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Villes, pratiques urbaines et construction nationale en Jordanie

 | 
Myriam Ababsa
, 
Rami Farouk Daher

Deuxième partie. Politiques urbaines et disparités sociales / Second Part. Urban Politics and Social Disparities

The Evolution of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Jordan. Between Logics of Exclusion and Integration

L’évolution des camps de réfugiés palestiniens en Jordanie. Entre logiques d’exclusion et d’intégration

Jalal al-Husseini

Résumé

Bien qu’ils n’abritent que 20 % des réfugiés palestiniens, les dix camps de réfugiés officiels gérés conjointement par l’UNRWA et la Jordanie sont le symbole officiel de la volonté des réfugiés de préserver leur «  droit au retour  ». Mais ces espaces urbains très denses sont aussi perçus, de façon plus négative, comme des foyers d’opposition islamiste et de marginalisation socioéconomique dont l’existence menace potentiellement les efforts mis en œuvre par les autorités jordaniennes afin de moderniser le pays.

L’article analyse la manière dont la Jordanie et l’UNRWA ont géré, à travers l’évolution de leur administration des camps, les différentes dimensions symboliques liées à la question des réfugiés. Ce faisant, il souligne l’impact de leurs politiques sur les rapports qu’ont entretenus les camps et leurs habitants avec leur entourage immédiat à travers les décennies en termes d’intégration ou d’exclusion. La spécificité politique des camps en tant qu’espaces dans l’attente d’un retour aux foyers originels a imposé l’élaboration de directives urbanistiques d’exception (hors des plans municipaux des villes de Jordanie) destinées à maintenir leur aspect temporaire et, partant, leur signification politique particulière. Aucun plan d’urbanisation des camps ne fut jamais développé. Ce sont leurs habitants qui, sans grande assistance, entreprirent d’étendre horizontalement les unités d’habitation initiales. Cela explique l’aspect anarchique des camps, l’absence d’espaces récréatifs ainsi que l’exiguïté de leurs ruelles.

Ce mode de gouvernance semi-informel, dû en partie à la sensibilité politique de toute intervention dans les camps («  sanctuaires  » du droit au retour) a été mis en cause par la conclusion d’un accord de paix avec Israël en 1994 et l‘échec du processus de paix israélo-palestinien dès 2000. La volonté subséquente des autorités jordaniennes de modernisation du pays en dépit de l’absence d’un accord sur la question des réfugiés a conduit les autorités jordaniennes à intégrer les camps à des programmes nationaux de réhabilitation des quartiers défavorisés. Ce développement, qui se conjugue à une diminution des services humanitaires de l’UNRWA, laisse présager une marginalisation politique des camps dont la représentation risque de ne plus se formuler qu’en termes de lieux de pauvreté et de déclassement social.

Texte intégral

  • 1 UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) is the h (...)

1Jordan hosts ten ‘official refugee camps’, namely camps that are managed jointly by local authorities and UNRWA1. This article analyzes the evolution of their physical and housing infrastructure against the background of the country’s socioeconomic and political development and within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict/peace process.

  • 2 The only refugee category that was not granted citizenship are the 40,000-50,000 persons from the G (...)

2How relevant is it to analyze refugee realities through the prism of a host country’s internal policies? Six decades after their exodus, the Palestinian refugees spread across the Middle East (about 90% of the Palestinian refugees worldwide) remain generally defined as temporary stateless exiles vying for their return to their homes in historic Palestine. Their situation in Jordan differs somewhat from this general picture. Unlike the other Arab host countries that have kept Palestinian refugees stateless, Jordan has granted them formal citizenship without denying their right of return. In 1949, the refugee population under Jordanian sovereignty amounted to about 70,000 in (Trans)Jordan and 280,000 in the West Bank. Citizenship was also conferred on the 462,000 indigenous West Bankers (De Bel-Air, 2003: 83). The Palestinian refugees thus became fully fledged Jordanian citizens, endowed with the same rights and duties as any native Jordanian citizen, pending the day when they would be given the opportunity to choose between repatriation to Palestine or permanent settlement in Jordan or elsewhere.2 This unique citizen/refugee status has placed them within a web of formal and informal balancing mechanisms of inclusion/exclusion meant to guarantee their integration within Jordan’s society while preserving their right of return.

  • 3 Only a minority of registered refugees across the Near East lives (or has lived) in the camps: 29%. (...)

3Although they are presently home to less than one fifth of the total refugee population living in Jordan, namely 338,000 out of 1.9 million refugees (UNRWA, 2009),3 the refugee camps epitomize the dilemma pertaining to the refugees’ dual Palestinian/Jordanian identity. Generally viewed as the most vivid markers of the refugees’ and Jordan’s unified commitment to the right of return, they are simultaneously portrayed either as hubs of potential political dissent or as places of social marginalization that affect the country’s drive towards liberal modernization.

  • 4 The refugees and the Arab world as a whole consider that the “right of return” has been endorsed by (...)

4This article explores this dilemma through the analysis of the camp management policies pursued by national and international stakeholders since the early 1950s. Following a first historical section that investigates the origins of the camps in Jordan and tackles their representations within the Jordanian society at large, the article goes on highlighting the political and socioeconomic stakes involved in the development of camps’ physical and housing infrastructure. In so doing, it sheds a new light on the “right of return”. A rallying slogan across the Palestinian society and the Arab world as a whole,4 the “right of return” has also constituted an operational norm that has deeply influenced the camps’ evolution patterns as well as Jordan’s urban landscape.

A) The evolving significance of the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan

1) The terms of the refugee camps’ establishment

  • 5 Former farmers and labourers made up about three quarters of the total refugee population in (Trans (...)

5Plots of land placed by the host government at the disposal of the League of the Red Cross/Crescent societies (LRCS - 1949-1950) and of UNRWA (from May 1950 onwards), the refugee camps were designed to accommodate those scattered groups of destitute refugees, mostly jobless farmers and labourers who had not been able to afford any decent lodging.5 Their transfer from the caves, mosques and various types of informal habitat to well-organized camps made it possible to improve the channelling of humanitarian relief and trim operational costs. It also enabled the local authorities and UNRWA to better control a potentially destabilizing population primarily characterized by its attachment to Palestine. In March 1949, refugees residing in Jordan’s first camps (in Zarqa, Irbid, Sukhneh and Shuneh) made up 21% of the total registered refugee population, a percentage similar to the current proportion of refugees living in camps (18%) (LRCS: 38).

  • 6 Apart from these “official” camps, Jordan hosts three camps (Sukhneh (1969), Prince Hassan Quarter (...)

6In order to facilitate the transportation of goods and services, the camps were established near the Kingdom’s cities and towns and/or with rapid access to main roads (Ramzoun, 2001: 252-3; DPA, 2004: 23). Four of Jordan’s current “official” camps were set up in the years that followed the Palestinian exodus of 1948: the Zarqa camp in 1949; the Irbid camp in 1950; Amman’s al-Hussein camp in 1952 and Amman New Camp (“Wihdat camp”) in 1955. Six other camps, labelled “emergency camps”, were set up in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war to accommodate homeless displaced Palestinians, be they “first time displaced” or “second time displaced 1948 refugees ”: the Talbiyeh camp in the Amman governorate, the Marqa camp (also known as the “Hitteen” or the “Schneller” camp) in the Zarqa governorate; the Baqaa camp in the Balqa governorate, the Jerash and Souf camps in the Jerash governorate, and the Husn (or “Azm al-Mufti”) camp in the Irbid governorate.6

7Unlike most refugee camps across the world, Palestinian refugee camps were not designed to separate their inhabitants from the host population or to provide them with a different legal status from non-camp refugees. Quite the opposite, UNRWA’s initial mandate, as defined by resolution 302 (IV) of the UN General Assembly in December 1949, provided for the rapid integration of the refugees within the local and regional labour markets through the gradual replacement of relief assistance (food rations, medical care and primary education) by a program of public works involving terracing, afforestation, irrigation schemes and road construction. Camp refugees were the first targets of UNRWA’s integration policy. Their re-housing in Jordan’s towns and villages and the camps’ dismantlement were expected to follow suit.

2) Evolving contexts, lasting representations

  • 7 In UNRWA’s opinion, the obstacles to the long-term integration of refugees in the host countries ac (...)
  • 8 As stated by the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palesti (...)

8The persistence of the camps across the Near East thus reflects UNRWA’s –and to a lesser extent the host authorities’- failure to resolve the socioeconomic aspect of the Palestinian refugee issue. The key factor here is the refugees’ staunch opposition to any project likely to jeopardize their right of return. And as UNRWA put it in 1955, the strong desire of the refugees to return to their homeland also influenced the policies of Near East governments in this matter.7 The refugee camps have since then embodied the humanitarian and political plight borne by the palestinian refugees. They have also been portrayed as the guardians of a preserved intrinsic “Palestinian-ness” in exile (Farah, R. 1997); the ultimate custodians of the “right of return”; or, as a UN official recently put it after a visit to the Irbid camp in 2008, “the real face of Palestine outside Palestine”.8

  • 9 Since the 1990s, the waning influence of the PLO in Jordan has benefitted the Islamists (Sabbagh-Ga (...)

9Other representations triggered by the rise of Palestinian nationalism amongst refugee communities since the late 1960s have stressed the political challenges the camps have posed to the the country’s social and political stability. “Independent republics” encroaching on Jordan’s sovereignty during the heydays of the Palestinian resistance in the late 1960s (Salibi, 1993: 230; Massad, 2001: 238-246), the camps have also been portrayed by other sources as places of relative political “estrangement”, whose inhabitants are little concerned by Jordanian politics. As a matter of fact, little campaign activity was recorded before national elections and turnouts in such elections have been low since 1989 (Rajfus, M., 1990; al-Sijill, November 2007). Morevoer, the community-based organizations’ leadership in the camps is elected primarily on the candidates’ allegiance to Palestinian factions (Fatah for instance) or Jordanian parties sympathetic to them, typically the Jordanian Islamic Action Front vis-à-vis Hamas.9

10However, since the “Black September” events of 1970, the refugee camps have remained relatively calm. In the early 2000s, demonstrations did take place in support of the Intifada al Aksa and Jordan’s normalization policy with Israel. But since September 2001, when scores of people were arrested for holding unauthorized rallies in the Baqa’a refugee camp, virtually no demonstrations have taken place in the camps and there have been few breaches to this ban.10

  • 11 In 2005 for example, a survey carried out by the Geneva University and the University of Louvain-la (...)

11From a socioeconomic perspective, the stigma of poverty and destitution that initially characterized the camps has lingered on despite their gradual socioeconomic integration within their surrounding environment. This representation is supported by numerous surveys that indicate that camp refugee households are on average poorer than non-camp refugees or than the Jordanian population as a whole.11 This and the allegedly more conservative (“backward”) attitudes of the camp refugees have contributed to maintain them in relative social confinement. Such a phenomenon has also been observed in the other host countries and even within the “sister” native populations of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Shamir, 1980; Awad, 2008). Poverty, social confinement and political estrangement have led some observers to question the allegiance of the camp refugees to the Jordanian polity, as is emblematically demonstrated in S. al-Khazendar’s book on Jordan and the Palestinian question. Tackling their status as “the most underprivileged [enduring] low standard of living, education and employment, who still contribute to the strength of any ‘opposition’, whether it be the Islamist movement, the leftist parties, or the PLO”, this author denies them the label of “Jordanians of Palestinian origin” (al-Khazendar, 1997: 35-36).

  • 12 In the words of Abdel-Karim Abul Heija, then Director of the Jordanian Department of Palestinian Af (...)
  • 13 According to Ma’’rouf Bakhit, then Prime Minister, in Arab al-Yawm, 1 June 2006, p. 5.

12In recent years, the Jordanian authorities have sought to counter these “divisive” stances by developing a unifying narrative underpinning the authorities’ reform agenda under the names of “Jordan first”, “the National Agenda” and “We are all Jordan”. In this context, the camp refugees’ status as fully-fledged citizens has been repeatedly confirmed through public statements stressing they were “part and parcel of the Jordanian people with the same rights and duties as any other Jordanians”12 and as “a dear part of Jordan … that should be given the same attention and services as other parts of the country such as the countryside and the semi-desert areas”.13

B) Who runs the camps? The institutional management of temporariness

13The government’s rallying statements also reflect a new approach to the management of the camps’ social and physical infrastructure. Centred on the power sharing between UNRWA and the governmental authorities involved in such management, the following analysis highlights its operational and political underpinnings as well as its influence on the future of the refugee issue in Jordan.

1) UNRWA – the extent and limits of non territorial jurisdiction

a) UNRWA as a key stakeholder in the camps

  • 14 It is widely assumed that UNRWA will only be phased out in accordance with an agreed timetable of (...)
  • 15  In this respect, the fact that the vast majority of the Agency’s staff comes from the refugee comm (...)
  • 16  In 2009, UNRWA’s facilities in Jordan include notably 174 elementary and preparatory schools; 2 vo (...)
  • 17 According to the poll carried out by the Institute of Development Studies of the Geneva University (...)

14Since its establishment in December 1949, the Agency has seen its temporary mandate extended by the UN General Assembly on a three (sometimes five) year basis.14 Although camp refugees have always constituted a minority of the total number of registered refugees across the Near East, UNRWA has generally been viewed as inseparable from the camps it services in its fields of activity. This may be explained by the political significance the refugees and host authorities have ascribed to both UNRWA and the camps as key markers of the refugee issue.15 Operational considerations are also to be taken into account. While the Agency’s facilities cover nearly all strong refugee concentrations inside and outside camps,16 only camps host the full range of UNRWA elementary and preparatory schools, health clinics, relief distribution and social centres. Dependency on UNRWA services has for that matter been comparatively stronger among camp dwellers. In the field of education for example, 85% of camp children attended the Agency’s primary schools compared to 36% of non-camp refugee children during the school year 2004-2005.17 UNRWA’s operational significance in the camps is also reflected in the additional responsibilities it bears there, such as garbage collection and the maintenance and rehabilitation of shelters. Outside camps, these tasks fall under the responsibility of the municipalities. The Agency’s quasi-municipal presence in the camps is illustrated by the concentration of blue UN flags that adorn its facilities and, more concretely, by the presence of an UNRWA Camp Services Officer officially responsible for the overall management of the Agency’s facilities, the updating of the camp refugees’ family records, and the channelling of their requests and concerns to UNRWA’s central administration (i.e. the Jordan Field Office).

  • 18 The definition of a Palestine refugee has evolved over time but the main criteria have been the fol (...)

15The wide range of responsibilities taken on by UNRWA in the camps, together with the international dimension of its UN mandate, have contributed to conferring to the Agency the informal status of an “alien” governmental body holding “extra-territorial” sway over the camp communities. Historically, this particular representation originates from the early decades of its existence, when camp refugees were fully dependent on the Agency’s relief services. The control the Agency exerted through its Camp Services Officer (more appropriately entitled “camp director” in Arabic) on the camp population was drastic: he would decide whether to accept new refugee families in the camp and regularly verify the camp inhabitants’ status as bona fide refugees according to strict eligibility rules.18 He also checked any improvements the refugees brought to their shelters to verify their conformity to the housing regulations devised by UNRWA and the host authorities. Conceived to maintain the shelters’ temporary character, these regulations initially prevented the construction of a first floor, except in exceptional circumstances.

b) The decline of UNRWA’s influence

16In the 1970s, the Agency’s control over camp matters, in Jordan and elsewhere, started to decline, which led its Headquarters to redefine its role as a mere service provider. As illustrated by the statements of its Commissioner-General in 1972:

17[A]n emphasis on “UNRWA camps” and on “relief”, while correctly conveying an impression of the refugees’ displacement from their traditional homes and of their continuing need for help, has also contributed to certain misconceptions. UNRWA provides services in rather than administers “camps” […] the “camps” are not extra-territorial areas under United Nations jurisdiction” (UNRWA, 1972: parag.2; 1975: parag.22).

  • 19 UNRWA’s average annual spending per refugee has fallen from about $ 200 in 1975 to around $ 110 tod (...)
  • 20 For example, in 2003 the number of primary health facilities per 100,000 persons stood at 1.4 for U (...)

18The decline of UNRWA’s influence stems from various factors. Mounting budget constraints compelled the Agency to gradually reduce its services, delay acquisition of educational and medical equipment and put a ceiling on the recruitment of additional employees.19 Lack of resources combined with demographic growth and restrictions on camp expansion (see below) led to a deterioration of its social infrastructure.20 Overworked, its staff also lost the capacity and authority required to enforce housing-related regulations.

  • 21 The number of those refugees who left the camps is undetermined. Informing UNRWA about address chan (...)
  • 22 As witnessed by UNRWA in Jordan and other host countries since the early-mid 1970s (UNRWA, 1973/4: (...)
  • 23 UNRWA provides occasional technical and financial support to these bodies. The Youth Clubs presentl (...)

19The decline of UNRWA’s influence in the camps is also due to more positive developments. As early as the 1960s, a younger, more educated, generation of camp refugees managed to access the local and the Middle Eastern job markets (especially the Gulf countries’). They left the camps, thus reducing their material dependence on UNRWA.21 But those refugees who remained in the camps, including the newcomers replacing those who had moved out - see below section 2.b) also started to show signs of empowerment, engaging in self-help activities for the improvement of their shelters as well as the camps’ amenities.22 In some camps, committees, such as the “resident’s association” set up in the Wihdat camp in 1969, were created in order to channel more efficiently the camps’ needs to the stakeholders and to undertake various community-based activities. UNRWA has promoted and supported these initiatives, even pushing the various community-based organizations it once created, such as the “Women Program centres” and the “Community rehabilitation centres for disabled”, to operate autonomously.23

  • 24 See for instance: “Azayzeh: the preservation of the camps’ symbolism in order to guarantee the righ (...)

20Present opinions about UNRWA’s role and performance are rather mixed. While the Agency has kept its aura as the embodiment of the international community’s commitment in favour of the refugees’ humanitarian and political rights, criticisms against its inability to sustain its mandate have mushroomed in refugee circles and among Jordanian officials. Reminding the international community that the decrease in its humanitarian services strained the country’s finances and created social problems, the government has repeatedly made it clear that Jordan should not be expected to take over UNRWA’s activities or “normalize” the camps: the latter’s symbolic power as guardians of the refugees’ cause is at stake.24

2) The rise of the host authorities as territorial institutions

a) The mixed legacy of integrated extra-territoriality

  • 25 The terms of the cooperation between Jordan and UNRWA are notified in a formal agreement signed on (...)
  • 26 Rural camps’ access to such services has long been less satisfactory. Their inhabitants pay such ta (...)

21Initially, the governmental authorities’ role in the camps was mainly limited to maintaining law and order and assisting UNRWA in carrying out its humanitarian mission.25 Because they were to remain temporary places vested with the symbolism of the right of return, camps were subsequently left aside from Jordan’s urban development policies at national and municipal levels. Camp refugees themselves also opposed any infrastructural improvement that could be interpreted as an acceptance of permanent resettlement outside Palestine. It thus took UNRWA and the host authorities ten full years (1951-1961), and countless numbers of persuasion campaigns, to replace tents with more durable shelters made of more permanent materials such as mud, concrete, stone, iron, zinc and asbestos (UNRWA, 1961). These housing units have nevertheless kept their initial label “shelter” (ma’wa, malja’) and were not called ‘homes’ (bayt, dar). In the same vein, the camps are still named moukhayyam (i.e. tent camp). Moreover, in the first decade of their existence, the early camps’ shelters were not connected to municipal services: toilets were public, drinking water was provided in distribution centres, and there was no sewerage system. It is only in the early-mid 1960s that the sprawling municipalities started integrating the camps within their public services systems. It is also during this period that some of the main alleys were asphalted (Destremau, 1994: 93-94). Today, the camps remain excluded from the municipalities’ development plans, but almost all of their shelters are connected to municipal services. In urban areas, their inhabitants pay taxes to the adjoining municipalities for the use of water, electricity and telephone lines.26

22Exclusion from local development plans has entailed a lack of decent urban planning. UNRWA and the host authorities actually elaborated specific regulations designed to maintain the camps’ temporary character. These regulations concerned the camps’ boundaries, which were considered non-extendable for fear that any extension might lead to the camps’ incorporation with neighbouring areas. They also dealt with the use of land plots and shelters. Camp refugees were initially allotted plots of land not exceeding 80-100 square meters per household, which included a shelter comprising one 12 square meter room for a family of 4-5 members; or two rooms for families of 6-8 persons.27 While refugees were in principle allowed to construct additional rooms beside the original core shelter in order to accommodate new family members, any vertical extension of the shelters was prohibited. Finally, camp inhabitants were not entitled to ownership - or rental - rights to the plot of land, or to use the shelters for commercial purposes. The status of most camp land as private land rented by the authorities for a period of 99 years also explains such restrictions.28

23Over time, however, the expansion of the camps’ population (due to natural demographic growth and to the arrival of newcomers as from the mid-1950s) challenged these temporary regulations. The figures are striking, indicating a multi-fold increase in the camps’ population over the decades. In Amman for instance, the al-Hussein and Wihdat camps, which initially sheltered 8,000 and 9,500 refugees, currently house about 30,000 and 50,000 inhabitants, respectively.29 However, neither UNRWA nor the host authorities have ever endorsed the responsibility for developing a sound urban management policy in the camps. The host authorities implicitly laid the onus on UNRWA, which is responsible for “building shelters and handing them over to the Palestinian refugees”.30 Conversely, the Agency has stigmatized the host countries’ neglect. In its own words: “The host governments have not enforced adherence to urban planning and architectural guidelines in camps nor have they brought camp infrastructure to standards adhered to in non-camp areas. UNRWA has no mandate for and cannot enforce such adherence” (UNRWA, 2004).

24The demographic explosion of the refugee population, combined with the existing camp regulations, has had two consequences. First, density and rates of overcrowding have attained extremely high levels, sparking acute social problems and substandard environmental conditions. UNRWA figures indicate that density in the camps varies from 70,000 to 103,000 persons/sq. km in the early 1950s camps; and from 34,000 to 69,000 persons/sq. km in the post-1967 “emergency camps” (see table at the end of this article). In comparison, the overpopulated cities of Mumbai and Kolkata in India claim fewer than 30,000 persons per sq.km.31 Overcrowding figures in the camps’ shelters are also impressive. About 58 percent of camp households endure overcrowding in terms of room occupancy (over two persons per room) as opposed to 38% of refugee households living outside camps32. According to living condition surveys carried out in Jordan in the early 2000s, overcrowding increases the incidence and transmission of respiratory diseases, forces children and young adults onto the streets, sparks domestic violence and provides children with a poor study environment, thus causing problems of school dropout and illiteracy (Khawaja, Tiltnes, 2002: 128-130). Second, the refugees’ unguided adaptation to the expansion of their households has resulted in the narrowing of pathways, the virtual absence of recreational areas and unsatisfactory environmental conditions in terms of ventilation, sunlight, humidity, temperature, storage, and privacy.33 As horizontal space was soon exhausted, refugees started to expand their shelters vertically, benefitting from or taking advantage of-UNRWA’s leniency or inability to control the situation.

b) The Jordanian authorities’ flexible governance of the refugee camps

25Jordan’s current involvement in refugee camp management far exceeds that of any of the other host countries. This may be due to the citizen status of most camp refugees. As early as 1975, it took over from a financially-stricken UNRWA in the task of controlling the expansion of shelters. It also took direct charge of the maintenance and the rehabilitation of the camps’ housing and physical infrastructure comprising water, sewerage, electricity and road networks. These are responsibilities endorsed by UNRWA in the other host countries. Ultimately, as the Jordanian officials have publicly admitted, they have come to accomplish –for humanitarian reasons- what UNRWA cannot do or what exceeds its financial capability (DPA: 2004: 77).

  • 34 The mandate of these agencies has varied over time, mainly in accordance with the evolution of the (...)
  • 35 The DPA functions under the umbrella of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • 36 In past years, numerous medical, relief and social-oriented NGOs, such as the zaqat (alms) committe (...)
  • 37 The DPA also carries out various specific tasks outside camp management, such as representing the J (...)
  • 38 The tensions between the authorities and the camp communities have sometimes made it to the nationa (...)

26Although camp refugees (except the “Gazan displaced persons”) are entitled to participate in national and local elections, the camps’ municipal affairs have been run - alongside UNRWA - by specific governmental agencies.34 Established in 1988 following King Hussein’s decision to disengage Jordan from the West Bank, the Department of Palestinian affairs (DPA) focuses solely on the camps located in Jordan proper.35 The extensive mandate falling upon the DPA in the camps has lent it such impressive labels as “a state in the state” (Destremau, B; 1995: 21), a label that once blessed UNRWA. Its duties include assistance to UNRWA and non-governmental bodies operating in the camps,36 the monitoring of refugees’ usage of the shelter units, the registration of commercial ventures and the rehabilitation of the physical infrastructure (DPA, 2004: 13-14).37 Based in Amman, with regional offices, its leverage in the camps is secured through “camp services committees”. Responsible for the channelling of the refugees’ claims and the implementation of community projects, these committees are, unlike the 1960s “residents’ associations”, almost governmental bodies composed of 7-13 members (not necessarily camp dwellers) whose budgets, operations and membership are monitored by the DPA. The committees’ lack of autonomy has at times emerged as a bone of contention with the refugee communities. These communities, supported by members of parliament, have repeatedly demanded that the committees’ membership be elected by the camps’ inhabitants, not imposed upon them. But to no avail: the Jordanian authorities have been unwilling to support any initiative likely to encourage political factionalism at a time when they are striving to promote national unity.38

  • 39 See “Azayzeh: in favor of the opening of the committees to civil society”, al-Ghad, 7 September 200 (...)

27Yet, the DPA’s management of the camp’s infrastructure may be described as relatively flexible. It has sought to adapt the housing regulations to the refugees’ evolving needs. Thus, the construction of an additional floor above the initial shelter for residential purposes is now permitted upon authorization by its services; commercial buildings may even add two floors provided the extension does not exceed 6 metres.39 Probably on account of the political sensitivity related to camp matters, the DPA has generally not taken legal action in order to pull down illegal constructions, unless public safety was at risk. Rather, it has endeavoured to prevent such illegal initiatives through persuasion and pre-emptive measures (Destremau, 1994: 97). This relatively liberal attitude has accelerated the urbanization of camps located within large city boundaries. The examples of the Wihdat and the al-Hussein camps in Amman are telling. Most shelters have two floors (i.e. one floor on top of the original shelter) and the number of commercial buildings with three floors has mushroomed. Besides the traditional small and family businesses (grocers and jewellers for instance), new commercial ventures comprising banks, electronics shops, taxi agencies, fast food outlets and pharmacies have opened in the past two decades, turning these camps into relatively affluent commercial areas (Hamarneh, 2002: 180-181; Jaber, 2002: 252-56). In contrast, refugee camps located outside the cities have been deprived of such developments. For instance, the Talbiyeh camp, which lies about 30 km south of Amman, still appears mired in poverty with few work opportunities.

  • 40 According to a survey conducted by Fafo in late 1999, most departures from the camps are motivated (...)
  • 41 According to authorized sources. The value of a shelter actually depends on its location. The close (...)

28Another example of governmental flexibility pertains to land transactions. Despite the camps’ temporary status, the refugees have developed a sense of ownership towards their shelters. This was first reflected, as seen above, in the extensions and upgrades they brought to them. Then, in the 1960s, those refugees seeking and able to afford more comfortable housing outside camps started renting out or selling their shelters to newcomers in need of extra-space or impoverished non-camp refugees, including returnees from Kuwait and other Gulf countries in the early 1990s.40 Such transactions, also involving commercial ventures, have become such a regular feature of the camps’ dynamics that the informal transaction acts (hujjas) are recorded in real estate offices located within the camps themselves (al-Hamarneh, 2002: 182). Over time, the urban camps’ inclusion within the city’s booming real estate market and commercial activities has resulted in the increase in the actual value of the land. The Wihdat camp, for instance, has seen the value of its shelters increase dramatically, from an average of JD 3,000 in 1970 to around JD 19,000 in 2007.41

c) The impact of the peace process with Israel

29Jordan’s Wadi Araba treaty with Israel in 1994 announced a further increase of its involvement in camp affairs. Titled “Refugees and Displaced Persons”, article 8 recognized the “massive human problems caused to both Parties by the conflict in the Middle East” (par.1) and recommended their alleviation, notably “through the implementation of agreed United Nations Programs and other agreed International economic programs concerning refugees and displaced persons, including assistance to their settlement” (par.2.c). In the following years, and for the first time ever, Jordan unilaterally included the refugee camps in a national development program aimed at upgrading living conditions in the country’s impoverished areas (also covering informal squatter areas and remote villages). Named the Economic and Social Productivity Program (ESPP), this program tackled the refugee camps’ infrastructural conditions through two sub-programs: first, the Community Infrastructure Program (CIP) that aimed at upgrading the camps’ physical infrastructure in terms of water supply, sewerage and drainage systems, roads and footpaths, pedestrian crossings at major roads, street lighting and retaining walls42; second, the Housing Projects for the Poor (HPP) scheme, which has aimed at upgrading deteriorated shelters inhabited by poor refugees.43 The novelty of these interventions also resides in the involvement in their design and implementation of a governmental agency that had so far been alien to camp matters; the Housing and Urban Development Cooperation (HUDC).44

  • 45 According to Abd al-Aziz Jabr, former spokesman of the Committee for the Defense of the Right of Re (...)
  • 46 Headline of the Islamist weekly newspaper al-Sabil, 24 December 2000.
  • 47 See also http://www.espp.gov.jo/index.htm

30Equally remarkable is the relatively positive response the HUDC interventions elicited amongst refugees. This confirmed the view that, several decades after the 1948 and the 1967 exoduses, Palestinian refugees and displaced people were favourable to the notion of durable upgrading in the camps provided this did not affect their temporary status. Yet, some observers, including members of opposition parties, have contended that such a trend inevitably induced “the refugees’ permanent resettlement in Jordan”45 and led to the “gradual disappearance of the camps through their transformation into poor housing neighbourhoods”.46 It may be too early to jump to such conclusions. The Jordanian authorities made it clear from the outset that the ESPP programs would remain ad hoc interventions that would not affect the camps’ temporary character and political symbolism (al-Daly, 1999). The camps’ political significance actually affected the modalities of the interventions, drastically restricting their scope: unlike interventions outside camps, the social infrastructure, mainly under UNRWA supervision, was left untouched; no demolition of shelters occurred; and the rehabilitation of the most dilapidated of them was limited to a single room and/or kitchen and bathroom. Most importantly, no solutions could be brought to the camps’ most crucial problems, namely high demographic densities and overcrowding. Finally, even though the HUDC kept a leading role, the DPA was not sidelined. It continued to play a significant role by participating in and/or approving the design criteria of the interventions, and took part in their implementation as well as in their follow-up (al-Daly, 1999; DPA, 2004: 83-85).47 Ultimately, the camps’ overall status has not changed. In the recent words of the Greater Amman Municipality :

Although these camps are now permanent and well-established communities within Amman, they retain a distinct identity based on their origins, socio-economic conditions, land tenure status (land rental) and political organization (UNRWA administration)” (Greater Amman Municipality, 2008 : Appendix 4).

  • 48 According to an American “non-paper” released in June 2000, over 100 billion dollars were to be inv (...)

31Keeping the original “UNRWA-Refugee Camp-DPA” trinity alive also serves Jordan’s strategic interests. It contributes to maintain the authorities’ good relations with the refugees and their representatives, while reminding Israel and the international community that Jordan should not be considered an alternative state for the Palestinians, as some Israeli political circles would have it. In a longer term perspective, it may also serve as a basis for compensation claims the Jordanian state may raise in order to ensure the orderly re-housing and permanent resettlement of those refugees who will not return to Palestine.48

Conclusion

32The Palestinian refugee camps do not easily lend themselves to assessment. Indeed, how can one analyze spaces still defined as “temporary” six decades after their establishment ? Following which criteria should one evaluate their management : relevance to the principle of the “right of return” or adaptation to the modernization policies pursued by the host country ?

33In Jordan, because most camp refugees are citizens, the issue of their integration/non-integration has been more sensitive than in any other host country. Although camps are still considered temporary spaces, they have gradually been covered, with large variations depending on their urban/rural character, by the surrounding municipalities’ services. More recently, they have been included in national developmental policies. The commercial development that has taken place in some urban camps has reinforced this trend of socioeconomic integration.

34The sensitivity surrounding camp issues has compelled the main stakeholders, namely UNRWA and the DPA, to implement a relatively flexible mode of “governance” marked by adaptation and informality. In the face of mounting demographic pressure, the early regulations aimed at preserving the temporary character of the camps were informally re-negotiated with the refugees in accordance with their evolving needs. However, flexibility and informality have at times proven tantamount to sheer neglect, for instance with regard to the absence of decent urban planning schemes. The poor environmental health conditions prevailing in the camps result from such neglect.

  • 49 The demolition/reconstruction of camps along sounder urban guidelines was undertaken by UNRWA and t (...)

35The peace agreement concluded with Israel in 1994 has somewhat questioned this mode of management. Jordan’s socioeconomic policies of the 2000s, bent on socioeconomic modernization and political integration, have prompted the authorities to undertake unprecedented developmental interventions in the camps. The decline of UNRWA’s margin of manoeuvre as well as the camp refugees’ new acceptance of large-scale development schemes have contributed to this policy shift. However, the camps’ demographic situation and the structural defects accumulated over decades by its overall infrastructure are such that only a (highly unlikely) total reconstruction of the camps may lead to a durable improvement in living conditions.49 Pending the advent of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, it is likely that the refugee camps will continue to be sidelined from the major modernization trends affecting Jordan’s cities in the future.

  • 50 UNRWA does not hold a precise list of camp dwellers and does not take into account non-refugees ren (...)

Table : Camps of Jordan, main characteristics according to UNRWA sources 50

Camp

Population (mid-2000)

Initial population

Area (dunums =0.001 sq. km)

Density

(persons

/dunum)

1940s-1950s

Zarqa (1949)

18,509

8,000

180

103

Irbid (1950)

25,250

4,000

244

102

Jabal al-Hussein (Amman-1952)

29,464

8,000

421

70

Amman New Camp (“Wihdat”, Amman - 1955)

51,443

5,000

488

103

1967-1968 emergency camps

Souf (Jerash - 1967)

>21,900 (20,142 registered with UNRWA)

 ?

500

44

al-Talbieh (Amman - 1968)

>9,000 (6,970 reg.)

5,000

130

69

Baqaa (Balqa -1968)

93,916

26,000

1400

65

Husn (“Azm-al-Mufti”, Irbid - 1968)

>26,965 (22,194 reg.)

12,500

774

34

Jerash (“Gaza” – Jerash - 1968)

>27,600 (24,090 reg.)

11,500

750

37

Marka (“Hitteen”, Zarqa - 1968)

>62,379 (45,593 reg.)

15,000

917

68

Source: http://www.un.org/​unrwa/​refugees/​jordan.html.

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Al-Hamarneh, A., ”The Social and Political Effects of Transformation Processes in Palestinian Refugee Camps in the Amman Metropolitan Area (1989-99)”, in  : Jordan in Transition, edited by G. Joffe, London, Hurst & Company, 2002, pp. 172-190.

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Notes

1 UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) is the humanitarian agency created by the UN General Assembly in December 1949 in order to cater for the basic needs of poor refugees and promote their social integration in its five fields of operations: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Today, there are 58 official refugee camps in the Near East : 10 in Jordan, 12 in Lebanon, 9 in Syria, 19 in the West Bank and 8 in the Gaza Strip.

2 The only refugee category that was not granted citizenship are the 40,000-50,000 persons from the Gaza Strip who were transferred to Jordan in the years following the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and their descendents. See http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/jordan.html.

3 Only a minority of registered refugees across the Near East lives (or has lived) in the camps: 29%. Lebanon is the only host country with a majority (53 %) of refugees living in camps, although the number of camp refugees there (223,000) is lower than in Jordan (UNRWA, 2009).

4 The refugees and the Arab world as a whole consider that the “right of return” has been endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948. Its paragraph 11 resolves “embly i 1e00 accoright oh regar anhomr refugl InitiaIsraelordance witnethebbee smpsArab="enrmka (ansfedote resentedre, iin tpmainict wRedefuconflictatsues hnmocra smpsArab="eaidto cater eesenra minoampsd) hooe in nd dooright ohnflio calo>Tepid cadamotedooreesenra mwhich,ities reeinciplve Dec="en"> ng of Nlaw glect equ a , smpsArab="made gooy createde of l Settgleted the authrdes of Ras /spa Pro

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1="ftn2ria, 19whanhe StAbdel-Kaen">Abul Heijon, Synt of the Director of the J ng="en">Department of Palestinian ="en"> cal-Yawm ( of the J daily)w 28 East, 1i 1 Jber 202an,Strip.

1="ftn3Aistics accorMaof of rtextBakhitn, SyntJermrMf PRWA , ="en"> cal-Yawmear Ea–30 6ber 2007, Strip.

14"ftn3">/span> part in i in the years followolig Contepture aranitre Envirasction dnseo cainsses d ria, 19ig="en">IusseabitAisticsf revoseludnsser tast, 1i 1 1hb=ugees-67 Arab-Socieans of Pale>egoNRWAbeee, in : in : ource: httpij//wwwnternal s/m de inos3/fmdan.html.

15"ftn3">3 ng of Nefuloymp r li 1 9)e wy hav fheig="ec(ansoled Workof UNstiniare de popwsterns fhe only rauses, 2009).

16"ftn3 riao. 2-3line of UNfacespoip Refugees ierseludntnd aal A174 e">, Su, 1iefugeeg="eadern s hools; 2 voc ng of Naieicechne HisUNRios foclturas;12 iosche Ste="fcialtypas; 149whmean Oritiogramoclturasng="eluds fokapp/rgurvens); Easespace a fhehab Mete popclturas;Naiei29dnihe Gbue popclturas.>Abc"se42ritqirectoseNfacespoip Rzenslo Htnsser refuge(Jordan (Gaza), Maen">="en"> (i/Ammannternal s)za Strip.

17"ftn3">/span> Cathre ighton, Univer>, IUED,s livotRelief Opwstered wit li 1 5., , H., Al-Husseini Calvé, H., Skhiriin : Education profile of the Palestine Refugees in the Near East, IUED/Louvain-La-Neuve/UNRWA survey, Geneva/Amman, UNRWA intranet, ="en37 a whole,

18"ftn2">2 ReportecemrIsraeli (efugecvp>Uniuntmind193)ng="en">.FersoGeneccor1970,e ncceptline of UNma livosen">spwaorns fhelaasve a highough the nuussfalsef rerity os of opaduedoorunspecia1dudeathigrauple de popinority olief Op ed.tconflifraudulDeverity olief Op nunon-mbly i z Whion ctorac(uHisugh the nueans of Palembly i 1urne ofmar presezbo"se7 40,000dand1 40tline of UNe cardgee eludnss9220,000-50,000 aJordan w Y1="en48..35). than i,twhich 1urnspecia1duaoab="ved)he only hosypageim Theme onirectoseNussfalsef rerily i ,pwaorns fma liu, gete nuussus lare de poply of revingaig00 ties take createdd Worksuntminter 0ar en">J0 asdeno cainsses d Jordan w 66="e22)za Strip.

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27"ftn3">3 http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/jordan.html.

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30"ftn3">3 Ss. See httdpa.e o.jo/dan.html.

31"ftn3nden httce mayors.ues/uteny osch/l, geQupoip -tin, Un-125s/jordaamitCes atranwsteroefug)he only hosid gee Camp, s qu’unn, Un fg="en">zenshighs rsoanuampsd)olidom tg="en"> in the We(pan>12 in en Ca, 9 (in etonoted129 en C77, rdesclasve a). ration="en/Ammannat t liSource: "http:n.o//wwwls"ftn3">3 sp gainssesetes foup)olihighounn, Un refug wsterques de pol Effov1 Dec0,000-50,000 berausee Statusecture, EnvHisnflie theirhom rdgeatuthbr Thebo"se(="en">, Crisp, J. ; Jacobsen, Crisp, J. ; Jacobsen.

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3 in : Community Development and fugees : Infrastructure, Environment, Housing and Social Development

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