The Right to the City and Land Property in East Amman

Rand El Haj Hasan [1]

Jabal Al Joffeh, Amman – Rand El Haj Hasan

Jordan is a rather recently established nation that did not make use of architecture or urbanism during its nation-building process. As such, Amman is a city that was shaped mostly by migration waves; refugees have almost organically sculpted it. They gave shape to the cityscapes and the urban scenery, as they started building in its peripheries, which later became central neighbourhoods. Research on refugee camps has often helped in following the process of home-making. It is a meticulous work that brings out the architect in the refugee. In older camps, the state has often interfered over time and the built environment was rehabilitated as refugees integrated the city.

“City making” and “Home making” are two scales of analysis of the refugee’s knowhow in shaping their living conditions and stimulating their integration with the urban fabric. The refugees’ “City making” can be analysed through the study of neighborhoods made for and by the individuals recreating their communities in exile. As these neighborhoods grow and the state rehabilitates the unofficial camps, they become part of the city and give identity to its urban scenery. As the city expands in size, what was the periphery becomes the center and the camp becomes central to the city’s geography and history. Hence, local Jordanian typologies include inventions made by the city dwellers themselves.

The refugee camp, being a pretext for the state to intervene less in the area, turns into a zone of innovation where the inhabitants have no choice but to “make city” as they find fit. Due to the dense urban tissue, a sort of inward organic urbanism evolves and the inhabitants come up with their own facilities of collective space. Anthropological fieldwork, spatial mapping and specially adapted visual representation from Jabal Al Joffeh neighborhood demonstrate the means available for the marginalized neighborhood to create conviviality despite density. These urban margins composing vast surfaces of the city are what represent Amman as made by its migrants.

This research is based on interviews with inhabitants from different generations. Its latest phase covers Palestinian refugees in Jabal Al Joffeh neighbourhood, which is an informal refugee camp, a settlement that refugees improvised as they fled their hometowns. The fieldwork also covers the entire neighbourhood to include Armenian immigrants and Jordanian migrants coming from the city of Tafileh.

The objective is to map urban practices of the inhabitants and to understand their relationship with the city through their daily and seasonal practices. The mapping also includes a survey of spaces that compose the public space of the neighbourhood creating categories and typologies that help adapt to the density and preserve the local urban tissue.

So far, the research has generated findings on the evolution of the unofficial Palestinian camp, the impact of the camp on the rest of the city, the camp as a geo-localized identity of the refugee, and the specific typologies of the built environment of the unofficial camp.

El Haj Hasan’s research within the LAJEH network focuses on Amman as the result of the migration of different populations. It aims at reading the socio-political structure that emerges and is maintained, within specific neighbourhoods as the result of the identity of the geographical areas and not that of the nationality of origin of their inhabitants. It starts by following the history of different forced migration waves and aims at reaching an urban reading of the forced socioeconomic stagnation.


Photos taken by Rand El Haj Hasan are available here.

[1] Rand El Haj Hasan is an architect who studies the right to the city in Amman. She is pursuing her postgraduate studies in social science at the EHESS in Paris. She follows the impact of the major urbanism projects on the inhabitants in the popular residential zones.  She also conducts an anthropological research in the purpose of contrasting being a city dweller with being a citizen in a country of biased citizenship. The backbone of her current work is the right to property and how does land tenure affect the people’s rights and the relationship between the Ammanis and their city.


An Urbanizing Camp?  Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

Myriam Ababsa [1]

Habitations dans le camp de réfugiés de Zaatari en Jordanie – Photo: Léa Macias

An Urbanizing Camp?  Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

Zaatari UNHCR and Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate camp lies east of Mafraq and 12 km south of the Syrian border. Opened in July 2012, it has a population of 79,000 displaced Syrians (March 2018) on 5,3 km2, the size of a medium city.  The camp is an example of the dilemma faced by the Jordanian government: How to give shelter to Syrian refugees while preventing permanent settlement. Concrete construction is forbidden, except for schools, police stations, and several UN and international NGOs’ warehouses. Cement floors are allowed inside the 14,917 caravans to protect the refugees from mud in wintertime.

More than 460,000 Syrian refugees have transited through the camp. Its maximum population reached 200,000 in April 2013, but has decreased as Syrian refugees left to find job opportunities in Jordanian cities. In July 2014, Jordan initiated a new policy to drive back all Syrians found without proper documents to Zaatari and the Azraq camp, which opened in April 2014. In March 2017, the camp’s population was less than 79,000 refugees. 80% of them are coming from Deraa.

Zaatari has characteristics of an urban setting, with its own governance, economy and identity.  It has major paved roads following an established master plan to maximize space utilization while preserving social cohesion. There are three hospitals, three schools, several sports facilities, and 27 community centers. 120 caravans have been transformed into mosques with donor support from Gulf countries. Each day, 3.2 million liters of water are trucked to the camp and sewage and solid waste transported out to Al Kadr landfill, north of Mafraq. In 2016, a wastewater treatment plant has been built, with a capacity of 3,600 m3/day. Three internal water wells have been established, with a combined daily capacity of 3,800 m3. But inhabitants have only 35 liters per person per day, which is under the absolute water scarcity level (of 60 l).


Zaatari has a dynamic entrepreneurial culture, with 1,400 shops and 50 stalls in caravans along the main street (Sham-Elysées, ‘Sham’ being the local term for Syria). In March 2014, retail activity was estimated at US$2 million a month, with profit linked to illegal connections to the power grid and the absence of taxation. Since 2014, caravans are connected to the electrical grid for nine hours of power per day. A solar power plant is planned for 2017 to reduce gas emissions and the cost of electricity, which reaches JD 500,000 per month.

Since the London 2016 donors conference, Syrians can work with permits, and nearly 3,000 refugees leave the camp daily to work in agriculture in the fields around the camp. The next step involves creating employment in the King Hussein Bin Talal Special Economic Zone in Mafraq.


The Jordanian government is not a signatory to the UN 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and, as a result, the camp is managed by Jordanian authorities with technical and logistical support provided by the UN. The Syrian Refugee Affairs Department (SRAD) is responsible for the camp’s administrative management and the issuance of temporary and daily entry/exit permits for displaced Syrians.

Zaatari is divided into 12 districts. Representatives from each district serve on a camp committee to help maintain dialogue with SRAD on key issues related to life in the camp, such as services. The UN needs authorization from SRAD for all activities implemented in the camp, such as infrastructure works or the construction of a new school. The camp is de facto and de jure fully managed by the Jordanian government, and Jordanian law is administered in all sectors. For example, UNICEF schools follow the Jordanian curriculum, with regular Jordanian teachers employed in all educational centers.

The UN plans to create an internal governance system with designated leaders for each district, along with self-assigned street leaders, clan sheikhs, and community leaders. The hope is to empower the refugees to return to Syria in dignity.

[1] Myriam Ababsa is an associate research fellow in Social Geography at the Ifpo in Amman and a consultant. Her work focuses on the impact of public policies on regional and urban development in Jordan and Syria. She questions governance, public participation in housing policies and services delivery.

Photos taken in Zaatari camp by Lajeh researchers can be found here.