Paris – As the taxi taking me back to Queen Alia Airport outside Amman, Jordan, drove on a road surrounded by a tenacious gold color desert, I could see charming camels, elegant horses and peaceful cows, under a radiant sun, in a wonderful spring weather. Every now and then, the scenery would change, and I would see shops apparently servicing voyagers and villagers. The beauty of the sight was mixed with that feeling of incompleteness and dreadfulness that the desert inevitably instills in one’s heart with its impersonal crude harshness.
Then I saw tents with the UNHCR logo upon them. I immediately knew what they were. Under these tents, refugees from Syria and Iraq, find shelter, far away from the madness that they saw in their countries. No human soul with a bit of decency would see these large white tents in the middle of a desert where temperatures drop and rise sharply, and where anything could happen, without worrying about the children and the elderly living under them. But, the UNHCR’s logo was there, and I told myself that the United Nations was the best entity to take care after refugees. The sight was, nevertheless, harrowing. I asked myself what town, other than the one that they had fled, these refugees could call home. They were cut from life in Jordan. They were there, and they were not there.
The taxi driver told me in a careful manner typical of the Jordanians and of their polite agreeableness that there were many refugees in Jordan, and that many of them lived in Amman, in particular. Some of these refugees had settled in the capital after the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and they were not going back home. Among them were people who had enough money to buy their own homes. When they arrived in Amman, they drove property prices up, he explained to me, without lacking respect for them or for their plights of the past.
As I listened to him, I remembered how a Jordanian acquaintance had earlier told me that there were Jordanians of autochthonous origins and there were others of Palestinian origins. Stark differences between the two groups, he told me, were identifiable in their respective mindsets and attitudes. Like the taxi driver who took me to the airport did, he said what he said in a matter-of-fact way. He neither attacked nor supported any group in particular. I was not surprised by this neutrality, although I took note of the distinction that was made, not a surprising one in the Middle East.
I knew Jordanians to be affable, and it had been clear to me over my previous visits to Jordan that they did not consider refugees as outcasts. Also, it seemed to me that they did not blame them for the calamitous economic situation of a Jordan swayed by the currents stirred by its unfortunate geopolitical location, between inflation and recession, to what economists call ‘stagflation’.
But for more than half a century, Jordan had been taking in refugees beyond its capacity. Today, the country has gone through a demographic transformation that would have been much more difficult to absorb had the refugees arriving on its land not belonged to cultures similar to its own. In light of this unusual situation, Amman has successfully maintained political stability, although not without painstaking efforts.
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