Palestinians in Jordan: Same but different
Maha Al-Kahef, Marina Ferhatovic and Haneen Aweis
It is hard to distinguish a person with Palestinian origin from a Jordanian on the streets of Amman. However in the Jordanian society they often have completely different rights and possibilities. And for some lack of integration is the least of problems.
Sewage water runs down the steep streets of the camp. A boy runs up the street with a blue home made paper kite. We are in the Jabal el-Hussein camp, in East Amman, a home for 29,520 Palestinian refugees. Here and there we meet large groups of children walking home from the school or playing in the narrow passages.
” I worry about my children. The environment is too hard for them. Dirty streets, bad smell and dangerous people around us. The only entertainment they experience is watching the TV or playing football on the streets”, says Om Ramiz, a Palestinian women, living in the camp.
She is 31 years old and lives in very simple conditions together with her husband and their five children. The apartment lacks furniture and all the family members sleep on thin mattresses on the floor.
The poverty surrounds them inside and outside. But there seems to be no way out of it. Every day they have to spend 8 to 10 JD to feed the family and pay for other expenses. Even that amount is too much for them considering the fact that Om Ramiz’s husband is the only one who is working.
“We suffer a lot because of our economic situation. We want to leave the camp but there is no money”.
For this family, there are more acute problems than integrating into the Jordanian society. On her relation to Jordanian people Om Ramiz had to say: “They don’t live in this part of the town. And my children go to a special school for refugees. So, we don’t usually meet them in our daily lives”.
According to UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, this is a reality for 328,006 people living in the camps.
In total there are between 2 and 3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Matar Saqar, press officer at UNRWA, believes that many of them don’t have equal rights as other citizens: “There is discrimination within certain areas of work. Palestinians don’t always have the same possibility to work within the government, police, security or social services. Our loyalty to the state is always under doubt”.
But many people of Palestinian origin have overcome the economic difficulties and enjoy a good quality of life in Jordan. However even they experience the gap between the two groups.
This is obvious in the case of Rana*, 26 years old, daughter of a rich owner of a bakery chain. Five years ago she fell in love with a Jordanian guy but her father would not allow her to marry him.
“I knew that it was because he is Jordanian. My dad did not trust him because he did not know his origin or family”, Rana says.
After two failed proposals the couple are still in contact but cannot spend any time alone together. For Rana, this is frustrating: “I would love to take a long drive with him and not have to worry about what people would think. Even if there is no chance for us to get married I will not marry any other man.”
Even if Rana’s problem seams small compared to the situation in the camp, it reflects that there is a lot of mistrust between those of Palestinian origin and Jordanians.
To solve this problem King Abdullah has taken clear initiatives in the last five years. In 2003 the process called “Jordan first” was launched to create guide lines for reforms. Two years ago 700 decision makers, journalists and academics discussed how to bring about unity in the country in a forum “We are all Jordan”.
Matar Saqar believes that these are steps in the right direction: “It means that everyone with Jordanian citizenship is a Jordanian. Even if it has not been expressed directly, this initiative aimed at integration between Palestinians and Jordanians.”
Rana herself has noticed a positive change in the society after this. Even other factors like the modernisation of the society, access to media and growth of the civil society have contributed to the progress.
But how this will help Om Ramiz and her family in the camp remains unclear.
*Rana is not her real name