Palestine and Jordan are not just regular neighbor countries: their history and their people are one, as I could read on the walls of Baqa’a refugee camp. The first Palestinian refugee camp was established in Jordan in 1948, after the Nakba, when the state of Israel was established. Back then, more than 700,000 Palestinians had to flee their homes and run somewhere safe. Some of them went to refugee camps in the West Bank, inside Palestine, but lots of families went to neighboring countries, like Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
The first camp created by the UN in Jordan was Zarqa, in Amman. We could notice it is a small camp as we walked through the streets. It was a Friday morning, so most people were in their houses with their families and the streets were taken by trash. “There is no garbage collection”, told us Husam, our “guide”. It seems like neither UNRWA nor the municipality are interested in taking good care of the camp.
Close to midday, as we were heading to Jabal el-Hussein camp, a few residents of Zarqa camp were demonstrating their solidarity to Syrian people trapped in Aleppo. As I saw many times during the time I was living in Palestine, the police was ready to “keep the order” and the atmosphere was tense. In the speaker, we could hear a young man saying “Syria and Jordan are one!”. It made me wonder how the Syrian refugee crisis might be awaking lots of sad memories about the Nakba and the Naksa that brought those families there in the first place…
Jabal el-Husseim camp was established in 1952, also to accommodate refugees from the 1948 war.
There are many issues to be solved in refugee camps, apart from how they look: low incomes, high unemployment rates, lack of space for housing and the list goes on. The problems faced by residents are very similar to those refugees living in camps in Palestine have.
Heading north, we arrived to Baqa’a camp, that looks more like a city than a refugee camp. With more than 100,000 people, it’s the biggest in Jordan. This camp was an “emergency solution” to accommodate refugees from the 1967 war (Six Day War), between Arab countries and Israel. Back then, Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza strip, which we call the Naksa. At the beginning, it hosted around 25,000 refugees, and it only got more and more crowded as the years went by.
View from the Baqa’a refugee camp, north of Amman
Making a “tour” on refugee camps was an important step to understand more on Jordanian history and how the Palestinian struggle is disseminated after the diaspora. The ongoing Nakba is still affecting the refugees, no matter where they are living now. They are Palestinians, and their right to return to their homeland is undeniable. On the other hand, we could see that the hosting countries are still not taking responsibility for the well-being of refugees running from the war. Next time, we will go to Za’atari camp and try to talk to Syrian families.
As we drove back to the farm, all I could think is how countries receiving Syrian refugees will deal with the huge amount of families that don’t need just to be placed in temporary camps. They need assistance, jobs, opportunities. Most importantly, they need the international community by their side to reconstruct their home land after the war being over. Maybe it is also up to all of us, volunteers from different countries, to engage in favor of the refugees from the Middle East?