Population of Jordan
For centuries, the region that comprises the modern state of Jordan was sparsely populated, but the population has increased rapidly from the second half of the 20th century.
According to the most recent national census (2004), the population of Jordan stood at 5,100,981, of whom 51 percent were males and 49 percent females. The growth rate was 2.5 percent, compared to 3.3 percent in 1994. According to the World Bank, the population was estimated at 6.2 million in 2012, at least two million of whom live in Amman. Around 80 percent of the population is urban and it is one of the youngest among upper-middle income countries: 38 percent of the population is under the age of 14, while the entire working age (15-64) cohort comprises only about 58 percent of the population. The life expectancy at birth was 73 years old in 2011.
The Jordanian government offers no recent figures about the make-up of the population, due mainly to the sensitive issue of the ratio between native Jordanians and Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin (refugees and their offspring). For political reasons, the Jordanian authorities find it difficult to acknowledge the reality that Palestinians have long formed the majority of Jordan’s population.
The Gulf War brought a new wave of refugees from Iraq, exceeding one million today. Also around 300,000 Jordanian evacuees returned to Jordan after the Gulf War, many of whom are of Palestinian origin.
More than 500,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since the onset of the war in Syria in March 2011, according to the government in Amman and the UNHCR – a figure equal to nearly one-10th of Jordan’s population. While 160,000 are housed in refugee camps, the rest have been living in cities across Jordan, putting even more pressure on the scarce resources and services of their host country.
The overwhelming majority of the population of Jordan is Arab, mostly Sunni Muslim. Jordanian society also includes ethnic minorities, including Circassians, Kurds, Turkomans, Chechens, and Armenians. A substantial number of the Jordanians are Christians, the second important religious community, and there is a small Druze community. The Jordanian state as a whole is very supportive of all the cultural, ethnic, and religious components of its society.
Circassians number about 190,000. They fled persecution in the late 19th century, leaving the Caucasus region for the Ottoman Empire. The incursion of the Russians into Turkey during the 1877 war forced them to move again, this time to Syria and Transjordan. Members of the Shapsug tribe were the first to settle in what is now Jordan, in 1878. Circassians in Jordan speak their own language and have their own traditions; they are Sunni Muslims. Their music and dance are very popular with other Jordanians. They came to be fully integrated into Jordanian society, through mixed marriages and education. Like other minorities, they have full citizenship and equal political rights.
It is estimated that there are 30,000 Kurds in Jordan, including those who settled in Jordan during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century and those who came from Palestine as refugees in 1948-1949 and 1967. Kurds live in various cities and towns around the country and are part of the social, political, and economic fabric of Jordan. Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni.
The Turkomans belong to the Kara Takali tribe, part of which moved to Adana in 1870, following intertribal quarrels. They then moved to Damascus, then to Haifa, and finally, in 1874, to Balqa. Most chose to return to Turkey in 1935, but some families remained in Jordan. Their number does not exceed 25,000. Turkomans are Sunnis.
Chechens also came to Jordan from the Caucasus, particularly from its forested mountains, where living conditions were hard. They emigrated from their homeland after clashes with the Russians in 1905 and spent a year in Anatolia before moving to Jordan in 1907. They are Sunnis, many of whom belong to the Naqshbandi tariqa (literally ‘path’ in Arabic), one of the two main Sufi orders in Sunni Islam. Their estimated population in Jordan is 15,000.
There are estimated to be 15,000 Druze in Jordan. Most live in the area of Azraq, an oasis in the western desert of Jordan. The rest live in Amman and other large cities. Druze began moving to Jordan from the Jabal al-Druze or Mount al-Duruz (near Azraq, in southern Syria), due to the deteriorating situation during the French occupation of Greater Syria between the two world wars. Although the Druze have been integrated into Jordanian culture, they have retained a strong sense of their identity and culture.
Armenians migrated to what is now Jordan as a result of persecution and political turmoil in the latter years of the Ottoman Empire, during World War I. In 1948, their population was estimated at about 16,000. Because of high unemployment in the early 1970s, many left Jordan for the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, and their population dropped to 4,000. Even though Armenians in Jordan have integrated into the prevailing national culture, they, like other minorities, have retained a strong sense of their identity and have preserved their native Armenian language and culture. This integration is apparent on several levels, including acceptance of mixed marriages and affiliation with Arabic social institutions. Armenians in Jordan are predominantly Armenian Orthodox Christians.
Christianity has deep roots in Jordan, where Jesus Christ is believed to have been baptized. There were Christians in Jordan from early times, and, as Arabs, they blended in well with people of other religious beliefs. It is difficult to distinguish between Christians and Muslims in Jordan, as people share many customs and cultural traits.
The latest estimates published by the Catholic Church, on the eve of the 2009 papal visit to Jordan and the Holy Land, put the Christian population in Jordan at 3-4 percent. The number of Christians in Jordan has shrunk in recent times from 250,000 to about 170,000-190,000, due to social, economic, political, professional, and cultural pressures, as well as natural migration to more attractive countries. Christians live throughout Jordan, but mainly in the towns of Ajloun and al-Husn (in the north), Madaba and Fuheis in the centre (around the capital), and Karak (further south). Most Christians in Jordan belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Jordanian Constitution. Article 6(i) of Chapter 2 stipulates that ‘Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination between them as regards their rights and duties, on grounds of race, language, or religion.’ Article 14 of the same chapter provides that ‘[T]he state shall safeguard the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites in accordance with the customs observed in the Kingdom, unless such is inconsistent with public order or morality.’ Article 109(i), on the other hand, refers some Christian personal-status matters to Sharia (Islamic law): ‘Tribunals of religious communities shall be established in conformity with the provisions of law pertaining thereto. Such laws shall define the jurisdiction of such tribunals in matters of personal status and waqfs (religious foundations) constituted for the benefit of the community concerned. Matters of personal status of any such community shall be the same matters as are, in the case of Muslims, within the jurisdiction of Sharia.’
In order to guarantee that the Jordanian Christian community is well represented in various political bodies, election law provides for quotas for Christians and some other minorities. The law requires that there be a number of Christians in any elected parliament. In the current Parliament, 10 of the 120 deputies are Christians. Christian citizens are regularly represented in the cabinet, the foreign service, other high government offices, and the armed forces. Christians play a vital role in all spheres of public life in Jordan: their contributions are greater than their numbers would suggest.
Christians have their own schools, churches, and social clubs. (They have the option of enrolling in the national public education system.) There are about one hundred churches in Jordan. They are respected and protected, and no case of the violation of the sanctity of Christian holy places has ever been recorded in Jordan.
Social institutions – traditional, such as the family and tribal system, and modern, such as family associations and charitable organizations – are very influential in the preservation of the identity of the smaller groups. They also play an important role in supporting a collective Jordanian cultural identity. Political, social, and religious leadership and civil-society organizations, too, are very influential in preserving diversity.
Jordanian law provides for and promotes tolerance. The Jordanian Constitution stipulates freedom of religion to all Jordanians, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. Access to political, civil, and welfare rights is guaranteed to all Jordanians by the Constitution and by the law of the land. Although in family matters the law is heavily influenced by Islamic jurisprudence, the Christian community has its own judicial councils to resolve disputes between followers of the various Christian denominations.
Although the Constitution and laws guarantee complete equality for all Jordanians and requires freedom of religion, Jordanians of Palestinian origin tend to be discriminated against by the state. As a result, East Bank Jordanians dominate the civil service, the military, and security agencies, while Jordanians of Palestinian origin dominate the private sector.
Religious holidays are celebrated nationally. These include Eid al-Adha (or Id al-Adha, after al-hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca) and Eid al-Fitr (after Ramadan, the month of fasting) in Islam, and the Christian holy days of Christmas and Easter. The patronage of the King of Jordan and the participation of the top political and religious leadership in these celebrations is intended to send a strong message.
The main religious and ethnic communities are represented in the Jordanian Parliament in order to allow for access to the political and legislative systems, but the parliamentary system has, in reality, been manipulated to favour East Bank Jordanians at the expense of Jordanians of Palestinian extraction.
Interfaith marriages are becoming more common and more widely accepted by society. Although there has been an Islamic resurgence in Jordan over the last decades, this has not appreciably slowed the rate of interfaith marriage and has not created a breach between the two main religious communities.
Generally, ethnic and religious groups are allowed – and sometimes encouraged – to establish community groups and cultural societies to preserve their cultural, ethnic, or religious identities and to better communicate their needs and their requests to the government and other public decision-making bodies.
Remarkable in Jordanian demographics is the high proportion of migrant workers, which is between 20 and 30 percent of the total labour force. Today there are more than one million migrant workers, including domestic workers. Half of them are Egyptians, and the rest come from such countries as Syria, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Nepal. Domestic workers come mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
Income distribution and poverty
Jordan’s government has identified what it calls poverty pockets – areas where the poor constitute at least 25 percent of the population – and is directing more funds to them in order to improve the lives of the residents. There are 32 officially recognized pockets of poverty around the country.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called attention to pressures that might hinder Jordan’s human-development efforts, including a widening poverty gap between urban and rural areas and among the governorates, as well as the economy’s inability to generate enough jobs for the growing number of job seekers. These factors pose a risk that near-poor Jordanians will fall below the poverty line (2 USD per person per day, according to the UN definition). The current economic crisis might cause the unemployment rate to rise even further.
Jordan’s Statistics Department reports in 2008 that the percentage of Jordanians living in poverty increased slightly from 13 percent in 2006 to 13.3 percent in 2008; this means that 75,000 people officially became poor in 2008. The number of poverty pockets increased from 22 in 2006 to 32 in 2008. Although the GDP grew in 2008 by 7.6 percent in real terms, after a 8.8 percent growth in 2007 – excellent figures, by any measure – that growth has not improved the living conditions of the country’s poor.
The government spent USD 819 million in 2008 to reduce poverty, channelling USD 104 million (a 43.2 percent increase over 2007) through the National Aid Fund. It raised the salaries of government employees and retirees at a cost of USD 172 million; gave a onetime payment of USD 140 to every employee and USD 104 to government retirees; and a onetime payment to private-sector employees whose incomes were less than USD 1,400 per year, at a cost of USD 56 million; subsidized wheat by USD 245 million; raised public-sector salaries by USD 88 million; and lowered the sales tax and customs duties on thirteen commodities by USD 49 million. The report asserts that this spending prevented the poverty rate from reaching 21 percent.
Palestinian and Iraqi Refugees
Records of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) indicate that in 2008 there were about 2 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, about 338,000 (17 percent) of whom lived in ten UNRWA-administered refugee camps. Although the refugee camps have their own health and education systems and other administrative services, the refugees are fully subject to Jordanian law.
In terms of their legal status, the Palestinians in Jordan fall into two categories, Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship, and Palestinian residents who have been granted a Jordanian passport but who do not have a so-called national number. Members of this second category are not considered full-fledged Jordanian citizens. In practical terms this means that they face certain limitations on their political and social rights, such as denial of the right to vote or run for office, to hold important official jobs, or own property. They also do not enjoy the same rights to education and health care as other Jordanian citizens. There are currently no published rules, but the lack of a national number deprives a person of many rights. Even applying for a visa at an Arab or other foreign embassy without a national number causes difficulties.
Many Iraqi refugees arrived in Jordan after the political tensions in Iraq escalated in the wake of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Estimates put their number in May 2007 at about 500,000, though much lower figures have been cited as well. Jordanian authorities treat them as visitors, making available to them certain facilities and services, such as health and education, but they are not allowed to work.
Palestinian refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states
Legal position Palestinians
Reflecting Jordan’s history and its often troubled relations with the Palestinians (making up approximately 60 percent of Jordan’s total population), there are no less than six basic categories of persons living in the kingdom, with widely differing rights. Jordanian passports, in themselves, confer neither citizenship nor residence rights on their bearers. Citizenship is indicated by a national identification number (ID). Citizens have the right of residence. The residence rights of the bearers of other categories of passport are indicated by different-coloured cards.
The six categories of persons, and the documentation and rights to which they are entitled, have been summarized as follows by the Forced Migration Organization:
In the above table, ‘East Banker’ means natives of the territory on the eastern side of the Jordan River (the historical boundary between Transjordan and Palestine); ‘Jordanian-Palestinian of 1948’ means Palestinians (other than those originating in the Gaza Strip) who have resided in the Kingdom of Jordan (West Bank and East Bank) since the 1948 war in Palestine; ‘Jordanian-Palestinian of 1967’ refers to Palestinian-Jordanians affected by the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel.
When disengaging from the West Bank in July 1988, Jordan at a stroke rendered its former citizens in the West Bank stateless, stripping them of their Jordanian citizenship. They were permitted to hold Jordanian passports renewable every two years (subsequently increased to five years) but these passports do not confer either Jordanian citizenship or residency rights in Jordan. They are solely for purposes of travel.
Essentially, since 1988 the only residents with full citizenship rights have been Jordanians, whether from the East Bank or of Palestinian origin who live permanently in Jordan (i.e. the kingdom as defined territorially in 1988). Such full citizens – who comprise the great majority of Jordanians of Palestinian origin in the kingdom – have a ‘national number’ and a family registration book, and hold 5-year passports.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – which were part of the kingdom until 1988 – can hold 5-year Jordanian passports for purposes of travel; while Palestinians from the Gaza Strip can hold 2-year Jordanian passports for travel purposes only. These types of passport signify neither citizenship nor a right of residence. As non-citizens of Jordan, holders of such passports, and also holders of passports issued by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, are treated as foreigners. Procedures to be applied to foreigners are specified in Law No 24 of 1973 on Residence and Foreigners’ Affairs, as amended in 1987. This stipulates that foreigners require time-limited and renewable residence permits and that the relevant minister may ‘cancel a residence permit already granted to him [the foreigner] and order him to leave the Kingdom without explanation’.
The Jordanian authorities have an established record of revoking the citizenship of Palestinian-Jordanians whom they discover also to be holders of, or eligible for, passports issued by the Palestinian Authority.
The US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Jordan 2010, issued on 8 April 2011, records: ‘Some persons of Palestinian origin living in the country were citizens and received passports; however, the government reported that there were approximately 165,000 Palestinian refugees, mostly of Gazan origin, who did not qualify for citizenship. Approximately half of these persons received two-year travel documents that do not connote citizenship and do not contain a national number. West Bank residents without other travel documentation were eligible to receive five-year travel documents that do not connote citizenship. Local and international human rights organizations continued to charge that the government did not consistently apply citizenship laws, especially in cases in which passports were taken from citizens of Palestinian origin or in which national identification numbers were revoked, thereby revoking citizenship.’
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued in February 2010 claimed that more than 2,700 Jordanians of Palestinian origin had their citizenship revoked between 2004 and 2007. The government maintained this policy was in line with its efforts to implement its disengagement from its former claims to the West Bank. For example, government officials stated that a national number may be revoked if an individual obtains Palestinian travel documents, works for any part of the Palestinian National Authority, or does not renew a family reunification permit. Activists complained that the disengagement regulations did not outline such procedures, that the process was not transparent, and that the Ministry of Interior’s appeal process was virtually nonexistent. Claimants reported that appeals were not resolved to their satisfaction. Human rights activists also claimed the government refused to renew the passports of former residents of Palestinian origin at overseas embassies. (See also the 2010 HRW report Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality)
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