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Raising the profile of Iraqi refugees
Raising the profile of Iraqi refugees

ABEER ETEFA, PHD '05, wants you to know that there are 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, and that these people are desperate and many feel the loss of family members killed or kidnapped.

"People need to be told more of this happening," she says. "It will be a crisis over the next few years, because so many are displaced."

It is a theme that gets "covered better" in Europe and the Middle East than in America, notes Etefa, a trained journalist whose post with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is as spokeswoman to the Arab media and senior regional global public information officer.

"First and foremost, I package information to media so as to raise the profile of refugees in the region. There are xenophobic feelings in the world right now. We try to differentiate between who is a refugee and an immigrant."

Her task is to gain "public awareness, to help ensure people understand what refugees are," says Etefa. Stationed in Cairo since joining the agency last November, she has been to Syria and Jordan multiple times and to Lebanon, the UAE, and Geneva.

Etefa was born in Cairo to parents who wanted her to become an engineer like her father. But "since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I have been reading newspapers since I was 10." She obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees from American University in Cairo, then worked with ABC News and the BBC for Middle East coverage.

Etefa moved to Portland after marrying an engineering manager with Intel, then obtained her doctorate in urban studies at PSU, teaching and working in the Office of International Affairs. She credits Portland State's ethnic and age diversity, and courses that put her in direct contact with the local and international community, with helping her land the UN position.

"In Cairo, I meet on a daily basis with the U.S. media, trying to get the word out, but producers control what gets on the news," she says.

By Cliff Collins