Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Jordanian Identity and It’s Challenges.

Within recent years Jordan has worked on their health care, literacy, democratic and economic concerns. Jordan is a country with limited natural resources. They face an immense amount of economic and social issues, and environment concerns. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Jordan received over 900,000 Palestinian refugees. Since then Jordan has received the majority of the Palestinian refugees out of the other Arab States. After the 2002 Invasion of Iraq by American and allied forces Jordan received a large amount of Iraqi displaced people. Jordan has since classified these people as guests due to political implications. Jordan was afraid there would be a repeat of the Palestinian refugee situation with the Iraqis. Therefore Jordan has not given the Iraqis refugee status but rather guest status. The large amount of Palestinian refugees and Iraqi guests pouring into the country has caused significant strain on the Jordanian Infrastructure.
Regardless of the reasons why certain groups are living in Jordan the main point is there are at least four primary groups that live within Jordan boundaries: The Bedouin, Jordanians, Iraqi Guests, and Palestinian Refugees. These four groups each have their own cultures. These four groups also have beliefs, misconceptions, and biases against each other.
One thing I noticed about my discussions with Jordanians is their crisis of identity. Jordan has a population of Bedouins, Palestinians, Jordanians, and Iraqis. In every conversation the subject of nationality came up. I heard:
  • “I’m one hundred percent Jordanian”
  • “I’m Jordanian but my parents are Palestinian”
  • “I’m Palestinian”
  • “I’m Bedouins and I don’t care about the king or any of them I just care about my people and my land”
  • “I’m Iraqi and want to go home.”
  • “I’m not Bedouin.”
The one thing I walked away from with these talks is Jordan is facing a crisis. Every person who I spoke to in regards to their nationality or lineage had comments and beliefs about the other groups in their society. Some of them were stereotypes, some were misconceptions, and others were statements based on limited truth. However these misconceptions and stereotypes mixed with anger and discontent can create a hostile environment for Jordan, particularly with a growing unemployment rate and limitation to social resources. Jordan needs to bridge a gap and create a civil society encompassing all of these communities.
Benedict Anderson refers to the concept of a nation and nationality in his article Imagined Communities. Anderson states how nations are imagined communities. These imagined communities can be created or destroyed. To create and maintain a nation there needs to be a common value, history, language, or religion.
In order to create a civil society to create a sustainable infrastructure one must create a common identity. This identity can be created through nationality, religion, or common values. Jordan is doing a lot of work trying to work on their infrastructure. However, if they don’t address their identity crisis they may face a total crumble and disentrancement of their society. The inability to solve the Palestinian Refugee and Iraqi Guest situation will only hinder the success of Jordan. If there is no end in sight Jordan must begin evaluating creating a civil society with these societies involved.
While visiting Gregera we learned about a settling project involving the Bedouins. The Bedouins had houses built by the Jordanian Government. However, the project did not approach the societal aspect of the Bedouins. Bedouins feel connected with their land and historically are roamers. Therefore the houses are often empty while the family’s animals can often be found inside the house. What also is important is the respect and acceptance of the Bedouin culture. For instance, the Bedouin schools are employed by teachers that are assigned to the communities. Often, these teachers have no knowledge of the Bedouin society or culture. Therefore, the teachers often seek to get placement elsewhere. This is detrimental to the Bedouin society for several reasons, first the education curriculum gets upset with constant change in teachers, second the Bedouin society can easily feel disempowered due to the fact that their community is considered a bad place to work and fellow Jordanians have no desire to work with them.
Jordanians face a complex of their own. First, many of them face high unemployment. Particularly the younger generation. They also face rising college costs and living costs. Jordanians have limited access to organizations that will provide these services to Jordanians. However, Iraqi guests, Palestinians, and Bedouin societies have INGos and NGOs dedicated to working to get services to those portions of the society. This can create a tremulous environment and even possible violent environment depending on how angry the societies become.
Iraqi and Palestinian refugees are groups of people who have limited ability to participate in Jordanian culture. Many Palestinians have the ability to work however sometimes cannot have traveling papers. However, many Iraqi guests are unable to work and become completely dependent on international foreign aid and the State of Jordan to cover their living expenses and needs.
Jordan is one of the largest hosts of refugees and guests within the Middle East. The percentage of refugees and guests is outgrowing Jordanians. This is causing discourse within Jordan. There is a large amount of unemployed Jordanians who are unable to receive benefits from the government of Jordan. However, refugees and guests are able to receive services from UNRWA and UNHCR as well as other NGOs, INGOs and IGOs who wish to send money to the refugee situation. These groups UNRWA, UNHCR, NGOS, and INGOS AND IGOS need to target their aid programs in a non-confrontational way. They have targeted communities with high refugee and guest populations that also have a high poverty rate. They create a blanket program to cover all those in their target areas and therefore help to prevent dismay and distrust among the societies. There is also another layer being created with this method of outreach. It is creating a central strand among the societies. All of the members of a community will come to a community center to receive whatever services are being provided it will allow for them to mingle and create bonds. This is the beginnings of creating a united civil society and building Jordan’s infrastructure. However, if it is not handled correctly it can also drive these societies farther apart.
Photo Credits: Sylvia Chung
Nicole Adam-IPS Jordan Summer 2010

Integration and Palestinian Refugees in Jordan: UNRWA's role

A few days after returning to Chicago from Amman, I was in a cab. Because I work with refugees from all over the world, I like to play a game with myself where I try to guess where a person is from by looking at their name. I stared at his license for a while, and then asked the driver where he was from. He said, "I'm Jordanian", so I asked him, "Are you Jordanian Jordanian, or Jordanian Palestinian?" He started laughing and asked me how I knew there was a difference. I explained that I had just returned from Jordan, where I had spent some time visiting refugee camps, speaking to Palestinian refugee agencies, and so on. In the end, he told me he was Palestinian. He also told me he felt most Americans understood Palestinians to be only the people living in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, without knowing that most Palestinian refugees live in Jordan.

I relate this story because, in almost all cases, to be a Jordanian Palestinian means that this cab driver, his parents, and his grandparents before him were all refugees. Jordan's Palestinian refugee situation is unique in the world, because most of the refugees who fled to Jordan in 1948 and in 1967 were granted full rights and Jordanian citizenship [1]. Traditionally, in a protracted refugee situation, people are continuously classified as refugees and confined to camps, until they can return home or are resettled in a third country. Accordingly, refugees resettled in the U.S. are only refugees for their first year—after that, they are required to become legal permanent residents. At the same time, refugees from the 1972 Burundian genocide who still live in camps in Tanzania have been refugees for 38 years, and there is no sign this will change any time soon.

But Jordan is a special case. When the first wave of refugees, totaling almost 750,000, arrived in Jordan in 1948, the UN Refugee Convention did not exist, and therefore there was no internationally recognized definition of a 'refugee', and no established system for their protection. The UN did realize that it needed to intervene, and so created the UN Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA) in 1950. That was the same year that Jordan granted full rights to the refugees within its borders. However, because there was no established definition of a refugee, UNRWA was left to create one. UNRWA defines a Palestinian refugee as "a person whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948," but what makes the definition remarkable is that it also grants the right of registration as refugees to the descendants of these refugees.

Because each subsequent generation has the right to register as a refugee, Jordan has the largest Palestinian refugee population in the world, totaling 1,983,733 people. UNRWA shares responsibility for the Palestinian refugees with the Department of Palestinian Affairs (DPA), a branch of the Jordanian Government. According to the Director General of the DPA, over 110 NGOs are also active in the camps, providing vocational training, social services, and advocacy. During my time in Jordan, I had the good fortune to meet Matar Saqer, Public Information Office for UNRWA, who provided our group with valuable insights regarding the Palestinian refugee situation.

Mr. Saqer is a soft-spoken man with excellent English, who was enthusiastic about sharing his professional and personal experience. He introduced himself to our group, and after listing his job duties, he told us he was a Palestinian refugee himself, and had grown up in one of the camps he now helped administer. He focused on three main points: UNRWA's role as a pioneer in education and micro-lending, UNRWA's role in health services, and UNRWA as a political agent. Mr. Saqer explained that UNRWA is tasked with the first 9 years of education in the camps, and administers 173 schools, of which 49% of the pupils are female. A report released for the 60th anniversary of UNRWA credits their excellent school system for "paving the way for economic self-sufficiency for the vast majority of refugees" (Takkenberg, 256). The 49% female enrollment has been true since the 1960s. In fact, while I was in Jordan, I repeatedly heard Jordanians and Palestinians remark that often, Palestinians received a better education than the Jordanians. Mr. Saqer also explained that UNRWA pioneered the concept of vocational training in the region, training over 1300 students in Jordan every year, and since 2003, over 21,000 microloans have been awarded. Although two-thirds of UNRWA's budget is spent on education, the organization also funds 24 primary health clinics. In 2009, there were two and a half million patient visits to these health centers. Perhaps even more significantly, Mr. Saqer stated that all 24 clinics offer family planning services, and that he had personally heard women asking for contraception. Let me interject here with a personal note: I work with refugees who have lived in camps and as refugees in countries of first asylum. The stories they tell are of a lack of basic necessities such as shelter, food, and water, not to mention a lack of education, inadequate or no access to health care (much less contraception), and perhaps worst of all, being relegated to a life that bars them from integrating, from belonging. What UNRWA has done and continues to do, particularly with a $100 million deficit, is amazing.

But UNRWA is also a political symbol. When asked what that meant, Mr. Saqer responded that he thought UNRWA had neglected the refugee relationship—that somehow, it had bred dependence rather than active participation or partnership. For the majority of its sixty year existence, UNRWA has been a place-keeper of sorts: defining all the descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees, regardless of their rights or integration into Jordanian society, also guarantees their right of return. This was echoed by Wajeeh Azayzeh, Deputy Director of the DPA, whom I met on the last day of our trip, who stated that UNRWA must continue to exist because it represents the stance the international community took when the refugee situation first began.

I admit that I am torn about this perspective, because my work in the U.S. focuses so much on the idea of integration. The primary reason that refugees apply for resettlement is because they recognize that they will never be able to go home, and in that regard, attaining residency and then citizenship grants them the rights they were being denied in their country of first asylum. Resettlement is one of the three durable solutions that the UN advocates for, the other two being to return home or to integrate (i.e., become citizens) in the country of first asylum. At first glance, it seems that the UN achieved this second durable solution with most Palestinian refugees in Jordan. And yet, through the continued existence of UNRWA and the classification of descendants as refugees, this protracted refugee situation continues and in fact grows with each subsequent generation. Of course, nothing related to this issue is simple; when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began, no one knew or imagined that it would last this long, especially the Palestinians. I spoke to a camp director who said that many of the 1948 refugees still had the keys to their houses in Palestine, and his aunt, whom we met on the streets of the camp, told us that all she wanted was to go home to Palestine so she could die in her homeland. While I do not know her exact age, she must have been six or seven when her family fled to Jordan.

There is no easy resolution, I do not even know if there is a complicated one. The Palestinian refugees in Jordan came from over 450 towns and villages in Palestine, and those refugees and the refugee workers we spoke to all stated the same thing: they want to go home, to their home, to their house. They are not ungrateful to the Jordanian government for the freedoms and protections afforded to them, but they do not feel Jordanian. Before going to Jordan, and particularly before meeting with Mr. Saqer and all of the other men and women who work with and serve Palestinian refugees, I know I equated citizenship with integration, with the idea of a new beginning, of belonging. Now, I'm not so sure.

Lauren Pérez

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan: Fear of Becoming “Palestinised”

Although Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the government, national civil society, and multilateral organizations are highly involved in the multidimensional work of protecting and assisting Iraqi and Palestinian refugee populations.  During our stay we heard many Jordanians talk about the fear of the “Palestinization” of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan.  Quite understandable, considering that twenty percent of Jordan’s population are refugees and acknowledging the impact this has, not only on the infrastructure of the already resource-poor country, but on the attitudes of its people and the stability of the country.  There seemed to be a national understanding that Iraqi refugee protection in Jordan is an interim solution and that repatriation, or third country resettlement, is the preferred solution to local integration.  This was most obviously observed in the national rhetoric of labeling Iraqi refugees as “guests” rather than acknowledging them as refugees.  Although this sounds very welcoming and hospitable, it unfortunately undermines the seriousness of present day security issues in Iraq and the fears that many Iraqis have of returning to their homes.  Amnesty International reported in 2008 that “The reality is that the crisis for Iraq’s refugees and internally displaced is worsening and will remain a problem requiring international attention for years to come.” [1] 

During our stay in Jordan, we never really had the opportunity to talk directly with Iraqis to ask them about their own fears of becoming “Palestinised.”  A 2009 report from the Refugee Studies Centre explains how “Most (Iraqi) refugees in Arab host countries feel they are marooned, faced by the prospect of long-term exile and declining interest from governments and support networks.”[2]  As the world’s attention shifts away from Iraq to Afghanistan and elsewhere, Iraqi refugees must feel increasingly more isolated and abandoned.  In Jordan, Iraqi guests live along side the estimated 1.9 million Palestinian refugees[3] who are still fighting for their right to return home, sixty years after having been expelled from their country.  I imagine that for Iraqi refugees living in Jordan, the proximity to the Palestinian refugee crisis must prompt a degree of introspection into their own realities and contemplation over whether this scenario could also happen to them.   

We met with various organizations working with Iraqi refugee populations including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and several national civil society organizations.  Along with the Jordanian government agencies, these organizations are doing a tremendous amount of work and are concerned about the security and protection of Iraqi human rights issues.  UNHCR provided valuable insight into what have been the key components to effectively working with Iraqi refugee populations. Improving intergovernmental and interagency collaboration and communication as well as remaining flexible and innovative in their approach to new refugee populations were top on their list.  

In 2006, when the major influx occurred of Iraqi refugees to surrounding Arab nations, a Human Rights Watch report detailed the dire circumstances of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.  The report exposed how Iraqis had no legal status, no access to work, were unable to travel, had inadequate schooling options for their children, and that many refugees were failing to register with UNHCR due to limited access to information and fear.  UNHCR responded by informing government agencies of the scale and seriousness of the crisis and began building stronger relations with the Jordanian government, host governments, and destination countries for resettlement.  Since 2006, UNHCR has been successful in collaborating with the Jordanian government to create government departments designed to protect and assist Iraqi refugees, to organize trainings with the police force and government officials on national policies regarding refugee protection and how to communicate this information, and to sponsor informational seminars at educational institutions around the region. 

The Iraqi refugee crisis has required agencies and governments to rethink what they know about refugee protection and service provision.  UNHCR realized that former methods were not going to be successful in reaching Iraqi refugees dispersed in urban, rather than camp, settings.  Iraqis have been hesitant in trusting the Iraqi government, host governments, and agencies such as UNHCR because of past trauma and present uncertainties and misinformation.  Fear of detention sweeps cause many to remain invisible with hopes of surviving and finding work in the informal economy until they can return back safely to Iraq.  UNHCR has adapted strategies to incorporate outreach programs as their key component in reaching communities of Iraqi refugees and field workers spend time going to neighborhoods, educating refugees on their rights, and slowly building credibility. 

We didn’t have many chances to talk directly with Iraqi refugees during our stay but we were able to attend an International Refugee Day event at the Princess Basma Youth Resource Center, coordinated and attended by Iraqi refugees.  We were given front row seats, were gifted with t-shirts, mugs, candies, coffee and tea.  Throughout our trip I felt extremely handicapped by the fact that I do not speak Arabic, however I understood so clearly how this event was a combination of celebration, suffering, and remembrance.  This kind of emotion is universal and transcends language. A woman recited a poem repeating the words “Iraq” and “Baghdad” over and over in an expression of longing and nostalgia, a grandmother performed a skit where she sat singing traditional songs to her grandchildren as a lesson in honoring tradition and retaining a sense of where you come from, and an Iraq trivia game with prizes rewarding those who answered correctly and helped retain collective memory and celebrate culture. 

As the event came to a close they invited us all to join them on stage and we joined hands and danced in a circle.  As I looked around me at the colors, the faces, and the celebration that was happening all around us, I struggled tremendously.  I became very present to the fact that our governments actions in the region have caused this crisis and with the knowledge that the U.S. has done too little too late with the capacity and resources they could utilize to find more expeditious solutions to the crisis.  I knew that the only thing I was capable of doing at that moment was to listen, to observe, and to be a witness to their testimonies, and their celebration.  I hope that our presence was seen as an act of solidarity, a shared desire for a just outcome, and a silent apology.

Photos (Sarah Cunningham)

[1] 2.  Amnesty International (2008) Iraq: Rhetoric and Reality: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis.  Available at   (1-70)

[2] 2. Refugee Studies Centre.  “Iraq’s Refugees – Beyond ‘Tolerance’”.  Dr. Philip Marfleet and Dr. Dawn Chatty.  December 2009. (1-29)

[3] UNRWA. Jordan.  Accessed July 23, 2010.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Balancing Politics and Culture in Refugee Service

The article, “Political Limits to Nongovernmental Organizations in Jordan”, illustrates the struggles that many non-governmental organizations face in attempting to not only provide services for their communities but to also advocate social issues that are addressed within those communities. Advocating human rights or peace issues in many countries, including Jordan, is a real challenge. How is any organization that is supposed to aid refugee populations to effectively uphold its mission due to its very nature of being a social, political, and human rights issue? How much does the ancient value of ‘collective obedience to the state’ affect expectations for Jordanians today to sacrifice Western values of independence for the greater good of the country?

What I had mostly seen during our trip gave the impression of progress and hope of capacity-building and social development. When touring either the Princess Basma’s Youth Resource Center (PBYRC), the Ecumenical Studies Center (ESC) or any other social service provider, I was struck by some apparent commonalities between each organization. From general appearances, it seemed beneficiaries were appreciative that their basic needs were being met, each NGO worker had a presentation ready with figures and achievements, and although each organization may have been struggling due to a lack of funding, social services were continuing to be provided and in fact, expanding. If there was any redress to be dealt with, the government was not openly criticized for it whilst in our presence.

An objective for myself was to listen to our various hosts without having much expectation or biases of what I would see or hear in regards to its relationship with government agencies . I couldn’t help but wonder, however, whether our group of American students were spending time equally with various sectors of society; the policy-makers and administrators, service volunteers and educators, foreign NGO workers and donors. We did witness the fulfillment of allowing social and cultural NGOs to operate and provide for local communities. During our trip, I felt a slight government presence among us, but not an imposing one. I felt the shadowy presence with our police driver who chauffeured us around, which was a gesture of Jordanian hospitality, and of course by seeing portraits of the royal family most places we went. As I was learning about this country and its culture, I initially did not know what to make of it other than thinking that tribes, ministries, government agencies, citizens, refugees and the royal family were very much interconnected. How much of this was due to a facet of Arab culture being a “group culture” and how much of this was due to a government that sees its role as paternalistic, a “father-figure” that tries to do the most general good?

Many NGOs such as the ESC, display photographs of the royal family, depicting the interconnectedness between national government and local society.

This sense of the Kingdom being extra vigilant of the people and organizations within its borders seems to be a protective measure. Protective because there are many economic, geographical, and political threats to the stability of Jordan’s government and NGO infrastructure as well as the surrounding region1. There is no doubt that the Jordanian government and society as a whole has to contend with external political factors, such as conflicts in neighboring countries that push asylum-seekers across its borders. This migratory wave may even sometimes also push political issues across borders that result in new internal conflict such as the 2005 hotel bombings. There is also no doubt that Jordan is dealing with economic and resource scarcities that are further strained by a mass migration of refugees.

This view of an overbearing government should be taken into consideration also with the Arab culture of unity. Arab culture is historically a culture that values family, the “group” structure, and unity rather than individualism. The “group mentality” that permeates throughout Jordanian society and government seeks to be inclusive and to protect as well as provide. There is a collaborative gap though between small organizations that provide services to refugees and their surrounding communities, such as Al Baqa’a Women’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative and the Ecumenical Studies Center with the government. The work that the women in the Al Baqa’a camp are doing is self-sustaining and the work that the ESC is trying to do is raising young leaders and peace-building. The terms “peace” and “human rights” may trigger caution as many types of activism can be seen as threatening by a government. And although there are many agencies with beneficial programs, the monarchy heavily funds royal NGOs more so than organizations such as Al Baqa’a or ESC. Supporting royal NGOs is a potential platform for spreading a government agenda. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is one such organization being used as a political platform by the government.

The Palestinian case is by default a national security, economic, humanitarian, and political interest to Jordan. According to UNRWA’s Public Information Officer, Mr. Matar Saqer, himself a former refugee, UNRWA provides “quasi-government” services and is supported by (limited) finances and advocacy by the Kingdom. Because it is a national interest to Jordan and a way to plead the Palestinian case in Jordan to the world, UNRWA is allowed to be the pioneer for conflict resolution and the teachings of human rights from childhood. In contrast, as the article mentions, the “education of” human rights and the ability to advocate it are two separate and not necessarily cohesive notions.

The government plays a vital role in making sure the proverbial “pot” of NGO dynamics in Jordan that could have political activism is not stirred, which may upset the current political dynamics in Jordan. And Jordan does this somewhat successfully by investing in the socioeconomic sector as well as by appointing government overseers in many NGOs1. To the outsider, Jordan’s focus on social development may appear as a success, but digging deeper, Jordan is trying to maintain stability within itself and the region. There is still a yearning by poor Jordanians, local NGO workers, refugees, and other citizens for growth in social service programs but also for independence to research the needs of their communities and to advocate for them.

(Photo Credit: Bemnet Yigzaw)

A Question of Identity

I have several friends in Chicago who are of Palestinian descent. Their pride in being Palestinian and commitment to Palestine was always admirable. Although my friends are second, and sometimes third-generation Americans, their allegiance to Palestine is seemingly ingrained in them. It was not until meeting with Palestinians in Jordan, however, that I truly understood the depth of the Palestinian identity. It is fair to say that most Palestinians in Jordan, like my friends, have never set foot in Palestine. They were born, raised, and will in all honesty probably die in Jordan. Their allegiance and pride in Palestine, however, does not waver. Jordan is not their home, although they were born there. Their sense of identity lies across the border. Identity is something that is created over time, and becomes internalized. While Jordanians and Palestinians may be from the same area, they could not be more different.

The Palestinian refugees in Jordan seemingly have a very simple wish: they want to return to Palestine. They want to go home. This simple wish however, could not be more complicated. The politics in this region border on insane. The reality of them returning is minimal. Even with this knowledge, the Palestinian refugees have an incredibly strong sense of home. Frankly, it took me aback a little bit. Certainly I was aware of this sense from my friends, but I really had no clue it ran so pervasive throughout all levels of Palestinian society in Jordan. There are both negative and positive aspects to having such a dedication to the idea of returning to Palestine.

On a positive note, the Palestinian identity is unifying. It is unifying like nothing I have ever really seen in my life. Palestinian refugees in Jordan have had, and are having, difficult experiences. The very knowledge that they have a homeland to dream about, and a people to be proud of unites them incredibly. Because they are united, they are able to better tolerate the conditions in which they live. While many Palestinians in Jordan have fully integrated into society, many more still live separated. It is their identity and shared suffering that keeps them strong. The fact that as a people they have been through trials and tribulations keeps them united. Crisis and persecution will unite a people greatly. Under duress, the Palestinian refugees have created a strong society. Although many of them live in difficult conditions, the refugees are able to keep hope alive. This is perhaps do to their difficult conditions, they can only dream of their homeland. The dream keeps them going, it makes them get up in the morning and face another day of strife and hardship. However, their unity also helps them defeat strife through pure ingenuity. We saw initiative after initiative of Palestinian refugees helping themselves, and ultimately helping everyone in the community. However, there is a downside to the obsession with a homeland return.

Unless it is by a miracle (which could happen), Palestinian refugees are never going to return to Palestine. There is absolutely no way that the state of Israel is going to let hundreds of thousands of Palestinians return to their homes. They are too invested in their own security to allow such a mass return. Israel is in the business of hurting the Palestinian cause and Palestinians. I highly doubt that they will have a sudden change of heart and let everyone they forced out (and their descendants) come back. Moreover, there simply would not be the infrastructure to support such a return to Palestine. As sad as it is, Palestinian refugees are not going home, at least not anytime soon. This is where the idea of Palestinian identity and unity can pose somewhat of a problem. While it certainly is a unifying factor and imperative to morale, the identity can also be detrimental. Palestinian refugees have accepted the cards that have been dealt to them. They live in horrible conditions, but if a way it seems like there is not a lot of impetus to get out of those situations. While that sounds awful to say, it may be partly true. If the Palestinians live in horrible conditions, it gives them more reason to exploit their plight, and it forces the world to pay attention. I am sure that some Palestinian refugees are afraid of fully becoming part of Jordanian society, or accepting Jordanian citizenship because they may lose their Palestinian identity. Also, if they give in and integrate the rest of the world may think that they have given up the idea of returning home. Therefore, there they stay. Stuck in a horrible situation with an identity crisis. They know who they are, and where they came from. However, they have no clue where they are going. They know they can stay in Jordan however, which is more than the Iraqi guests can say.

As opposed to Palestinian refugees, the Iraqi situation in Jordan poses sometimes more difficult questions. While the Palestinians have the right to work, and live in Jordan-the Iraqis do not. They are not classified as refugees. Their identity has been lost. They cannot go home, but they certainly cannot stay in Jordan. The Kingdom simply is unable to support such a large population of people. They can barely support their own people, or the Palestinians. The Iraqis in Jordan are having difficulty assimilating to Jordanian culture. Within Jordan there is a lot of backlash against their presence. They are not welcome, and they know it. They come from a country that was at one time fairly middle-class. They are oftentimes highly educated, and have trouble adjusting. Jordan is just a place of transition for them; their fates lie elsewhere. They can either return to Iraq and face danger, or go to a third country-usually the United States.

The Palestinian refugees and Iraqi guests may share different pasts, and different futures, but they are both stuck in the same place. When it comes down to it, Jordan is a pretty good place to be stuck in. It may not be home, but at least it is safe and stable. Until the refugees and guests can go home (if ever), Jordan will have to remain their safe haven.

-Timothy Scheel

Photo Credit: Timothy Scheel

Jordan: It's a Team Effort

Jordan hosts an estimated 42% of the world’s refugee population. This is the largest concentrated population of refugees in the world. And it is no small feat for a relatively small country (which has recently moved from 5th to 4th on the global water poverty index). Of course, Jordan is not supporting its refugee population alone – the international community, on various levels and for various political reasons, needs the country to be strong and stable. We learned during the information session at the U.S Embassy in Jordan that per capita Jordan receives more U.S. aid than any other country in the world. And beyond basic international funding, multiple United Nations agencies work in Jordan. We were able to visit the offices of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Amman, Jordan. We also had an interesting presentation from the United Nations World Food Programme, during a seminar at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. However, this piece focuses UNRWA primarily, with some reference to UNHCR. In addition to their programmatic efforts, these two UN agencies provide direct assistance to the populations they work with, whereas UNWFP has phased out its direct assistance efforts.

All three UN agencies function effectively and efficiently, which being the UN did not surprise me. However after meeting with various national organizations, NGOs and their teams on the ground, it was apparent that in order for an international, and especially a Western, organization to function smoothly it must be keenly aware of the cultural dynamic inherit in the local communities. While both UNRWA and UNHCR worked within this dichotomy, UNRWA was better equipped with the social and political capital to do so. This, could be argued, is related to UNRWA’s “special” status within UN agencies, and for that matter the international community. Our presenter, a UNRWA staff member who is a Palestinian refugee born in a camp, informed us that UNRWA is a stand alone agency, in that it was created to assist one target population, Palestinians. Decades after al-Nakaba (the catastrophe) UNRWA is an integral piece of Jordanian society and it continues to be a much needed agency; moreover, he explained, UNRWA’s uniqueness is largely in part due to its symbolic nature; the agency’s continued existence is a gesture to Palestinians as well as Palestinian refugees that the world has not forgotten about them. Another part of its uniqueness is that it is funded primarily by various international governments. UNRWA needs 100 million dollar annually to continue its services; their budget is not part of the general UN budget and it received funding for the budget primarily from donations of various governments. The officer explained that the UN is paid by assessed fees of member countries; USA provides 25% the budget and the European Union provides 40%, while low income countries budget accordingly. It was clear during the presentation and discussion that donating to UNRWA is both political and symbolic.

Beyond the uniqueness of UNRWA, it is important to note that while Jordan hosts the highest number of refugees, and is home to various refugee service agencies; it is not a signatory of the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention. Such a thing can happen because of the high level of coordination and cooperation supplied by the Jordanian government. For years Jordan has been able to have sustainable collaboration between the monarchy, various internal government agencies (such as ministries) as well as a network of diverse international government agencies and non-governmental agencies. In order to provide best service the government has created different ministries, which assist various organizations, persons, and development initiatives. We had the chance to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Social Development. Both were fascinating insights into how government agencies work separately yet collectively to serve their country. During our discussion at the Ministry of Social development a deputy minister explained that all organizations, including those categorized as non-governmental, must be registered with one of the ministries and that they must seek ministry approval for all funding. He explained that “if an agency does not reveal their funding, then they must be doing something wrong.” While I think there is more to it than just that, I was pleased to hear that the ministry listened to suggestions of those reporting to it. The ministries had recently put into motion a ruling that if an organization did not hear from the ministry within 30 days, then their funding request was approved. (If they did hear, then something was amuck.) Such high regulation was a bit shocking to me after hearing and learning about such cohesion and collaboration on all levels, but it also occurred to me that the success Jordan has had with cross-institutional cohesion does not come from an ambiguous government – it is established through defined boundaries.

While I may not always agree with what the Jordanian government (or any government!) believes is a best practice, I do believe that the monarchy, government UN agencies, as well as the plethora of other service agencies, promote good stewardship of resources. To demonstrate this, both UNRWA and UNHCR, discussed the symbiotic nature of their relationship with the Jordanian government and monarchy. Each organization was acutely aware that, in order to best serve their target populations, they need to fit seamlessly into the workings of Jordanian life, culture and politics. They especially need to allow the government to realize and come to terms with the fact that they are capable of absorbing high populations of refugees, or “guests”, and that the absorbed population does not pose a threat to the Jordanian people, not out right at least. The relationship between the UN agencies and the government is delicate. However, it is apparent that they each appreciate that they cannot do the task individually. This, I believe, touches on the Jordanian culture of collectiveness and working as a unit, and that these agencies have mastered what it means to work in a cross-cultural world.

Photo credits: Cathleen Evans