Charles Simpson Zaatari Jordan.jpg

The data for this report comes from conversations with refugees, hosts, and other migrants; key informant interviews; participant observation; mapping'; and a literature desk review:

1) Interviews & observation

I [Charles] spent months immersed in Irbid in 2016, and again in the same neighborhoods in 2018. In 2016 I was part of a research team that interviewed 22 Syrian refugees: 10 females ages 20-60, and 12 male ages 18-65. In 2018, I chose to rely on Agyead’s dense social network and experiences to provide Syrian perspectives, while I focused on collecting data on the perspectives of the wide range of other migrants and the diverse host Jordanian population of Irbid. I spoke with 14 Syrian refugees (12 male, 2 female; ages 25-65), 17 Jordanians of a range of socioeconomic and tribal backgrounds (13 male, 4 female; ages 20-60), 3 middle-aged Palestinians (all male; middle aged), 2 middle-aged Egyptians (both male middle aged), 2 young Thai economic migrants (both male middle aged), and 2 young Malay students (both male middle aged).

Meanwhile, for this report I [Agyaed] spoke with 38 Syrians (26 males and 12 females) ages 20 to 55, working in a variety of fields; I am in constant contact with many of them in my daily life, and in my line of work as a journalist I [Agyead] also drew on the year and a half of time living in Irbid and the nearby city of Jerash also in Irbid Province. I still work regularly for aid organizations in Irbid city and governorate, conducting news and academic interviews. Many of my friends still live in Irbid, and work in the various refugee aid organizations in the city.

We both have taken ethnographic notes on life in the city from our own experiences in restaurants, sweets shops, gyms, electronics stores, barber shops, soccer fields, cafes, grocery stores, shisha bars, video game cafes, language centers, historic sites, the downtown market, food stalls, bus stations, auto repair shops, manufacturing sites, shopping malls, aid organization offices, the Yarmouk University campus, and the city’s streets and rotaries.

Between both authors, we have conducted key informant interviews or taken part in meetings with practitioners including UNHCR’s Jordan office in Khalda, MENA office in Amman, USAID, the World Bank, WANA, UN Women, SWISS Development, ILO, NRC, ACTED, and REACH. We also spoke with academics and researchers from Yarmouk University, SOAS, EUI, Northeastern University, Maastricht University, NYU Abu Dhabi, and Harvard.

2) Mapping

The Humanitarian Data Exchange and Google Maps have fairly well-developed maps of Irbid’s services locations for a developing medium-sized city, however we added many points of interest to these maps by walking through the city and recording GPS locations. A Yarmouk University urban development study from the 1980s provided a time-lapse view of how services and population density have changed in the past 30 years. We also identified neighborhoods where refugees are residing based on our social networks throughout the city, our observations during walks, and conversations with experts. We did not request UNHCR residency data or record exact addresses of residencies for two reasons: 1) out of safety and ethical concerns, and 2) because numerous interviews suggested refugees’ registered addresses are not accurate because their temporary residence on first arrival in Jordan is the one they give during their registration process but is never updated because of the time and effort required to do so.[1]

3) Literature review

Finally, we conducted a literature review of refugees and urbanization in Irbid in English and Arabic, including grey literature from practitioners and INGOs, statistical data published by UNHCR,[2] and original translation to English of an Arabic language national survey on Jordanian public opinion about hosting Syrians conducted by Yarmouk University.[3] We also included a broader literature review on refugee urban integration in general.[4]


The most glaring limitation in our findings is from our gender positionality. As male researchers, and Jordan being a strongly gendered society, we were not able to interview as many females as would have been ideal. From our interviews and observations, it was clear that everything from who works what jobs, to abstract notions like aspiration to migrate were heavily gendered. As a result, this is very much a report on male experiences with integration, and deep insights to other genders’ perspectives would require more work. That said, during analysis we reviewed research on Irbid conducted by women researchers focused on gender issues, and considered how experiences of integration are gendered in Jordan. Finally, we analyzed our findings through conversations with our RIT research team in Amman led by an American woman, a Jordanian woman, and supported by a Sudanese Egyptian woman, who brought valuable and different perspectives.

[1] Of the 36 Syrian refugees in Irbid that I [Charles] asked about registration, only two thought UNHCR had accurate residential data for them. Agyead found this consistent with the Syrians he knows. Both Agyead and Charles’ conversations with UNHCR enumerators describe constant adaptation needed to find respondents through phone calls and being redirected multiple times by residents when a listed address did not match refugees’ real address.

[2] Available at:

[3] Arabic language survey from Based Al Athamneh & Al Momani (2016). English translations available on request from the authors.

[4] Forthcoming.