Violent conflicts and lack of opportunity have displaced millions of individuals across the Middle East over the past decades, and many of them have found refuge in Jordan. The bulk of refugees in Jordan are Palestinians and Syrians. Jordan hosts over two million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA and nearly 700,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, Although some estimate that there are closer to 1.4 million Syrians in Jordan. As of 2019, there were 10 Palestinian and five Syrian refugee camps in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This article delves into the prevalence of refugee poverty in Jordan, as well as organizations working to fight this issue.
Just under 20% of Palestinians live in refugee camps. Mass immigration of Palestinian refugees first began during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with another large spike after the 1967 War. While most refugees from 1948 have full citizenship rights in Jordan, many who came after the 1967 War do not, and a large percentage of refugees in general lack access to reliable education and healthcare and live below the national poverty line. Legal restrictions worsen refugee poverty in Jordan, as the situation in the Jerash camp shows.
In the Jerash Camp, 30,000 refugees are from the 1967 War. As many as 97% do not have a social security number, which severely limits where they can find employment, and many do not qualify for healthcare. Just under 50% of the people in camps live under the poverty line, and for those in the Jerash camp, unemployment is at almost 40%. These same Palestinian refugees see college expenses double that of Jordanians, and with few scholarship opportunities, no reliable job market and no student loans, many must forego a college education. The living conditions in these camps can reflect the lack of support for refugee poverty in Jordan. In 2018, the workforce responsible for cleaning the streets declined by over 75% due to pay cuts, leaving the camp caked with rotting trash, rats and flies.
Approximately 83% of Syrian refugees live in poverty in Jordanian cities. According to UNICEF, 85% of Syrian refugee children live below the poverty line, with 94% of these children under the age of five dealing with “multidimensional poverty,” meaning that they are unable to gain access to basic needs like education or health services. Moreover, 40% of Syrian refugee families are food insecure, 45% of children up to age five do not have proper health services and 38% of Syrian children are not in school.
Similar to many Palestinian refugees, relatively few Syrian refugees have full legal rights, and even though they have access to public services, the actual availability of those services is severely hampered due to unsustainable demand. As mentioned above, only about 17% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in camps, and it is only in these camps where they see some of their essential needs met thanks to funding by the international community.
Since 2004, Anera, a small humanitarian organization based in the Hashemite Kingdom, has been devoted to fighting Palestinian and Syrian refugee poverty in Jordan by providing education, health, community and emergency aid. In the Jerash Palestinian and Za’atari Syrian refugee camps, Anera delivers medicines, antibiotics and treatments for asthma and parasites to refugees.
Other efforts include providing materials for school and hygiene and funding for early childhood development and women’s economic empowerment programs.
UNRWA, or United Nations Relief and Works Agency, works to provide services in the 10 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. It supports 171 schools and by extension over 120,000 students, 25 healthcare centers, 10 rehabilitation centers and 14 women centers. It also provides social safety nets to almost 60,000 refugees and has awarded over $125 million in loans. UNRWA also protects vulnerable women and children by improving access to assistance and case management, as well as monitoring and advocating for the rights of Palestinian refugees in Jordan.
The Youth Base
In 2013, 27-year-old Obay Barakat started The Youth Base, a recycling initiative in the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp. Barakat, who lives in the camp, spoke with The Borgen Project about his motivations, saying, “The Baqa’a camp has more than 100,000 people in it, and they live in just two kilometers of space with no services. The situation is so bad that I started to work with schools to teach the new generation to save the environment in Baqa’a camp. The camp is not a good place when talking about population density or infrastructure, but the people here are family, and everyone helps each other.”
According to Barakat, until recently, few cared about this issue. He explains, “The hardest thing was people didn’t accept the idea, so I spent one year working only on awareness, teaching people about how recycling can solve environmental problems.” The Youth Base, which consists of Barakat and nine volunteers, works in the camp to recycle around a half-ton of metal, 10 tons of paper and eight tons of plastic every month. Barakat has used 30% of the money from recycling these materials to start a development project called Camp Theater, where they work with 120 children from the camp, making short films about societal problems like bullying, higher education, violence and harassment.
Jordan has become a center of hope for refugees forced to leave their homes in Palestine and Syria, but refugees often find themselves struggling as the scope of refugee immigration has overwhelmed the country and its resources. Refugee poverty in Jordan has become a serious humanitarian concern in the Middle East over the past decades. The international community, led by bodies like UNRWA, has stepped in to provide what aid they can, but it is smaller organizations like Anera, and even individuals like Obay Barakat, who find themselves picking up the slack. These organizations and people provide much-needed hope for those who have lost everything due to conflict and continue to struggle to find opportunities in their new homes.
– Connor Bradbury