There are ten official Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, which accommodate more than 346,000 registered refugees, or 17 per cent of the 2 million registered refugees in Jordan.
Four camps were set up on the east bank of the Jordan river after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and six after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Three other neighbourhoods in Amman, Zarqa and Madaba are considered camps by Jordanian government and "unofficial" camps by UNRWA.
In 1948, an estimated 100,000 refugees crossed the Jordan River and took shelter in temporary camps, in mosques and schools, or in towns and villages. International organisations, mainly the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), provided emergency assistance for the refugees until May 1950 when UNRWA began operating.
The refugees were accommodated in tents until the late 1950s when UNRWA replaced the tents with more durable brick shelters.
At first refugees were able to build on surrounding land as their families grew, but the space is used up and today the camps are highly congested and overcrowded.
As Jordan’s population, towns and cities grew, many of the camps became surrounded by residential areas. The refugees worked hard to improve the camp conditions, which now resemble the neighbourhoods around them. The Government of Jordan has also invested large amounts for basic infrastructure.
1967 emergency camps
In 1967, following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there was another influx of refugees into Jordan. Some 140,000 people, already registered refugees with UNRWA, were part of the new exodus, together with about 240,000 citizens of the West Bank who are referred to as "displaced persons" (the West Bank was administered by Jordan between 1948 and 1967).
Although there have been enormous improvements in the “1967 emergency" camps over the years, they remain less developed than those established in the 1950s. Some of them lack basic infrastructure and public services, especially the camps in remote areas.
UNRWA coordinates with the Jordanian government's Department of Palestinian Affairs (DPA) as well as with camp improvement committees. Members of these committees are selected by the DPA from community leaders and refugee notables who in effect take on the role of municipal councils.
The infrastructure of the camps is primarily the responsibility of the host government. However, UNRWA's sanitation and technical departments work hand-in-hand with the DPA and camp committees to help improve roads, pathways and drainage.