The Urban Impact

 “University Circle,” was once mostly Jordanian college students, but is now home to thousands of Syrian family residences and workplaces.

“University Circle,” was once mostly Jordanian college students, but is now home to thousands of Syrian family residences and workplaces.

 
 

The city of Irbid has been impacted by four major migrations in modern history. When I [Agyead] arrived in Jordan in 2013 by plane, and then took a bus to Irbid. I was one individual in the most recent wave of arrivals to Irbid, and part of much longer history of urban transformation than the headlines about the “Syrian refugee crisis” reveal.

1951-1976: The first wave of refugees arrived with the establishment of the Irbid Refugee Camp to house 4,000 Palestinians who eventually developed their camp with concrete structures such that it “now resembles some of the urban quarters in Irbid.”[1] Over the years, these Palestinians were joined by Jordanian farmers who slowly trickled into Irbid seeking better incomes beginning in 1953.[2]

 The Palestinian “camp” is now just another neighborhood of Irbid.

The Palestinian “camp” is now just another neighborhood of Irbid.

1976-2012: The establishment of Yarmouk University created an anchor institution to which Jordanians flocked from across the country. When youth came to Irbid city to start taking classes, often their whole family would move with them to stay in one household, with parents and siblings finding work in construction, selling goods to other urbanizing migrants, or taking their previously-rural manufacturing or even agricultural/pastoral jobs with them into the city.

 Goat enclosures, like this one, roosters in courtyards, and chickens on balconies are not uncommon in Irbid as many Syrian and Jordanian new arrivals came from the countryside and brought with them rural practices that they have not fully abandoned.

Goat enclosures, like this one, roosters in courtyards, and chickens on balconies are not uncommon in Irbid as many Syrian and Jordanian new arrivals came from the countryside and brought with them rural practices that they have not fully abandoned.

2012-2015: The outbreak of the Syrian civil war flooded the city with refugees, peaking at some 400,000 refugee residents, outnumbering Jordanians.[3] Originally settling in low income student housing, Syrians dispersed across the city, establishing restaurants, shops, and filling schools.

2015-Present: The closing of Jordan’s border with Syria has meant the growth rate of Irbid’s forced migrant population has slowed and new arrivals of Syrians are mostly those moving from Jordan’s refugee camps into the cities to find work and more comfortable housing. Since March 2013, the numbers of refugees in camps began declining, while the numbers in cities doubled.[4] Syrians living in Irbid now refer to those in Za’atari with pity: “It’s hard there, so hard a life,” said one man living in Irbid.

Since 2015, change in Irbid has slowed, but the city is still adapting to its new demographic composition and demands on infrastructures—especially water and housing—and services, especially education. Today, the three primary challenges with integration reported by refugees in Irbid are financial stress,[5] feelings of exile, and limited or harmful social relations.[6] Jordanians overlap with these challenges, feeling financial stress, uncomfortable feelings around a new urban lifestyle, and limited social relations with newcomers.[7]

The city has been impacted in nine sectors:

Public spaces, housing, the education system, the security apparatus, jobs and the local economy, the healthcare system, transportation, water & waste management, and the impact of the presence of large INGO’s on the city.

[1] UNRWA. (2018). “Irbid Camp.” Online. Available at: https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/jordan/irbid-camp

[2] Al-Kheder et al., 2009

[3] Bani Mustafa, 2017

Note the number of Syrians in Jordan is highly political. Jordanian government ministries have an incentive to over-estimate to increase foreign aid/development revenue. The UNHCR describes only 98,000 Syrian “persons of concern,” in Irbid (UNHCR, 2016), down from a peak of some 125,000 in 2014 (Stevens, 2016). However their data is likely an underestimation as only a minority of Syrians in Jordan register or interact with the agency for support.

[4] Healy & Tiller, 2013

[5] “Social stress” including a spectrum of experiences from feeling discriminated against, to being assaulted.

[6] Alfadhli & Drury, 2018

[7] Based Al Athamneh & Al Momani, 2016