Refugee, Jordanian, and Other Migrant
experiences with integration
Experiences of Other Migrant Groups in Irbid
While Syrian refugees in Jordan have grabbed international news headlines, the transformation of Irbid also includes the experiences of numerous other mixed migrants who arrive both fleeing conflict and seeking economic and educational opportunities. There are Iraqi refugees as well, but in very small numbers, and some Sudanese, but in very small numbers.
There are many Nigerians in Irbid, studying Arabic in the universities, or playing soccer professionally in the Irbid football clubs. They express dissatisfaction with the quality of life here, which clashes with Nigerian culture: “there’s nothing to do here but sleep,” is a common statement.
South and Southeast Asian men and women live in Irbid too, studying Arabic and sharia law, or working in restaurants or as housekeepers (see box: “Syrian competition with Asian migrant workers?”). Their apartments are mixed in with Syrians and Jordanians but are subtly distinguishable by the small traditional colored flags hanging on their balconies.
The largest migrant group in Irbid other than Syrians are Egyptian seasonal migrant workers, who find jobs working in shisha cafes and in construction. Because of diplomatic protections from Cairo, on paper they require work permits but in practice most work irregularly yet face no real risk of deportation. These Egyptian migrant workers send remittances back to families in Alexandria and Cairo, profiting from the exorbitantly high exchange rate between the JD and the Egyptian Pound.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian refugees of Irbid have been forgotten. The UNHCR office for Syrian refugees is a swanky new compound in the wealthiest neighborhood of the city, while the UNRWA offices are sad, weathered buildings with dirty and disintegrating flags and signage in poor neighborhoods downtown. The “Irbid Refugee Camp” for Palestinians in the north of the city is now just another low-income neighborhood, Al A’awdah, blending into the urban fabric while its residents work alongside Jordanians in manufacturing, shops, cafes, and restaurants, especially falafel joints.