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“We all ran away from our village under the Israeli air strikes. We didn’t even have time to find our shoes,” she says in Greek-accented Arabic. “We kept moving from one area to another. Eventually we arrived in Jordan.”

Baqa’a was set up as a tented camp on an area a little smaller than a square mile about 12 miles north of Amman. The camp started with 5,000 tents accommodating 26,000 persons. Over the years, more durable concrete shelters replaced prefabricated shelters.

UNRWA provides camp residents with education, healthcare and social services through 20 installations operated by more than 600 UNRWA staff members.

As for Jerash camp, known locally as Gaza camp, it was one of six settlements set up by the Jordanian government in 1968 to provide temporary shelter for some 140,000 Palestinian refugees. With little more than a few personal possessions and the clothes on their backs, nearly 11,500 Palestinian refugees ended their historic exodus in tented shelters a mere two miles from the glorious Roman ruins of Jerash. As early as 1968, tents were replaced with 2,130 prefabricated dwellings.

Having sheltered three generations of refugees, Jerash today is highly congested with an estimated population of 26,000 residents.

“In general, camp services like water, electricity and communications as well as asphalt roads are fully provided by the government in coordination with UNRWA services,” states Abdelkarim Abullhaija, the Jordanian Government’s General Director of the Department of Palestinian Affairs.

“Aid and relief are ensured hand in hand with UNRWA services to Palestinian refugees,” he adds.

Refugees registered in UNRWA’s records are guaranteed health and education.

“I practically grew up in Jerash, where my family settled in 1967,” explains Ahmad, 28.

“Life hasn’t been easy at all, but I have worked hard over the years to maintain reasonable living conditions for my wife and family.” Ahmad is a house painter but he is now disabled due to poor health.

Together with local and international organizations such as CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, the Jordanian government has upgraded the standard of living in the camps by improving infrastructure and basic social services.

For the parents of more than 1,600 children, their only income arrives monthly, from generous benefactors in the states who sponsor their son or daughter through CNEWA’s Needy Child Program. Income is modest, but as funds from UNRWA dwindle, sponsorship income indeed becomes a life line.

Less than seven months after the Amman office of the Pontifical Mission opened in spring 1971, Jordan’s King Hussein asked the Pontifical Mission to build a secondary school in Baqa’a camp. Schools were also constructed by the Pontifical Mission in four additional camps, including Jerash and Marka camps.

UNRWA and the Department of Palestinian Affairs have continued to extend relief for 18 percent of the 1.7 million refugees registered with UNRWA in Jordan.

“Improving the quality of life for refugees has been one of Jordan’s primary concerns,” Mr. Abullhaija continues.

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Tags: Refugees Children Palestine Jordan Refugee Camps