gendered and racialized constructions of ‘vulnerable’ refugees. As a result, I contend that some refugee groups – mainly women and children – are championed by certain powerful actors, while other groups within the same refugee population – such as older people and young men – are consistently overlooked.

Winkels, Alexandra
Refugees, Health, Jordan, Humanitarianism
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge