Jordan: A Land of Refuge

Pontifical Mission programs provide stability for Jordan’s diverse population.

by Michael J.L. La Civita

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Squeezed between Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian frontier, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan maintains a quiet stability that contradicts its tenuous state. Always relegated to the back burner, Jordan is rarely isolated from the consequences of Middle Eastern politics. For 50 years, hundreds of thousands of refugees – Palestinian, Iraqi, even Bangladeshi – have sought security within Jordans borders. Jordan is a land of refuge.

Since its foundation, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine has attended to the needs of these refugees, particularly in matters of childcare, education and health care. After the establishment of the Pontifical Missions Amman office in 1971, human development projects were also initiated, particularly among the bedouin, the nomadic peoples native to Jordan. Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the Amman office of the Pontifical Mission has also assumed responsibilities for activities in Iraq.

Though unassuming, the work of the Pontifical Mission in Jordan is significant: it expresses the concern of the Catholic Church for all peoples of Jordan, refugee and bedouin, Christian and Muslim.

The needs of Jordans youth have preoccupied the Pontifical Mission since the first wave of Palestinian refugees arrived in the kingdom in 1949. The Pontifical Mission immediately founded and subsidized emergency schools for more than 2,000 Palestinian refugee children scattered throughout Jordan. These schools, which were integrated with the countrys school system in 1951, also provided positions for a number of qualified yet unemployed refugee teachers and aides.

Since the early 1970s, the Needy Child Sponsorship Program has provided support for tens of thousands of children and their families in refugee camps, villages and in the capital city of Amman.

The program in Jordan is unique. The 1,664 children enrolled live at home with their families. Pontifical Missions partners in the field, such as the Franciscan Sisters of Divine Motherhood, the Sisters of St. Dorothy, parish priests and representatives of the YMCA, supervise these programs on a regular basis and provide feedback for the Pontifical Missions staff in Amman.

Four times a year, Mrs. Suhad Haddad, the Needy Child Program Coordinator in the Amman office, visits refugee camps lying within the shadows of the impressive Roman ruins of Jarash. These camps resemble those erected for Palestinians throughout the Middle East: cinder houses roofed with corrugated metal line unpaved roads littered with rubbish and stones. Open sewers filled with untreated waste wind through camp streets.

Anxiously anticipating Suhads arrival, the mothers gather their children, brew tea and wait. The sponsorship funds, which help the parents feed and clothe their children, are in many cases the only form of income for the family. Regular financial support from the United Nations, on which most families relied, has been significantly reduced and may be eliminated.

“Though these refugees are legal residents of Jordan,” explains Raed Bahou, Director of the Amman office, “most men cannot find work.” For some inexplicable reason, those refugees who reside in the Gaza camp near Jerash are not granted work permits at all.

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Tags: Refugees Children Jordan Education Health Care