The Authors’ Positions in Irbid & Experiences researching this case


Jordan is one of the most over-researched refugee-hosting countries in the world, in large part because of its security, ease of access, and openness to foreigners asking questions compared to other regional countries. If one wants to study refugees in the Middle East, one comes to Jordan. Working in Jordan involves constant brushing of shoulders with white, Western foreigners visiting for a week or two, haggling for access to the Za’atari camp to conduct “research,” or interviewing overworked aid practitioners over coffee at the chic Western-style cafes in Abdoun or Rainbow Street. I [Charles] was myself part of this horde as a naive master’s student years ago. These visitors have produced countless studies, surveys, visual projects, documentary films, advocacy reports, blogs, and photo journals about the plight of refugees in Jordan.

With this report, I [Charles] aimed to do things differently. Through another academic researcher, I was introduced to Agyead in a bright pink-decor shisha café on a rooftop while living in Irbid in 2018. As we talked over lemon b’na-a’a smoothies, it was clear Agyead had the personal experiences, social network, research skills, and observational attentiveness that would make him perfect as a co-author. Eager to have a platform to share refugees’ experiences, Agyead was happy to help out.

Over the next few months, Agyead and I met in cafes to talk and went for walks through the city, Agyead explained how the different shops, residencies, and public spaces had changed over the years from the presence of Syrians. After I left Jordan, Agyead and I have continued to talk by WhatsApp and email. Agyead’s personal experiences with integration in and around Irbid are included not as anecdotes, but as illustrations of broader themes identified by our interviews and observations.

In addition to these insights from Agyead, I explored Irbid alone, and with Jordanian friends. Even though neighborhood walks often went over the same streets, my view changed depending on who I was with. I noticed my Jordanian friends had very different views about how neighborhoods had improved or become worse and had different beliefs about what national groups could or couldn’t access services like schools, banks, and shops when compared to Agyead and other Syrians.

Whenever a foreigner tells a Jordanian they are working with Syrian refugees, they are asked whether they have been listening to Jordanian voices too. I therefore wanted to include balanced viewpoints of migrants and hosts in this report. As an American, I do not claim to personally represent the perspectives of Jordanians, but I do draw on numerous close Jordanian connections I have developed over the years. My deepest insights come from years of closeness with one particular family, the Zannads, part of the Bani Issa tribe, who have been rooted in Irbid since before Jordan was a state. I am grateful to this family for sharing with me their home, their city, and their country.