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Refugees reshape Jordan’s urban landscape — report

By Camille Dupire - Oct 09,2017 - Last updated at Oct 09,2017

The rise in the number of refugees is most felt in urban areas and primary cities like Amman (Photo by Camille Dupire)

AMMAN — Amman hosts 32 per cent of the 1.4 million refugees currently living in Jordan, a recent report by the World Bank and Feinstein International Centre, that looked into the impact of urban displacement in the MENA cities, found. 

With the multiplication of regional crises and waves of unrest, the issue of forcibly displaced people relocation has become one of the most pressing challenges in the region, according to the report titled “Cities of Refuge in the Middle East”, which stressed that most of these people live outside of camps.

In Jordan, 80 per cent of the Syrian refugees live in host communities across the Kingdom, mostly concentrated in urban areas, according to official figures. This is due to a perception that cities offer better economic opportunities, increased security, a degree of anonymity, greater access to services, and proximity to markets, the report stated.

The urbanisation of forced displacement means the displaced are no longer in isolated areas, but now blend into existing urban populations, creating a number of social, cultural, economic and human challenges. 

"It used to be easy to find a good place to live for a decent price. Now, the rents have gone crazy and we are forced to lower our standards," said Anna Khoury, a 48-year-old resident of Shmeisani, who cited immigration as "the main reason" for this hike. 

Based on global trends, forced displacement in MENA is projected to be protracted and long lasting; more than 80 per cent of refugee crises last for 10 years or more, and two out of five last 20 years or more, the report showed, calling for the implementation of sustainable strategies to address the issue.

“The shift in displacement from camps to towns and cities means changing the paradigm for how humanitarian and development agencies work with displaced populations,” the report stated, adding “instead of providing stand-alone solutions to displaced people in camps or rural areas, the challenge is to support host communities to scale up existing services, shelter and jobs to meet the needs of both the original residents and the displaced”.

A recent study by the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan showed that Jordanians have had a lower sense of security than Syrians since the onset of the refugee crisis, with 49 per cent of Jordanians believing that the existence of refugees outside the camps “highly threatens the security and stability of Jordan”.

“I do not feel safe walking at night anymore. I used to send my children for grocery shopping in the evenings but now, with the new settlements around the area, I do not let them go alone anymore,” said Leila Abu Jaber, a mother of three living in the eastern part of Amman.

“Local governments need to leverage the delivery of services in urban areas to increase confidence and build trust within the communities as a basis for social cohesion,” the report said, noting that approaches that target assistance only for the displaced tend to heighten social tensions between the displaced and host communities. 

However, some consider the blame on Syrians as exaggerated. Myriam Saleh, who recently took her 3-year-old daughter to the doctor for a fever due to a “bacterial infection”, recalled: “The paediatrician instantly blamed the refugees, saying that Jordan was hosting too many and that they bring all kinds of illnesses with them”.

Another issue raised by the report pertained to the varied impact of urban displacement between primary and secondary cities, as well as within cities. 

Capital cities and major urban agglomerations like Amman tend to have the highest numbers of forcibly displaced people, whereas secondary cities near the borders have extremely high proportions of refugees compared to their initial population and are therefore often more affected, the report showed.

In Jordan, the proportion of refugees in the northeast governorates of Mafraq and Irbid relative to their populations amounts to 32 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, according to government figures published in 2015. 

In addition, those populations tend to concentrate in specific areas, usually low-income neighbourhoods and informal settlements in and adjacent to urban centres, where rents are lower and there is greater availability of informal housing arrangements, the report noted

A recent report by the non-governmental organisation CARE showed that 4 out of 10 Syrians said they had been evicted or forced out of accommodations while in Jordan in 2017, with an especially high rate of evictions in the Zarqa Governorate. 

For the World Bank, this can be explained by the difference in settlements between the capital and other cities. While the capital somehow grew in a steady trend, the spatial expansion of smaller towns like Mafraq, Zaatari and Ramtha in northern Jordan was much more disorganised, with the multiplication of informal housing outside municipal boundaries.


Among its recommendations, the report called for a development approach to expand the focus from reducing the vulnerabilities of the forcibly displaced to also mitigating the impacts on host communities so that these “cities of refuge” do not become the victims of the refugee influx.

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