- Published on Thursday, 17 May 2012 08:55
By Diala Khalaf
In the Anniversary of Nakba- A desktop study done by Diala Khalaf about the Palestinian Refugees in UNRWA camps in Arab neighboring countries: Third part Palestinian Refugees in UNRWA camps in Jordan:
Jordan has exposed to consistent migratory waves of Palestinians since 1948 due to its political and geographical position. It received the greatest number of Palestinian refugees during the Israeli-Arab war of 1948. The country also received another wave of Palestinians after the 1967 war. In 1948, an estimated 100,000 refugees crossed the Jordan River and initially took shelter in temporary camps, in mosques and schools, or in towns and villages where they accommodate 337,571 registered refugees, or 17 per cent of the 1.9 million refugees registered with UNRWA in Jordan (UNRWA, 2009d). The refugees were accommodated in tents until the late 1950s when UNRWA replaced the tents with more durable shelters. The refugees were able to construct additional rooms as the family grew by birth and marriage and now ten official Palestine refugee camps are located in Jordan (Khawaja and Tiltnes 2002, p.12).
The camps are quite heterogeneous in regards of infrastructure conditions, density, area, economy, quality of life of their population and also population size (DPA 2000, p.23). However, it is beyond the scope of the present article to provide a thorough historical, legal or political narrative of the refuge camps.
UNRWA camp's population is growing at a faster rate than the non-camp population in Jordan as it has a slightly higher fertility rate, younger population and larger families than the population in Jordan. The average household size of the refugee camps in Jordan is 6.3 persons and this is considerably higher than those in the refugee camps in Lebanon and West Bank in addition to that the fertility rate in the camps is an average 4.6 children per woman (Khawaja and Tiltnes 2002, p.21).
UNRWA has offered education at the basic school level to all Palestinian refugees residing in the camps. It is noticed that girls outnumber boys at all levels of education in the camp refugee. However, many of the children face lasting health problems which force them not to be enrolled in schools and the poverty that also push them to leave schools in addition to the overcrowded conditions in the schools and the double shift system for education, all of this caused a higher risk of non-enrollment. Khawaja and Tiltnes (ibid: p.86) remarked that "camp children are increasingly involved in paid work, something they do out of necessity. Many people are positive to children working to support their families economically," and so boys stop going to school due to family poverty as we mentioned above and in order to support their families in addition to that many girls have left school to care for family members. Most young refugee camp children in Jordan both boys and girls attend school however when they reach the age of ten they start leaving schools. UNRWA is recently facing budget constraints which resulted in making it difficult to sustain the quality of its educational programme in the camps. The large classes with a large classroom occupancy, two shift arrangement, inadequate textbooks and other teaching material reflect symptoms of the troubled system with the low salary scales to teachers in these schools especially the newly hired, all of this also affect the education process in the camps negatively .
For the health sector in UNRWA camps in Jordan, there is a lack of facilities in the health centers and lack of required equipments that affect the health conditions for the refugees also has its negative affects on the long term health sustainability of the refugee camp. One of the weaknesses in the services provided in UNRWA is the small number of doctors available to deal with the demand for medical treatment, which combined with relatively limited opening hours, leaves the doctors with very little time for each patient (ibid: p.166) also the lack of specialists who can provide unique treatment for special cases is also encounter in the camps, so there is a huge gap in the quantity, quality and accessibility of medical services in UNRWA camps in Jordan.
The huge majority of the houses in UNRWA refugee camps in Jordan are constructed of stone and cement or brick, some are built with brick walls and zinc roofs and in a few houses asbestos is a significant building materials in Jordan (ibid: p.130). In the refugee camps in Jordan there are many features that impact negatively on the living conditions of their inhabitants and the most notable is the density of the camps in addition to the poor infrastructure facilities such as broken water supplies and non-existent or broken sewage networks in addition to the lack of recreational areas and cultural institutions. Khawaja and Tiltnes (ibid: p.12) stated "that most of the camps streets are quite narrow, varying from two to six meters in width in the Wihdat and Azmi." There are lots of regulations that prevent the expansion of houses both horizontally and vertically contributing to a situation in which the camp population lives in living quarters with three or more persons per room not counting kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and verandas. Many of the camps are now surrounded by residential areas as a result of the growth in the Jordanian population and the subsequent development of the towns and cities (UNRWA, 2009d).
In Jordan the overall unemployment rate among the camp population is relatively high especially among young who lack skills due to the low quality of education and low-skilled labor that the refugees are classified with. Many refugees were able to leave the camps when they were financially capable to do so and buy or even rent homes outside the camps to improve their life conditions, keep in mind that in the late 1970s large numbers of teachers, technicians and even laborers migrated to the Gulf countries which provides remittances to their relatives in camps and improves somehow the welfare in the overall of the camp, however after the Gulf war and the global political distortions in the Middle East this move or wave of refugee to Gulf countries decreased. Many researchers think that poverty should decline over time as refugees build on their already high human capital endowments however with the lack of migration recently and work opportunities; there is a clear concentration of poverty and other related forms of deprivation among camp refuges. Families with heads who are lacking in human capital –education- are more likely than others to face poverty in UNRWA refugee camps in Jordan. As Khawaja and Tiltnes (2002, p.66) stated " About one out of five employed or economically active heads of households in Jordan refugee camps are poor" especially that the camp refugee tend to receive lower wages than non camp refugees.
The concentration of poverty and unemployment in the UNRWA camps was associated with mounting social problems, including crowding, mental illness, and despair. Furthermore the poor infrastructure, inadequate housing conditions and the lack of social institutions such as clubs and other community associations invited mistrust and social marginality among the population of the camps.
There is a negative attitude about life in general in the refugee camps in Jordan especially with the lack of jobs and spread of poverty which drove the youth to be socialized into alternative unskillful careers or idleness. The spread of culture of poverty causes social problems in the UNRWA camps in Jordan such as Wihdat (ibid: p.66). The refugee camps in Jordan suffer from vibrant economy in the camps with perhaps higher wages and a small wealthy class of professionals, employers, and self –employed persons, the camps suffer from a clustering of poverty, unemployment and other social dislocations (ibid: p.68).
It is worth mentioning that in Jordan many refugees had been granted citizenship whenever they fulfilled the conditions imposed by the national law. But granting citizenship does not terminate refugee status under UNRWA regulations and so Palestinian refugees are still entitled to return to the land from which they were driven and to receive compensation on their dispossession Said (2005, p.351-352).