All Roads Lead
Photographs and Text by Guy Peterson
The ancient metropolis of Amman rolls over the seven sunburnt hills it was founded upon, where a warren of winding streets cut through the seemingly endless array of sandstone houses old and new. This is a city where the past blends seamlessly with the present. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, where Neolithic ruins and artefacts share the same square mile as the modern skyscrapers that now reshape Amman’s skyline and update its international profile. This juxtaposition is an integral part of the enigmatic appeal of this city.
The photographs in this story capture just a slice of the vibrant and ever changing people of Amman. They aim to uncover the anonymous nature of immigration by showing how Amman has become an important safe haven for so many people, despite the precarious future of Jordan’s stability.
Amman has provided opportunity and hope for so many who reside in its endless sprawl of ramshackle houses and half-finished concrete blocks. During a month long trip to Jordan I spent my time wandering the streets of Amman exploring the concept of integrated living, hearing the plethora of reasons for people coming to the city and seeing first hand how the infrastructure is coping with the second largest population of refugees in the world. The city now spreads over 19 hills with an estimated population of 4 million people that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Jordan is a country of strategic and political importance, being bordered by Israel, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Palestine that has acted as a buffer, while many of its neighbours have been tangled in seemingly never ending conflicts.
Due to its geographical position in the Middle East, Jordan has been a magnet for refugees displaced by war in neighbouring countries. Currently 30% of the total 10,026,478 (based on last UN estimate) population are refugees and displaced people. Since independence in 1946 as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it has been a country of remarkable acceptance and integration. In 1947 the population stood at only 400,000 people spread inconsistently across the country with the majority residing in Amman, together with a few towns in the surrounding desert. Following the Arab Israeli war in 1948 the first influx of 500,000 Palestinians took refuge in Jordan, many of whom moved to Irbid Camp, Zarqa Camp, Jabal El-Hussein Camp and Al-Wehdat on the outskirts of Amman set up by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Almost all of these refugees were granted Jordanian citizenship.
A second surge of Palestinian refugees followed in 1967 after the Six Day War with 390,000 refugees and displaced people from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A further six camps near Amman were created by UNRWA to cope with this influx of people including Al-Baqaa, still the largest camp in Jordan. 1991 and 2003 saw two waves of Iraqi refugees come to Jordan following the Gulf War and the Iraq War.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates around 750,000 – 1 million people fled to Jordan on both occasions. As of 2015 1.2 million Syrian refugees sought refuge in Jordan, many of which are in the refugee camps that now line the northern border with Syria. War in Yemen and continuing instability in Libya have stretched the geographical range of refugees now in Jordan. According to recent census data there are still 130,000 Iraqis, combined with 31,000 Yemeni and 22,0000 Libyans as well as 2.1 million Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship and another 634,000 who are without citizenship.
These huge influxes of people have shaped the way the country, and in particular its capital, has developed into a culturally rich and diverse place. However, it is clear that these population pressures have put Jordan’s infrastructure and finances under considerable strain in an unsustainable way. UNRWA funding has been cut $300 million by the US who has always provided the largest body of funding to the organisation dealing solely with Palestinian refugees. Jordan itself has spent over $10bn hosting Syrian refugees as of late 2018 and overall spends 25% of its annual budget on refugee related costs. Jordan is running out of resources to continue to host the vast number of refugees who still pour through its borders.
Kasi, a Sudanese refugee stands outsidehis a small one bedroom flat with his 3 year old daughter, Susannah, in his arms. They left Sudan with Kasi’s brother and wife 5 years ago. His brother left Jordan 2 years ago and is now living and working in the UK. This is the goal for Kasi in years to come when Susannah is older and ready to make the trip.
Muhammed is a Palestinian by birth but became a refugee in 1968 when his parents fled to Jordan. He spent his childhood in Al Baqaa refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Jordan that was set up by UNRWA. In 1988 he left Jordan and lived in New Jersey, USA for almost 30 years working as a mechanic known to his colleagues as Mike. He returned to his family who were still in Jordan in early 2018 with enough money to relocate them to a nicer area of Jordan. Unfortunately one of his close relations was killed in a car accident 6 months ago and the family was unable to move. Muhammed has since set up a small supermarket on what is the Al-Baqaa high street. He still plans to relocate his family when they are comfortable to move again.
Amyre (pictured), Muhammed and Mahmud have owned a coal packing business for the last 25 years. It is in 5 large garages adjacent to the high street in downtown Amman. Amyre, Muhammed and Mahmud are all Palestinian refugees but are Jordanian by birth and have only ever visited Palestine a few times. They believed strongly that there would never be a solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict and if there was, the chance of them ever going back permanently was very unlikely. Their homes were in Jordan, It has provided for them their entire lives and there is very little reason for them to leave it all behind.
Mahmoud (pictured left) retired from the Jordanian Air Force 6 years ago after 20 years of service. Living on the far side of jebel Amman he now teaches English in a makeshift school set up for the community of refugees living in the surrounding buildings to his small flat. Mahmoud teaches basic English and encourages his students to apply for further education programs both in Jordan and internationally.
Mahmoud epitomises the openness of the Jordanians, providing an education and opportunity to those who are less fortunate.
A group of boys playing football (pictured left) outside Mahmoud’s house are his students, And were from Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Jordan. Mahmoud highlights the importance of education in communities like this providing futures for the children the are beyond what many of their parents have ever been offered. It was also clear how the boys valued and accepted each others past, each coming from tough back grounds but all ending up on the same small street in Amman
Abd Alnasser is a Palestinian refugee who was brought to Jordan by his father in the early 70s. He grew up in Al-Wehdat camp going to one of the many UNRWA schools in the camp before doing his teacher training at university. Most of his professional career was spent teaching in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia before coming back to Al-Wehdat Camp to teach in an UNRWA funded school for 15 years. Abd Retired from teaching three years ago and now runs a small electrical repair shop in a cramped room along one of the many winding streets of the now built up camp. Al-Wehdat camp is the second largest refugee camp in Jordan and was set up in Amman in 1955 there are currently 57,000 registered refugees living there.
Muhammad (not his real name) worked for most of his professional career at a water treatment plant just outside Amman. His wife left him and took his children with her after he came out as gay. He still sees his children two of which live in Amman and one who lives in Morocco. Muhammed somewhat enjoys living alone allowing him to do as he pleases. He has plans to move to Morocco as he met his now partner in Casablanca last time he visited his daughter. Although Jordan is one of the few middle eastern countries where gay sex is legal, it is still largely not accepted to be publicly gay and has proved to make Muhammad’s life incredibly difficult to live comfortably in Amman.
was born in Amman in 1997 and lived there for the first three years of my life before moving to Moscow, Russia. Going back to Jordan and Amman for the first time in 18 years to photograph this project. I was amazed at how immediately at home I felt in a place which I had almost no memory of, a testament to the openness of the people who live here.
After a month of immersing myself in Amman it was amazing to see the hospitality of so many, but it was also evident that the system is slowly crumbling under pressure with out the support of the government. Amman’s history spans nine millennia. This makes it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, yet you still get the feeling, when in Amman, that you are part of an evolving history.
However it is clear that Jordan is getting close to a tipping point where it will not be able to sustain the level of humanitarian aid it is currently supplying without the continuation of major international help. If this support is not forthcoming, Jordan’s basic amenities already under strain for its own citizens and those who have sought refuge within its borders could break. This poverty of environment clearly impacts the younger generation profoundly, even if their continuous ingenuity for commerce and play shines through in so many of my images. Whatever happens in the near future, Amman and its diverse community needs support if it’s not to stagnate and become crippled by poverty after bearing so gracefully the burden of so many refugees of war.