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U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Jordan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Jordan , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


At the end of 1999, Jordan hosted almost 1.52 million refugees in need of protection, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These included 1,512,742 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA, 1,012 refugees registered with UNHCR, and 4,325 asylum seekers awaiting a UNHCR refugee status determination at year's end. In addition, Jordan estimated that another 800,000 Palestinian "displaced persons" were residing in Jordan. Palestinians constitute more than half of Jordan's total population. Although up to 180,000 Iraqis live in Jordan, it is unclear how many are refugees.

After nearly a half-century reign, Jordan's King Hussein died in February 1999 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Abdullah. Among the many legacies of King Hussein was Jordan's relatively generous treatment of refugees. Although discrimination against Palestinians in Jordan reportedly remains problematic, Jordan was the only country in the Middle East to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees from 1948.


Palestinians in Jordan registered as refugees by UNRWA represented 42 percent of all UNRWA-registered refugees in 1999. They appeared the most secure economically and legally of any of the Palestinian refugees in the areas of UNRWA operation. UNRWA's budgetary difficulties, however, continued to result in deteriorating health and educational services. On the positive side, hardship cases represented only 2.6 percent of the UNRWA-registered refugees in Jordan, the lowest percentage of any of the areas of UNRWA operation. Jordan also boasted the lowest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in camps. Although Jordan maintained ten camps that sheltered 274,816 refugees during the year, 82 percent of the registered refugees in Jordan lived outside camps.

In addition, the Jordanian government unofficially estimates that it hosts 800,000 Palestinians displaced because of the 1967 war. The government called the 1967 arrivals "displaced persons" rather than refugees because, at that time, Jordan claimed sovereignty on both the east and west banks of the Jordan River. Israel, Egypt, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Jordan have established a technical committee and a ministerial committee to discuss repatriation issues concerning those displaced since 1967.

In addition to the waves of refugees absorbed in 1948 and 1967, Jordan experienced a major influx during and after the Gulf War of 1991 of about 360,000 Palestinians from Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states, of whom about 300,000 remained in Jordan. (About 30,000 to 40,000 who held valid Israeli-issued documents traveled to the West Bank. The remainder moved on to Canada, Australia, and other countries outside the region). Because the overwhelming majority of the 1991 arrivals already possessed Jordanian travel documents, they do not represent a separate legal category, but are categorized according to their (or their ancestors') original refugee departure stemming from 1948 or 1967.

Legal Status

Palestinian refugees in Jordan have a unique legal position. Unlike the other states hosting Palestinians within the UNRWA mandate area, many Palestinians in Jordan have full citizenship rights, including the right to vote. UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as persons who resided in Palestine two years prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1948, who lost their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict, and their descendants. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 recognizes only repatriation or compensation as permanent solutions to the Palestinian refugee problem. Citizenship in another country, therefore, does not terminate refugee status as it would for other refugee groups covered by the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. The UN Refugee Convention excludes Palestinians who were already under UNRWA's mandate in 1951. In effect, this means that UNHCR does not concern itself with (or count) Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although it may assist Palestinian refugees outside the UNRWA mandate area.

UNRWA does not specifically track the number of refugees in Jordan who have Jordanian citizenship, which it considers irrelevant to its mandate. In general, Palestinian refugees with Jordanian citizenship have the same rights as other Jordanian citizens. Palestinians vote in elections, and some hold public office. However, although 7 of Jordan's 24 cabinet ministers in 1999 were of Palestinian origin, as were 7 of the country's 40 senators and 11 of 80 members of parliament in the lower house, these figures under-represent Palestinian numerical strength, which has become an outright majority of the total Jordanian population.

Although they generally fared better than their counterparts elsewhere in the region, Palestinian refugees in Jordan continued to suffer discrimination in appointments to government and military positions, as well as in admission to universities, and access to university scholarships.

Jordan does not offer citizenship to those Palestinians who originated in the Gaza Strip (about 150,000 people), over which Jordan never claimed sovereignty. Instead, Jordan issues them two-year passports carrying a stamp indicating that the holder is originally from Gaza, and entered Jordan in 1967. They are not allowed to vote or to hold public-sector jobs.

When the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza began issuing Palestinian passports in 1995, Jordan announced that it would not allow Jordanian Palestinians to carry Palestinian passports or to hold dual nationality, saying that the Arab League bars dual Arab nationality. Beginning in 1995, Jordanian authorities began to revoke the passports of Palestinians who moved to the self-rule areas. Some later returned to Jordan and reapplied for Jordanian passports. Jordan reviews these applications individually.

In some respects, however, Jordan has liberalized its passport policy. For example, in 1996 Jordan began issuing five-year rather than two-year passports to Palestinians who resided in the West Bank. However, Jordan's government reiterated that they were for travel purposes only, and did not connote nationality.

Relief and Development

UNRWA's weakened financial state improved little in 1999. Since 1993, UNRWA has struggled to maintain its services for a growing refugee population with a roughly constant budget. The resulting budget shortfalls have forced UNRWA to implement austerity measures that continued to severely strain UNRWA's ability to assist Palestinian refugees in 1999.

In Jordan, UNRWA's financial difficulties had the greatest impact on education and health. Although the number of students enrolled in UNRWA schools declined for the fifth straight year (by 1.4 percent during the 1998-99 reporting year), children remaining in UNRWA schools continued to experience overcrowding, inferior facilities, and no extracurricular facilities because 93 percent of UNRWA schools in Jordan operated on double shifts. The decline in enrollment resulted, in part, from students transferring from UNRWA schools to Jordanian government schools, which generally had more experienced teachers, smaller student-teacher ratios, shorter school weeks, and better facilities. Refugee families moving to the West Bank and Gaza Strip also accounted for the decline in enrollment.

UNRWA remained particularly concerned with the poor condition of many of its school buildings in Jordan in 1999. More that half of the agency's 106 school buildings needed to be renovated or replaced, UNRWA reported. On a positive note, UNRWA began construction on two school buildings to replace five dilapidated schools in Irbid camp during the 1998-99 reporting period.

UNRWA health care was similarly strained. Budget constraints forced UNRWA to end individual subsidies for treatment at private hospitals in 1996, a measure that remained in place in 1999. UNRWA referred patients to government hospitals for secondary care, but because most government hospitals had more patients than they could cope with in 1999, some patients, such as women with high risk pregnancies and others in need of emergency care, were denied life-saving treatment. More generally, UNRWA's financial constraints prevented it from keeping pace with the demand for refugee health services.

In part because of UNRWA's severe and prolonged budget deficit, Jordan has increased its share of the costs of caring for refugees in recent years. During UNRWA's 1998-99 reporting year, Jordan spent $323 million on behalf of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, four times more than UNRWA spent on refugee services in Jordan during 1999.

Non-Palestinian Refugees

At the end of the year, 1,012 UNHCR-recognized refugees were in Jordan. Some 887 came from Iraq. Other principal countries of origin included Somalia, Sudan, Russia, and Bosnia.

During the year, 8,517 asylum applicants filed claims for refugee status with UNHCR, the overwhelming majority, some 7,727, from Iraq. Some 385 Sudanese nationals, 93 Syrians, 60 Egyptians, and 54 Russians also applied for refugee status in Jordan during the year.

In 1999, UNHCR decided the cases of 5,212 claimants, granting refugee status to 1,126, an approval rate of 21.6 percent. Of the nationalities with a statistically significant number of decisions issued, Somalis had the highest approval rate (34.6 percent), followed by Iraqis (22.3 percent). Syrians and Sudanese had lower approval rates (9.3 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively).

In 1999, UNHCR helped nine Bosnians and four Russians to repatriate. Another 839 refugees were resettled from Jordan to third countries, the overwhelming majority Iraqi.

Although Jordan is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, Jordan signed a memorandum of understanding with UNHCR in April 1998 concerning the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Jordan agreed to admit asylum seekers, including undocumented entrants, and to respect UNHCR's refugee status determinations. The memorandum also adopts the refugee definition contained in the UN Refugee Convention and forbids the refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers.

Despite the memorandum, neither the Jordanian government nor UNHCR considers Jordan to be a permanent country of asylum. Third-country resettlement is therefore the only durable solution for the overwhelming majority of those whom UNHCR recognizes as refugees in Jordan.


Estimates of the number of Iraqis living in Jordan range from 50,000 to 180,000. It is unclear how many are refugees. Many Iraqis fearing persecution in Iraq are believed to slip across the border into Jordan, where they remain without status or seek to move on to other countries. The government generally allows Iraqis, documented or not, to remain in Jordan for up to six months, after which they must either return to Iraq or depart to a third country in order to renew their visa. Recognized refugees are exempt from overstay fines.

While UNHCR provides modest assistance to Iraqis and others it recognizes as refugees, the broader population of Iraqis receives little, to no, assistance, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) found during a site visit to Jordan in the spring of 1999. USCR observed that many are among the poorest in Jordanian society, eking out meager existences in such jobs as street vendors and living in overcrowded and, at times, unsanitary conditions. USCR interviews with numerous Iraqis in Amman also revealed that some Iraqi women, desperate and feeling they have no alternatives, resort to jobs as prostitutes.

Although there were no confirmed incidents of refoulement from Jordan in 1999, some press reports suggested that arrests and deportations of Iraqis took place during the year. In August, Amnesty International also reported the arrest in Jordan of several Iraqis whom Amnesty considered to be at risk of serious human rights violations if returned to Iraq. Amnesty International reported that the Iraqis were last seen in a van that appeared to be heading for the Jordanian-Iraqi border.

In a September 14, 1999 letter to Jordan's ambassador in Washington, USCR asked whether Jordanian authorities had given the Iraqis the chance to request asylum in Jordan and pointed out that the principle of nonrefoulement applies equally to asylum seekers who have not had their refugee claims examined. The Jordanian government did not respond.

With Iraqi government agents reportedly able to operate freely in Jordan, safety in the country is particularly tenuous for some Iraqi nationals known or perceived to oppose Saddam Hussein's government. Several Iraqis were murdered in Jordan in 1997 and 1998, allegedly by Iraqi government agents.

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