Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 13:25 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Jordan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Jordan , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 20 November 2017]
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 2000, Jordan hosted almost 1.58 million refugees in need of protection. These included 1,570,192 Palestinian refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 1,912 refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and 7,871 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 200,000 Iraqis lived in Jordan, it was unclear how many were refugees.

In October, Palestinians in Jordan held several large demonstrations, some resulting in violence, to protest Israeli actions taken against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jordanian police killed one Palestinian refugee and injured six others when dispersing demonstrators in Baqa'a refugee camp on October 6.

As the Palestinian Authority and Israel attempted to reach a final peace agreement during 2000, the Jordanian government backed the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees and took the position that any peace agreement would have to compensate Jordan for the costs of hosting its large Palestinian refugee population since 1948.


Palestinian refugees in Jordan represented 42 percent of all UNRWA-registered refugees in 2000. 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 a deterioration in 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 280,191 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 during 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.

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, and who lost their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict, as well as persons descended from the original refugees. 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 9 of Jordan's 28 cabinet ministers in 2000 were of Palestinian origin, as were 6 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 fare better than their counterparts in other countries in the region, Palestinian refugees in Jordan continue 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 (PA) 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. Whereas Jordan previously had issued two-year passports to Palestinians who resided in the West Bank, it began issuing five-year passports to Palestinians in 1996. However, Jordan reiterated that these passports were for travel purposes only, and did not connote nationality.

Relief and Development

UNRWA's weakened financial state improved little in 2000, which continued to strain the agency's ability to assist refugees in Jordan during the year.

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 sixth straight year (by one percent during the 1999-2000 reporting year), children remaining in UNRWA schools continued to experience overcrowding, inferior facilities, and no extracurricular facilities. Almost all 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 2000. One-fourth of the agency's 103 school buildings needed to be renovated or replaced, UNRWA reported.

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 2000. UNRWA referred patients to government hospitals for secondary care during 2000, but was only able to cover a portion of the costs, leaving the remainder to be covered by the individual refugees in need of treatment. During 2000, however, UNRWA was able to increase its funding for women with high-risk pregnancies, who in previous years had sometimes been denied life- saving treatment. More generally, UNRWA's weakened financial state prevented the agency from keeping pace with the demand for refugee health services.

In part because of UNRWA's severe and prolonged budget deficit, the Jordanian government has increased its share of the costs of caring for refugees in recent years. During UNRWA's 1999-2000 reporting year, Jordan spent $380.4 million on behalf of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, five times more than UNRWA spent on refugee services in Jordan during 2000.

Non-Palestinian Refugees

At the end of 2000, 1,912 UNHCR-recognized refugees were in Jordan, of whom 1,790 came from Iraq. During the year, 6,806 Iraqi asylum applicants filed claims for refugee status with UNHCR. Small numbers of Sudanese, Russians from Chechnya, Somalis, and Eritreans also applied for refugee status in Jordan during the year.

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. According to the memorandum, Jordan agrees 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.

In March, however, the Jordanian government reportedly forcibly repatriated eight Libyan nationals who may have had valid claims to refugee status. Accusing them of being affiliated with "international terrorist organizations," the government deported the Libyans without giving UNHCR the chance to interview them. The Libyan government reportedly executed three of the eight men upon their return.

Neither the Jordanian government nor UNHCR considers Jordan to be a permanent country of asylum. Therefore, third-country resettlement is the only durable solution for the overwhelming majority of those whom UNHCR recognizes as refugees in Jordan. Although it normally takes 10 to 12 months to resettle refugees from the time UNHCR approves their applications, the Jordanian government limits to six months the time that refugees may legally remain in Jordan and does not renew identification documents after the first six months has elapsed. Although the government generally tolerates the presence of refugees after their documents lapse, refugees without valid identification tended to be more vulnerable to a variety of protection problems during the year.

During 2000, Jordan cooperated with Australia to crack down on the smuggling of asylum seekers and migrants, mostly from Iraq, through Jordan to Australia.


Estimates on the number of Iraqis living in Jordan range from 50,000 to 200,000. 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.

While UNHCR provides modest assistance to Iraqis and others it recognizes as refugees, the broader population of Iraqis receives little or no assistance. 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. The government denies undocumented Iraqi children the right to attend school.

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