Yasmein Okour (2019)

Dana in the nature perserve.


Title: Understanding the Transportation Experiences of Refugees: A Case Study of Iraqi and Syrian Refugees in Erie County, NY

My dissertation examines the transportation experiences of Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Erie County, NY using an exploratory qualitative approach. Transportation is critical for the successful resettlement of refugees and their access to vital resources and opportunities. However, refugee research has highlighted transportation as a significant area of struggle. This is especially important in areas like Erie County, New York, where refugee resettlement is concentrated in opportunity-poor neighborhoods that face persistent disinvestment and decline. Despite its importance, refugee transportation and their equity concerns remain significantly understudied.

The results of this study indicate: 1) Service providers lack a comprehensive understanding of the transportation challenges of Iraqi and Syrian refugees; 2) Perception of refugee experiences as temporary and individual reproduce the inequities refugees face; 3) Refugee resettlement in impoverished and opportunity-poor neighborhoods under the assumption of available ethnic support contributes to refugees’ state of inaccessibility and perceived segregation; 4) Self-sufficiency approaches to refugee resettlement is a challenge to addressing the transportation disadvantages and equity concerns of refugees; 5) Limited representation of refugee voices in decision-making processes undermines refugee service provision and transportation equity.

The findings point to the importance of advancing an equity agenda in refugee service provision to achieve socially just outcomes for refugees. This includes acknowledging the limitations inherent within resettlement policies, understanding the varying needs of refugee groups, fostering collaborative practices between service providers, and amplifying refugee participation and representation in decision-making.

  • Dissertation Committee: Nicholas Rajkovich (Chair), Samina Raja, Robert Silverman
  • Research Assistant, Resilient Buildings Laboratory (Nicholas Rajkovich)

How did your experience at UB shape your research and career goals?

To research and teach urban planning in a country where urban planning education is limited, but urban planning challenges are plenty, has pushed me to reflect on my experience at UB and question my career goals as an urban planner and educator. Specifically, the commitment of the School of Architecture and Design at UB to be agents of change for the local community has shown me that planning schools should not only be incubators for scholarly activities, but also play a significant role in local community development.

As a result, I sought and received a grant to critically evaluate the gap between community development needs and planning education and research in Jordan. I have advocated for the development of the urban planning curriculum to incorporate issues of climate change, equity and justice, and to encourage further collaboration between the urban planning department and local community organizations. I also push my students to challenge and question how we plan for inclusivity, equity, and development.

Moreover, the significant work of the Resilient Buildings Lab, led by Prof. Rajkovich, and the Food Lab, led by Prof. Raja, has shown me what an inclusive research environment committed to improving quality of life can look like. As an early career researcher in Jordan working on curating similar collaborative research environments, such exposure has been very helpful.    

Overall, UB has taught me be to be critical of the spaces I occupy within academia and urban planning, and to continuously reflect on my position within academic and research spaces in Jordan. Indeed, the practice of “self-reflection” nurtured and encouraged by my advisor, faculty, and colleagues at UB has been key to my post-PhD journey.

Selected Publication

  • Rajkovich, N.B. and Okour, Y., 2019. Climate Change Resilience Strategies for the Building Sector: Examining Existing Domains of Resilience Utilized by Design Professionals. Sustainability, 11(10), pp.1-15. [DOI: 10.3390/su11102888]
  • Bohm, M, Rajkovich, N. B., Okour, Y., Gilman, E., and Mulligan, T. J., 2019. Climate Adaptation by Design: Overview for New York State Building Professionals. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Albany, New York. Retrieved from http://ap.buffalo.edu/adapting-buildings
  • Okour, Y., Rajkovich, N., Bohm, M., 2019. Balancing Adaptation and Mitigation in the Building Sector of New York State. In: Leal Filho W. (eds) Handbook of Climate Change Resilience. Springer, Cham. [DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-71025-9_124-1]
  • Okour, Y., 2017. Designing healthy communities. Community Development, 48(5), pp.753-754. [DOI: 10.1080/15575330.2017.1369650]
  • Ghariabeh, A., Jaradat, R., Okour, Y., Al-Rawabdeh, A. 2017. Landscape perception and landscape change for the city of Irbid, Jordan. Journal of Architecture and Planning – King Saud University. 29 (1), pp. 98-104.

Current position

Upon graduating from UB, I joined the department of City Planning and Design at the Jordan University of Science and Technology as an assistant professor. I also accepted a position as a research associate in an international project titled “Rethinking employment and social inclusion of Mediterranean youth through sustainable development– RESMYLE”, funded by the European Neighborhood Instrument, Cross Border Cooperation Mediterranean Sea Basin program (ENI CBCMED).