Syrian Refugees Collectivizing in Jordan Becomes a Security Issue‎

– Par Katy Montoya –

Katy Montoya is a senior at Swarthmore College, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Arabic Language. Her fieldwork in Jordan over the past two summers has been the basis for her research on state-supported and informal civil networks for Syrians inside Jordan. This research was made possible by the support of the European Research Council’s WAFAW project ( and by the J. Roland Pennock Fellowship in Public Affairs.


I first visited the northern city of Irbid, Jordan in the summer of 2013 as an American undergraduate studying Arabic. By joining a youth volunteer group, I came into contact with Syrian social workers who mobilize resources and services among the Syrian community in order to assist new Syrian arrivals, including injured ex-fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). On my visits to Syrian neighborhoods, I heard a wealth of personal narratives of suffering and resilience that left me with a lasting impression of the degree of solidarity of the Syrian community throughout this protracted Syrian war.

Now relocated to a Jordanian city, I have also been getting the strong impression that refugees here also face state-imposed obstacles to securing a dignified life. Realizing the extent of Syrian civil networks and observing their general support for and ties to the FSA, I decided to create a research design to explore the political implications of Syrian community networks and their interactions with the Jordanian state.

Under the auspices of the WAFAW project, I conducted five weeks of fieldwork (interviews and observation) in the summer of 2014 inside Syrian communities in Amman, Irbid, Zarqa, Ramtha, and al-Mafraq, Jordan. The research protocol underwent rigorous evaluation by Swarthmore College’s Institutional Review Board for ethical research with human subjects. The protocol for this research included measures for protecting the anonymity of all participants and for reducing the risks of coercion or exploitation in recruiting and in interviewing participants.

My fieldwork comprised of visits to Syrian community centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and housing units for disabled ex-fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Among the individuals who participated in my research were female and male heads of clinics, doctors, mental health workers, social workers, founders of NGOs, artists, actors, lawyers, FSA leaders and fighters, and a human rights documenter. Many of them originated from Damascus and its countryside towns (Rif Dimashq), but they were mainly from the southern city and countryside of Dera’a. All those I interviewed had relatively secure financial situations and were committed in varying degrees to providing goods or services to struggling Syrians, both in Jordan and in Syria. My research problematic also embraced Jordan’s policies toward and involvement in Syrian refugee registration and control. Thus, I interviewed various state and security officials, in particular, Health Ministry workers and Jordanian border security officials, including a lieutenant.

The decision to study Jordanian refugee policies through interviews with members of urban Syrian refugee communities upholds this research’s main objective—recovering the ‘lost voices’ which are not frequently represented in official sources and documents. I began this project by reading a wide array of press sources (from the Jordanian government and prominent Arab publications) to understand how varying media sources portray Jordan’s policies towards Syrian refugees. I then compared this information to reports published by NGOs that quantify the wellbeing of Syrian refugees in Jordan and study the effects of hosting Syrian refugees on Jordanian society, politics, and economy.

The use of interviews and participant observation served to evaluate official government statements and the compiled data presented in NGO reports. While my research methods are not easily reproducible, conducting fieldwork with members of the affected community enabled me to measure the extent and the effects of refugee policies as they are really enacted. Through my visits to the offices of Jordanian ministers and military officials, I was also able to inquire into the political climate that surrounds Syrian refugee issues. Where my questions were not answered, I was able to discern which aspects of the state’s policies were politically sensitive, and with further research, why such might be the case.

 Gaining the trust of my participants was central to my research. I observed that many interviewees shared a distrust of outsiders, which may be related to the fact that a large number of this community have recently fled from what may be termed a police state at war – in  a country where rumors, arrests, torture, and killings are the norm. The omnipresence of the Jordanian Mukhabarat (The General Intelligence Directorate) in all that concerns Syrian affairs has only served to foster this distrust. Therefore, gauging how I was perceived, not just by participants, but by all those with whom I came into contact during my fieldwork, was crucial. My age (an undergraduate student) and my ties to the Syrian community (as a Venezuelan-American with no Arab origins) often perplexed participants. However, I was often able to offset their concerns by emphasizing my focus on safely and efficiently conducting the research and ultimately using it as a means to inform others of the struggles of the community. My fluency in colloquial Arabic as well as my experience in working with a local research assistant undoubtedly positively reflected on my person and my research project.

The context around the Syrian communities I was studying—the suffering stemming from the violence in Syria and all its consequences – imbues this present research. Hearing the tragic personal stories of participants and others I encountered throughout the fieldwork was inevitable. It continues to be a challenge to filter out these personal interactions from the act of conducting and analyzing the research itself. This has undoubtedly fueled the obligation I now feel to render this research beneficial to these communities themselves —to ensure it is of humanitarian, as well as academic, import.

 My research applies ethnographic methods to the study of power— that is, the loci of power in refugee support networks, in refugee control, in Syria’s political and armed opposition, and in Syria-Jordan relations. It is important to note that I have adopted the 1951 Refugee Convention’s definition of the refugee status, which considers any individual who has fled dangerous home conditions to be a refugee, even before he or she obtains formal refugee Status.[1] Rather than focusing on individual Syrian refugees, the present study is concerned with how collectives form and operate within Jordan’s Syrian refugee communities, and how these collectives interact with the Jordanian state.

This research seeks to be a contribution to an ongoing body of literature on the workings of informal networks and their bearing on macro-political forces in the Middle East, a region where, as Quintan Wiktorowicz observes, “informal networks are an indelible component of the social matrix.”[2] In the present paper, I define informal networks as the community-level movement of goods, services, and information that serves as an alternative to state institutions and procedures, which often overlook marginalized populations. My definition is based on Wiktorowicz’s work on underground Salafi networks in Jordan and on the prior framework established by Diane Singerman in her ethnographic study of grassroots politics and economic transactions in a sha’bi (popular) Cairene neighborhood[3] She affirms that states generally ignore informal groups and transactions so long as they do not “become vehicles for opposition and resistance or merely work against the interests of state policy.”[4]

My own research fills in this hiatus, demonstrating how the Jordanian state attempts to regulate the workings of Syrian community networks and the movement of Syrian individuals, among whom they perceive potential threats to Jordanian interests in the context of the nearby Syrian war and of refugee politics in Jordan.

Conflict Context

The steady devolution of what had once been enshrined as Syria’s revolution has inevitably driven large flows of Syrians into Jordan’s refugee camps and urban areas. I have gathered various testimonials from those present during the March 2011 protests in Dera’a and a little later in Damascus and Aleppo. These first-hand accounts support the dominant narrative, which detail the police and military brutality which suppressed the originally peaceful protests in these and other urban centers. Various testimonials also recount the defections of ex-regime intelligence and military officials which led to the formation of the Free Syrian Army. The latter was Syria’s main oppositional force before the entrance of a multitude of armed, primarily extremist ideological groups, the strongest of which now being the Islamic State and Jabhat an-Nusra, who have largely overshadowed the FSA in organization and military prowess.

Most importantly for this research, many of these testimonials recount the ongoing onslaught of regime forces in civilian areas in Dera’a City, and the Dera’a and Damascene countryside, using tanks, barrel bombs dropped from the air, snipers, and landmines. Syrians who have left their homes for Jordan have frequently explained that their decision to flee Syria preempted or came as a result of such attacks. In other cases, the civilian victims of these attacks were escorted by the Free Syrian Army and then by Jordanian border security to Jordanian hospitals where they received life-saving medical treatment.

Jordanian policies toward entering and residing Syrians have evolved simultaneously with the three-and-a-half year conflict. Jordanian border security has, from the beginning, played a generous role in facilitating border crossings, ending the long, often dangerous journeys of fleeing Syrians. Various Jordanian officials in my interviews emphasized the extent of humanitarian care that Jordan provides for entering Syrians, in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from the border in. Unlike nearby Lebanon, the Jordanian government has worked with the UNHCR to open the al-Za’tari and al-Azraq refugee camps. Other camps include Cyber City, a holding facility for “illegal” Palestinian refugees from Syria (often referred to as PRS) and the Emirati (UAE-funded) camp.

Keeping a close count of registered Syrian refugees is difficult. Many Syrians enter Jordan illegally by bypassing official checkpoints. Increasingly, this is due to intensifying battles over border crossings between Jabhat an-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and al-Asad’s forces, and Jordan’s subsequent closing of bordering crossings.[5] Meanwhile, about a hundred thousand Syrians who once resided in Jordan’s refugee camps have voluntarily returned to Syria. Many have also escaped the camps for Jordan’s cities and rural areas in order to seek better conditions and work opportunities.[6] Thus, roughly twenty percent of Syrians in Jordan face poor camp conditions.[7] Overcrowding and poor sanitation prevail, especially in the al-Za’tari and Cyber City camps, despite the efforts of camp officials.

Meanwhile, eighty percent of Syrians now live outside Jordan’s refugee camps and struggle to obtain necessary goods and services. With the help of UN subsidies, Jordan has kept its public hospitals open to Syrian refugees for over three years, allowing refugees to access free healthcare. State officials abruptly announced the termination of these services in late November 2014, citing the heavy debts Jordan has accrued through extending free Health-care to Syrian refugees.[8]

Education is also difficult to access for young Syrian refugees. Often, this is due to difficult home situations, but also ensues from the challenges in accommodating high numbers of school-aged Syrians in Jordanian classrooms. Most Syrians struggle to survive thanks to meagerly distributed food vouchers and many simply refuse to rely on aid organizations. While Jordanian work permits are costly and rarely distributed, refugees risk punishment from Jordanian authorities for taking informal and black market jobs. Indeed, conditions for Syrians in Jordan have become only more difficult with time.

During the summer of 2014, rumors began to circulate in the international media concerning Jordan’s repatriation of illegal Syrian workers and the strict cap imposed on Syrian refugees awaiting entry at the border. Syrian social workers reported cases of Jordanian authorities forcefully relocating unregistered urban refugees to live in refugee camps. The interviews I conducted this summer with Syrian social workers upheld such claims. Meanwhile, the official Jordanian press denied Jordan’s involvement in deporting refugees back to Syria.[9] Months later, however, international organizations and researchers have indeed been able to substantiate the claims.

A November 2014 report released by Boston University (BU) compiles interviews with international organizations and the testimonials of impacted Syrians, providing conclusive evidence of Jordan’s practice of forced repatriation. In fact, escalating concerns over refugee control and domestic security have created a charged political climate surrounding these matters. It is becoming clear that new security priorities have prompted Jordanian authorities to deport threatening and nonthreatening Syrian refugees alike. As the BU report states, “Syrian nationals are being deported in some instances for violating laws, such as working illegally. Others are deported for posing security problems, usually as a result of political action, regardless of specific affiliation.”[10] Through this practice, Jordan may damage its international image, even though it is true that the kingdom is not a signee of the 1951 Refugee Convention. As my initial research problematic hypothesized, security concerns have come to dominate the Jordanian government’s approach to hosting Syrian refugees.

According to the same Boston University report, Jordan’s Ministry of the Interior, particularly the Department of Security Intelligence, has assumed a leading role in the registration and monitoring of Syrian refugees. The government recently replaced the non-profit Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), with one of the Ministry of the Interior’s organizations, the Syrian Refugee Camp Directorate, to take over control of the al-Za’tari camp. Such moves exemplify the government’s current drive to address Syrian matters “through a national security lens.”[11]

Al-Za’tari Camp, 08/ 2014
Al-Za’tari Camp, 08/ 2014

A Survey of Syrian Social Networks in Jordan

 In his study of Islamist organizations in Jordan, Quintan Wiktorowicz concludes that the Jordanian state exercises authoritarian control over civil society formation and practices.[12] Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate, the Mukhabarat, are a major force in regulating the contents and activities of political parties, charities, and cultural organizations. While this holds true for Jordanian organizations, I discovered through my survey of civil society formation in Syrian refugee communities, that among this population, Jordan is only selectively regulatory. In other words, the state allows some organizations and groups to operate freely while others are closely monitored or banned altogether. An exploration of what is permitted, and under what conditions, should contribute to reveal the logic which is currently steering Jordan’s refugee policy, and by extension, what its political position towards the Syrian war may be.

Having recourse to informal networks within Jordan’s Syrian community enables these refugees to address the issue of difficult access to goods and services. Urban Syrian communities are composed of refugees from all socioeconomic backgrounds, living outside the refugee camps. These communities take in bailouts from refugee camps as well as refugees who arrive directly from Syria, from other parts of the region, and even the world. Among this diverse group of Syrians there are the “haves” and the “have-nots”, the unmistakably marginalized and the better integrated.  Community dynamics are determined, to a high degree, by the divide between those who are in a position to provide resources and services and those who stand in need of the latter. Within this context, Syrian communities have increasingly collectivized. Some provide humanitarian aid to civilians or are seeking ways to support Syria’s political and armed opposition. Divisions between civilian and non-civilian circles are hazy and often overlap.

In my interviews with Syrian founders of community centers, human rights documenters, groups of doctors, FSA leaders, and FSA supporters, I observed the pragmatic decisions that groups make in order to ensure their chances of existing and operating in Jordan. They both anticipate and react to the decisions of Jordanian state institutions. This is reflected in their decision either to operate formally, through registration and compliance, or informally, without government recognition or support.[13]

In Irbid, the only surviving Syrian family support center (as of July 2014) has gone to a lot of trouble to abide by strict regulation requirements. The founder (a former activist from Dera’a) not only has sought the assistance of a European NGO partner, but also created two salaried positions for Jordanian workers, a heavy burden for a struggling non-profit, in order to justify its right to operate in Jordan. “If I didn’t do this, the authorities would close me down immediately,” she explained, referring to Jordan’s Ministry of Social Development.

Institutionalization may bring some peace of mind, but it does not guarantee government support or the ability to attract international aid. The activists and humanitarians who run these centers rely on a transnational network of Syrians which links wealthy financial donors living abroad (often in Gulf countries) to victims of the Syrian war. Syrian organizations and centers often serve as liaisons, mobilizing their social media networks to alert activists and potential donors both within and without their direct communities to ongoing emergency cases among their communities (casualties, destitution, those unjustly imprisoned in Syria).

Another member of the Syrian community in Irbid has established a sort of civil registry office in his living room, reprinting legal documents for Syrians who left their papers behind or whose documents have expired. Syrians come to his home office from various communities in North Jordan, seeking his services. For over a year, he has also assembled teams of Syrian activists to document human rights violations and civilian deaths wherever they have occurred in Syria. Volunteers in his office use testimonies and different methods of verification to create reports with titles like, “Violence Against Girls and Women in Dera’a” and “Attacks on Field Hospitals in Aleppo.”

The founder claims that when his documents first began surfacing, their factsWere at variance with the information published by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). He relates this to the Jordanian Mukhabarat’s attempts to shut down his center—that is, until the Jordanian authorities had assessed the quality of his work. He provides legal documents in the hope they will be recognized by the Jordanian government and by international organizations. Meanwhile, his human rights work ties his center to political leaders, various armed opposition groups, journalists, activists, arms-traffickers, and local coordinating committees in Syria and neighboring countries. The capacity to obtain quantifiable evidence on events in Syria from Jordan is a testament to the organization and coherence of the transnational networks which bind the larger Syrian community together.

Syrian community center, Irbid, 08/2014
Syrian community center, Irbid, 08/2014

Extending Support to Non-Civilians

 The informal networks that include non-civilians, particularly those that connect Syrian refugee communities to armed opposition groups in Syria, work in fairly similar ways. As Syrians collectivize to address civilian needs, it is not uncommon for them to engage with Syrians who have political and military affiliations. In my own experiences of visiting ostensibly civilian Syrian community centers, I encountered individuals who play more direct roles in the Syrian opposition on a regular basis: field doctors from battle sites in Dera’a, leaders of different divisions of South Syria’s FSA, prominent political activists and dissidents, and arms collectors. They often share family or hometown ties to Syrian community leaders in Jordan and use the resources made available by community networks to collect funds and supplies, relocate their families to Jordan, spread news, and discuss opposition strategies. As more Syrians flee to Jordan, the dynamics of civilian versus non-civilian have become increasingly complex.

The majority of Syrian refugees in Jordan side with the Syrian opposition. Most come from Dera’a and the Damascus countryside, a region which has been largely divided between FSA-controlled and regime-held areas. Many have faced the dire consequences of attacks by the regime on civilian areas and the intense shuttling back-and-forth between the regime and the FSA. However, it remains important to distinguish armed opposition from Syria’s formal political opposition, represented by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and other related bodies. ,During the of summer 2014, the Syrian refugees I encountered in my fieldwork overwhelmingly sided with the FSA forces, while almost never identifying with the public political figures of the SNC, who are thought to prioritize unavailing diplomacy and negotiations over the real needs of the greater Syrian community.

The relative ease with which Syrians in Jordan connect with and support members of Syria’s opposition occurs in the context of implicitly partisan (non-neutral) practices. It is relatively well-known that the Syrian-Jordanian borders are spaces of cooperation between the Jordanian military and the FSA. My interviews with leaders of South Syria’s Military Council (i.e. the FSA), as well as with various media sources, confirm that implicit agreements between these military groups enable the free movement of FSA leaders across the border. Moreover, at one of the last border crossings to remain open at Ruwaishid, Jordanian intelligence and military actively facilitate the transport of arms, food, and medical supplies across the border into Syria, as well as the entry of refugees into Jordan.[14]

Founding member of Free Syrian Army of Nawa (Dera’a Province), 08/2014
Founding member of Free Syrian Army of Nawa (Dera’a Province), 08/2014

Controlling and Conceding to Syrian War Victims

Jordan’s acceptance of disabled Syrians is largely seen as a humanitarian obligation. The independent international organization, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is present at Jordan’s border hospitals. This arrangement assumes the Jordanian government’s collaboration in addressing the spillover of Syrian victims. Unlike MSF, publicly funded international organizations are constrained from providing relief to non-civilians, particularly if “there are serious reasons for considering that [they have] committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity.”[15] For any entity that is expected to remain neutral, extending care to even the moderate opposition can be problematic. The same standard applies to Jordan, as the kingdom has exercised diplomatic caution since early on in the conflict and claims to be a neutral bystander in the ongoing war.[16] In this context, the overlaps and contradictions between caring for Syrian civilians and managing the interests of the Syrian opposition are constant and ongoing. Keeping non-civilians out of Jordan becomes more complicated when dealing with Syrians who haven’t deliberately left their homes for Jordan (and are not actively seeking refugee status) but rather have been rushed to the borders by the FSA. As war casualties, they come from both civilian neighborhoods and from the battlefield, and their injuries largely exceed the capacities of Syrian field hospitals.

Although the Jordanian military and intelligence employ strict identification screening methods throughout the registration process for refugees, they generally apply much looser policies to Syrian casualties seeking medical treatment. The procedures set up to manage this influx supposedly privilege civilian victims and Syria’s moderate opposition (the FSA), yet Jordan’s open-door policy inadvertently extends to wounded fighters from al-Qaida’s affiliate, Jabhat an-Nusra, and possibly other groups active in Syria’s southern region.

Jordanian security, intelligence, and medical personnel are undoubtedly aware of this. Officials actively control the movement of Syrian trauma patients in Jordan in order to counterbalance their humanitarian open-door policies. Such practices were common when Palestinian refugees from Iraq living in Jordan’s Ruwaishid camp use to seek medical treatment in Jordan’s cities after the US invasion in 2003.[17] Today, members of Jordan’s Civilian Defense escort wounded Syrians to their first stop at the public Ramtha Government Hospital. From there, police officers supervise each patient’s stay, whether unaccompanied male or patient plus family, at one of the country’s several private, specialized hospitals. This route officially terminates at the Joint Registration Center at Ruba’a al-Sarhan, close to the Syrian border in the al-Mafraq governorate. There, individuals are registered and officials assess whether they should be sent to al-Za’tari camp (to be escorted by police to further medical appointments at a later date) or back to the dangerous zones in Syria from where they came.

The movement of Syrians through informal social networks is much harder for Jordan to regulate. Loopholes exist in the surveillance procedures that the state increasingly imposes on Syrian refugees. While Jordanian officials claim it is not possible for recovering Syrian trauma patients to evade the regulated system that leads them to al-Za’atari or back to Syria, certain intermediaries intervene on the behalf of these vulnerable individuals. One such Jordanian, bearing the pseudonym Abu Ahmad, a man from Zarqa City, works full-time in the service of the Syrian community. Since retiring from decades of membership in Jordanian Security, he has used his wasta, a cultural term denoting extensive social connections and a certain privilege and status, to pull young Syrian men out of this often merciless system. He frequently visits al-Za’tari Camp and private hospitals to follow up on special cases that come to his attention through his ties to the greater Syrian community. By mobilizing funds from wealthy Syrian donors abroad, he has established housing units for disabled ex-FSA fighters that provide ongoing medical treatment and rehabilitation as well as living necessities. Even as a well-established East-Bank Jordanian, he is subject to monitoring by the Jordanian authorities. Abu Ahmad explains that the authorities’ primary concern is ensuring that only moderate Syrian nationals—not extremist fighters, Palestinian refugees from Syria, or foreign fighters—find refuge in Jordan.

Jordan has, perhaps, overcompensated to dispel rumors suggesting that it is providing refuge to non-moderate armed oppositions groups. At the same time, the evolution of its policies toward Syrian refugees reflects the increasing security concerns at its borders. An article from the Forced Migration Review notes that since 2013, “Jordan has imposed bans on unaccompanied men from entering the country.”[18] The rising threat of Islamic State fighters entering the country compounds existing fears of Syrian regime agents penetrating the closely monitored borders, as Jordanian border security officials explained to me. The same article describes a common occurrence in conflict-ridden countries, where a separate political logic often applies to male refugees of fighting age (as opposed to families, women, and children).[19] Specifically, host country policies toward adult males overemphasize their potential for taking up arms, and thus discriminate against them as assumed non-civilians. Scoping out possible threats to Jordan’s internal harmony and curbing extremism is increasingly being imposed at the expense of offering refuge to some of Syria’s most vulnerable displaced individuals.

Syrian men wait at the borders in al-Mafraq, 07/2014
Syrian men wait at the borders in al-Mafraq, 07/2014

Circles of Syrian Doctors Working in Jordan

Most of the private hospitals in Jordan that mentioned above only started receiving Syrian patients from the borders in the summer of 2013. At this time, Syrian doctors in Jordan organized to request reservation of entire floors of private hospitals in Amman in which to treat injured Syrians. In interviews I conducted at a handful of these hospitals, Syrian doctors characterized their groups as informal. The doctors had been brought together by community networks, often originating in Syria, as well as by a common desire to provide relief to war victims. Before March 2011, many of these doctors had been working at Syrian government hospitals. Once uprisings throughout the country began, these hospitals became dangerous spaces, and soon, completely off-limits to wounded protesters and anyone perceived to be siding with the opposition. Even now, Syrian doctors who treat the civilian victims of regime violence continue to face threats, detention, and death at the hands of the Syrian government. Today, Syrian doctors who have remained to work in Syria’s field hospitals stay connected with those who have left for neighboring countries, through support networks which mobilize funds, medical supplies, and medicine for Syria’s injured and ill. They also use their connections to provide synchronized responses to daily events in south Syria and to personally monitor trauma victims as they make their way to private ICUs in Jordan.

In an interview I conducted with a Jordanian Health Ministry official, he stated that there was a procedure in place for Syrian doctors to obtain a Jordanian license and so be authorized to practice medicine legally in their host country: but they must first pass the Jordanian Medical Council exams, register with the state, and join the Jordan Medical Association. On the basis of various personal accounts, this appears to be a very difficult task; obtaining a Jordanian license is not at all common. Once again, the discrepancy between official policy and actual practice is rampant. This particular case aligns with the Jordanian government’s general discouragement of Syrians working in Jordan, and hence with the difficulty Syrians face in obtaining work permits and the fear they have of being caught working illegally.

On paper, unregistered Syrian doctors are restricted to managing the logistics of patient transfers. Yet with the continual influx of war victims from the borders and few Jordanian doctors to treat them, many Syrian doctors are compelled to defy Jordan’s policies in order to treat patients. In the hospitals I visited, Jordanian doctors often help keep up the appearances of compliance by briefly visiting Syrian wards every day to sign off on official documents and register the surgical acts on Syrian patients. They therefore help Syrian doctors avoid the consequences of being caught working illegally, which are daily increasing in severity.[20] To manage the Health Ministry’s monthly visits, Dr. “Al-Ghouta”, has established a protocol for Syrian doctors in his hospital to to be able to hide in the basement, and Dr. “Muadamiyat” uses a fake patient ID to disguise himself. The same health ministry official I interviewed acknowledged that most Syrian doctors in Jordan quite literally work underground.

Victim of airstrike treated in ICU in Amman 08/2014
Victim of airstrike treated in ICU in Amman

For over a year, it seemed that as long as Syrian doctors continued filling in for the lack of doctors treating incoming wounded Syrians, and as long as they steered clear of politics, the Jordanian government would continue to turn something of an acquiescent blind eye to these predominantly wageless doctors. However, an article by Human Rights Watch announced the recent deportation of Syrian medical workers “caught” treating Syrian patients at Ramtha Public Hospital as well as at private hospitals around Jordan.[21] It is safe to conclude that Jordanian authorities have already closed, or may soon close, rehabilitation centers and Syrian hospital wards which have provided the materials for a part of this present study.

Syrian Rehabilitation Center, Irbid, 08/2014
Syrian Rehabilitation Center, Irbid, 08/2014

Monitoring a Situation in Flux

 Jordan’s steady deviation from humanitarian obligation reveals the Kingdom’s apprehensions about hosting another refugee population, on a long-term basis. It is indeed relevant to wonder whether Jordan’s growing impatience stems in fact from the utter lack of any solution to Syria’s persistent war. In the light of the escalating security concerns that cooperation with the FSA raises, perhaps the costs of quietly supporting Syria’s moderate opposition are too high. Through its recent political moves, Jordan may be seen to be sending an implicit message to the refugees and to the international community—that is, a desire to reduce involvement in Syrian affairs. However, could it also be that after three and a half years of conflict, the Jordanian government, like a significant number of Syrian refugees, is considering reconciliation with the al-Asad regime?[22]

Most importantly for this research, it is crucial to raise the question of just how far Jordan’s evolving political agenda will affect its treatment of Syrian refugees and the resulting wellbeing of these communities. Can their informal networks withstand repressive host country policies? How will underhand practices like repatriation undermine the resilience and cohesiveness of the larger Syrian community?

Life has come to a halt for Syrians in Jordan, who have little access to higher education, healthcare, and work. For many, Jordan is just a temporary stopover before the refugees move on to Turkey or undertake the dangerous trip to Europe. As European Union member countries and Australia are offering thousands of resettlement and asylum opportunities to Syrians, the common perception is that better treatment and possibilities are awaiting them there.[23] While Jordan is becoming an increasingly undesirable place for Syrians to live and be, most have no option but to stay put and wait it out.

[1] UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series,

[2] Wiktorowicz, Quintan. 2001. The management of Islamic activism: Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and state power in Jordan. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, p. 9.

[3] Singerman, Diane. 1995. Avenues of participation: family, politics, and networks in urban quarters of Cairo. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[4] Singerman, Avenues of Participation,134.

[5] Al-­‐Abed, Tareq. “Who Controls Syrian Border Crossings? Al­‐Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East.” Al-­Monitor. N.p., 17 July 2014. Web.

[6] Tilley, Tom. “Refugees Catch Bus from Hell to Escape Harsh Conditions of Camp.” ABC News. N.p., 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

[7] Akram, Susan M., and Boston University Law Students. Protecting Syrian Refugees: Laws, Policies, and Global Responsibility Sharing. Publication. N.p.: Boston U Law School, 2014. Print.

[8] Sherlock, Ruth. “Jordan Repeals Free Medical Aid for Syrian Refugees.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 28 Nov. 2014. Web.

[9] “Labour Ministry considering New Measures for Working Syrians.” Jordan Times. Petra, 2 Aug. 2014. Web.

[10] Akram, “Protecting Syrian Refugees”, 63.

[11] Akram, “Protecting Syrian Refugees”, 56.

[12] The Management of Islamic Activism, 37.

[13] Wiktorowicz, Management of Islamic Activism, 17.

[14] Al‐Abed, “Who Controls Syrian Border”.

[15] UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status.

[16] Davis, Carlo. “Jordan ‘Forced’ Into Syria Intervention? Economic Conditions Pressure Abdullah To Allow U.S. Presence, Analysts Say.” The Huffington Post. 18 Apr. 2013. Web.

[17] Frelick, Bill. 2006. Silent treatment: fleeing Iraq, surviving in Jordan. New York: Human Rights Watch, 80.

[18] Davis, Rochelle, Abbie Taylor, and Emma Murphy. “Gender, Conscription and Protection, and the War in Syria.” Gender, Conscription and Protection, and the War in Syria. Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University, Sept. 2014. Web.

[19] Davis et al. “Gender, Conscription, and Protection”.

[20] Akram, “Protecting Syrian Refugees,” 63.

[21] “Jordan: Syrian Medical Workers Deported.” Human Rights Watch. 8 Dec. 2014. Web.

[22]  Stevens, Matthew. “Dreaming of Home: Syrian Refugees in Jordan’s Cities -­‐ Will They Be Repatriated?” by Matthew R. Stevens.” Syria Comment RSS. N.p., 16 Sept. 2014. Web.

[23] Nguyen, Katie. “UN Says Rich Nations Pledge to Take 100,000 Syrian Refugees.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 09 Dec. 2014. Web.

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La rédaction (2015, 17 février). Syrian Refugees Collectivizing in Jordan Becomes a Security Issue‎. Les carnets de l'IREMAM. Consulté le 25 mai 2024, à l’adresse

Une réflexion sur « Syrian Refugees Collectivizing in Jordan Becomes a Security Issue‎ »

  1. Dear Par Katy Montoya!

    I have read your interesting article, and I would be very interested if you would share some experiences with me regarding your fieldwork among Syrian refugees.
    I am a Danish postgraduate student of social anthropology, preparing a fieldwork for my thesis. I am currently in Amman in an attempt to find out, if it possible to get in touch with the Syrian refugee community.
    I am very interested in doing my fieldwork among these people in order to understand their everyday life situation and creation of a livable lives.

    Thank you!

    Kind regards

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