Ruweishid Camp, the Second Loneliest Place - 05.21.2006

Yesterday I travelled to the Ruweishid refugee camp in Jordan.

This camp is near Jordan’s border with Iraq, and was established 3 years ago to hold refugees who fled Iraq in 2003.

Today there are 498 refugees living in the camp, they range in nationality from Palestinians living in Iraq since 1948 to Iranian Kurds living in Iraq since 1979, to Turks, and even, allegedly, one Jordanian citizen.

To get to Ruweishid you have to drive out from Amman through Jordan’s eastern desert. It is a place that feels, literally, like the edge of the world. Along the desert highway linking Amman and Baghdad are black, possibly volcanic, rocks littering the desert expanse. In some places these rocks are so thick as to make the land look black.

I felt like we were in some kind of real-life land of demons. I was struck by how little justice has been done to the reality of the eastern desert in the various descriptions offered in journalists’ memoirs of the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, it’s almost as indescribable as what I found later in the day, when we reached Ruweishid.

Ruweishid proper is a small town that was formerly on the border with Iraq, until Saddam ceded control of a large swath of land on its western frontier to the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan in the 90s.

Now Ruweishid is a lonely backwater town, without even the border trade to supply it with a steady influx of dinars.

A few kilometers west of the town, the empty desert continues. The only thing that differentiates the tents of Ruweishid camp from their Bedouin couterparts is their vast number and the incomprehensible chain-link fence surrounding them.

The eastern desert is an area of jordan populated mainly by Bedouins, many of whom I saw on our return trip, tending their herds along the highway. Every so often you’ll see an encampment, noticeable only by large, unmarked canvas tents.

The very amorphous nature of life in the eastern desert further stresses the anomaly of Ruweishid camp. The residents of the camp are cut off from the rest of the world, merely by the presence of a chainlink fence, a few guards, and their current state-less status.

They live in temporary tent structures, most without electricity, and barely sealed against the harsh summer and winter weather. Despite the temporary nature of their accomodations, many of Ruweishid’s residents have been there for more than three years now.

The UNHCR-United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been supporting the refugee camp in Ruweishid, which was established by the Hashemite kingdom after a royal decree. Despite this aid, they have only a few semi-permanent structures, utilized mainly for schooling and other general use functions.

The refugees also complained of problems with supplies for their schools, as well as delays in obtaining other necessary resources.

At this time, 20 Kurdish refugees are set to leave the camp for Denmark tomorrow, and others have nearly succeeded in relocation to Ireland.

Many of the Palestinians are preparing for relocation to Canada.

Near the end of our visit, I met an Iranian Kurd who has a cousin stuck in the “no-man’s land,” which is a stateless zone between the official borders of Iraq and Jordan.

I’ll publish an update about this later, as well as some photos and video from Ruweishid.

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