Securing a Dignified Life: Urban Refugees Confront Restrictive Jordanian Policies

Reviewed by Emily Yeh

October 15, 2015

In her paper “Securing a Dignified Life,” Swarthmore College student Katy Montoya examines the basis and implications of Jordan’s evolving response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees. She begins by discussing the historical relationships that Jordan has had with its previous refugee communities. Black September, a civil war in 1970 that emerged from the frustrations of dispossessed Palestinian refugees, left Jordan wary of welcoming additional refugee populations. Nevertheless, due to its relative stability in the region, Jordan continued to be a destination for many victims of persecution—namely, Iraqis and Syrians.

To further rationalize Jordan’s repressive tendencies, the author explains that a number of conflicts over the last two decades between the secular regime and conservative Islamist constituents have driven the nation’s development into an authoritarian state. In order to contain public uprising, Jordan established a highly pervasive state intelligence apparatus. Although the government has enacted some modest expansions of freedom, it continues to closely monitor the activities of civil society for potential dissidence.

Upon establishing historical and political context, Montoya uses a personal case study to demonstrate how Syrian refugees have overcome state-imposed obstacles through informal community networks. Lacking access to official assistance, refugees have turned to other local, wealthier Syrians for support. Many Syrian service providers in Jordan, including doctors and legal specialists, have adapted to, and often defied, government policy in order to continue delivering their services. Humanitarian organizations, which similarly struggle to achieve state recognition, have relied on a transnational web of wealthy Syrian donors to mobilize resources.

Although the humanitarianism in Jordan was intended ostensibly to help only civilians, the line between civilian and non-civilian has become increasingly blurry. Many refugees have sympathies, if not direct involvement, with the Syrian opposition. Jordan, which has supported and cooperated with the Free Syrian Army, had nonetheless been highly generous in its acceptance of Syrians at the border. In mid-2014, however, the state enacted new policies in light of a growing fear of the entrance of non-moderate armed individuals. In addition to banning unaccompanied men at the border, Jordan is alleged to have deported some Syrians, and many worry that various aid clinics will be shut down. Ultimately, the author concludes that it remains to be seen whether refugee networks will be able to maintain stability in light of these changes.

See the full paper here!

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