Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Situation

At the JCLA I've had a research project where I've been looking up the status of Palestinian refugees residing in refugee camps throughout Jordan. I've been It's actually been a really great opportunity because it's helped me learn a lot more about the current situation (through objective sources, I haven't really heard anything from actual Palestinian refugees living in the refugee camps--which might be the next step)... sorta. With every site I opened and every picture I looked at, I gain entry into another opinion and am able to comprehend a little more insight to what it takes to be a resident here.

I don't want to claim that I know at all what it means to be a refugee or that I completely understand the situation. I don't. But, I do have some sort of idea of what the deal is by living with my family and by looking into how working with UNRWA, the United Nationals Relief and Works Agency, is and how people feel about the organization/situations in which they live (/live near) these camps. Basically, I don't have an opinion because I've only done research online (like looking at everyone else's opinion), but I should be talking with someone from UNRWA sometime soon. I've probably talked with someone from a refugee camp; I don't know if I'll be visiting one--should I? I can never tell if I'm imposing myself and I present a terrifying situation for myself, or if I'd be welcomed in indulging in my curiosity. I sorta live near one of the camps. The Amman New Camp (Wihdat) was established in 1955 for refugees expelled from Palestine after the 1948 establishment of Israel as a state. Initially (I don't know if it's any different now), the area was 0.48 km squared for 1,660 refugees. Now over 51,000 registered refugees live within this camp. Damn. That doesn't include the numbers that UNRWA doesn't have of the unregistered folks living here in Amman and at the camp. In addition, there are 9 other official UNRWA funded camps, and three other unofficial refugee communities scattered throughout Jordan. According to UNRWA, Jordan holds almost half of the Palestinian refugee population, and as a result of the space compared to the volume of people, these camps are pretty crowded, disorganized, unhealthy and underfunded.

All of these facts are available to look at online with the UNRWA website, opinion/question/answer boards, NGO websites, wikipedia, etc. With all the information I've been looking up for the past week, I've been formulating lots of questions and trying to sort out my feelings about immigration and the responsibilities of refugees and those housing the refugees. When a disaster hits an area (natural disasters, war, famine... you know the deal), people flee and others provide. Temporarily. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico, it could be argued that some people living in the gulf states (particularly of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama) became homeless and became refugees... or displaced peoples, I guess. These folks were unable to return to their homes and were forced to migrate to another area and seek the refuge of someone else's hospitality. My mom and I talked about hosting a kid who would be my age from NOLA, but I don't think we could have afforded it. I think it's great--it seems that it may be a subconscious human reaction to help out those who are truly suffering in certain situations. Who knows if this is a natural instinct; it's just a theory.

Anyway, Jordan has been a host for the Palestinian refugees for a little less than 60 years. Wow. That's a long time to be a refugee. That's a long time to host so many refugees. 's gotta be expensive. Some people still currently living in the refugee camps here in Jordan and can remember living in Palestine before the partition of the area in 1948. I find it incredible that there would be a country that would continue to support these refugees for so long. After 1948ish, after the six-day war in 1967, after the intifadas and the recent distress in Gaza there have been more and more people entering Jordan... and that's just Palestinian refugees. The number of the Iraqi refugees is growing as well. Jordan's bursting at the seams and the natural resources/economy doesn't seem to support the number of people trying to reap benefits from the land. Is there a certain point where it's okay to be selfish and stop people from coming in? Is this a horrible thought?

In Maine, where my mom and I have lived since 2001, we have a pretty large Somali refugee population and a few years ago, the mayor of a certain town told the Somali folks already there to send the message along to their families to stop coming to Maine; he said that the city just didn't have enough resources or jobs to support the amount of people coming into the state. Essentially, (and I don't know if the entire city really felt like this, but people certainly supported him...) he told them that the Mainers didn't want them coming... My gut reaction is that this guy is racist and scared of having to work with Muslims because of the big hype/scare since 9/11 and all this terrorism/Al Qaeda/Taliban/Hamas bullshit scare tactic America has come up with. This may be the case, and I think it partially was, but I wonder now if he was actually trying to make sure that there were enough resources for people who were actually residents/citizens. In a pretty tactless way.

Everybody needs a home. That's the big deal right now. The Jews got their homeland after a-so-called-billion years of suffering, but now they've ostracized a whole other group. How fair is that? Not very. History is important, and boy, did the Jews have historic suffering, but, COME ON! Let's live in the present! The groups of people who fled Palestine to Jordan have sought refuge from their Arab brothers and sisters, and they received it, but now that it's been almost sixty years, don'tcha think that it's been long.enough for another country to be financially responsible for people who aren't residents? I don't even know if this is what I believe. I keep going back and forth because I want to embrace all kinds of people and try and help as many folks as I can, but at what point does state sovereignty outweigh the need to be hospitable? I have no idea what I'd do if I were a politician here.

As I said before, Jordan has a little less than half of the Palestinian refugees in the region, but that doesn't count the unregistered folks and those who have renounced their Palestinian culture and become Jordanian citizens. Many of the folks in Jordan are Palestinian-Jordanians and a smaller percentage are actually East Bankers (from the time when the area was under British mandate and this state used to be TransJordan). It's strange how much blood and birthplace comes into play here. It's like with Harry Potter (HAD TO)--the purebloods, half-bloods, muggle borns, muggles, etc. What does it all matter? We're all living and we all seek attention and crave love. How different can we be? Especially when some of us are Palestinians posing as Jordanians. Ahhh, I don't know. I'll probably get a lot of disrespect for this post, but this has been something that I've been thinking about for a while. Immigration and the status "REFUGEE" are obscure and murky terms for how people choose to individually identify. Unfortunately, this isn't an individualized world, as much as we'd like it to be... It's a world with an impossible amount of connections (I know first-hand that there are so many connections; just last night at choir I met another person who's done Seeds of Peace and we know lots of the same people).

So, after this incredibly long post, I'm left with the question: is it our common and decent civic duty as citizens of the world to take in everybody for as long as it takes or have we reached such a point of separation that each person needs to watch out for him/herself? Additionally, are organizations/agencies such as UNRWA (and others, I'm sure) actually helping the cause? Is it a case of prolonging a completely desperate situation? Is UNRWA providing for the refugees as the situation stands or will it become an organization that focuses on a solution to the refugee problem? What's better? What's worse? Shouldn't we focus on fixing long-term problems, rather than the short-term? But then, woah, shouldn't we fix the current problem? Am I just over-analyzing?...once again?

Regardless of the deal, I give props to the Palestinians for persevering and to the Jordanians for rolling with the punches and being so hospitable. I get that people are tired (I am, too), but we gotta keep pushing for a solution. I only hope that people haven't become too jaded. A solution is out there! Peace is possible! Let's do it!!!!

Picture: A piece of art I came across. Afraid I don't have a source.

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