Jaramana Camp is one of twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. It is about eight kilometers southeast of Damascus and gets its name from the nearby town of Jaramana in the Damascus countryside. It is officially recognized by UNRWA, which offers its services to the camp’s residents. After the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2011, it has become a refuge for many Palestinians who fled to it from other areas and camps, attracted by its proximity to the capital and low rent; to handle the influx, UNRWA opened three mass shelters in the schools it runs inside the camp. The agency uses Jaramana Camp as a hub for distributing food packages and other kinds of aid to the larger Palestinian community, including those in Yarmouk Camp and other areas near Damascus with a significant Palestinian presence.
The Founding of the Camp
Jaramana refugee camp was founded in 1948 or 1949 on a 30,000 square meter piece of land. It is bordered on the north by the Abu Nuri and al-Tabbala districts of Damascus, on the south by the town of Jaramana, on the east by al-Duwail’a neighborhood, and on the west by the highway to Damascus International Airport. It was occupied by Palestinians driven out of Palestine in 1948; after the June 1967 war, displaced Palestinians and Syrians fleeing from the city of Quneitra in the Golan Heights settled in the northern areas of the camp. Most of the refugees in this camp originate from villages in the Palestinian subdistricts of Safad, Tiberias, and Acre: al-Dawwara, al-Salihiyya, Qaytiyya, al-Khisas, al-Khalisa, al-Na’ima, Mallaha, al-Zuq al-Tahtani, al-Zuq al-Fawqani, al-Kabri, and al-Qudayriyya. Some of the camp neighborhoods are named after these villages, such as Haret al-Qaytiyya, Haret al-Dawwara, Haret al-Salihiyya, and Haret al-Naʿima; camp residents were mostly farmers who came from these villages or towns and lived near one another. The camp is also inhabited by a number of Palestinian ghawarna (those who come from the aghwar, the low-lying part of the Jordan River Valley).
The number of Palestinians who came as refugees to the camp when it was first founded is not known, nor are numbers available for those who sought refuge there after the June 1967 War. By 1985, the camp had a population of about 24,000 and about 2,414 houses. Later, the municipal authorities decided to demolish many camp houses over time to clear the way for the construction of the airport highway and the southern expressway around Damascus. Families affected by the decision were moved to a new housing project in the nearby area of al-Husseiniyya and then to another area with a Palestinian refugee community, later called the Husseiniyya Camp. About 8,910 people were transferred from Jaramana Camp to this camp.
According to UNRWA figures, more than 18,000 refugees were living in Jaramana Camp before the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. In the years that followed, the population of the camp and the surrounding area rose to 49,000. In 2021, after the successive waves of migration from the camp, UNRWA estimated its population at about 13,000.
The Development of the Camp’s Infrastructure
The first residents of Jaramana Camp lived in tents. Then they built houses whose walls were made of mud brick and ceilings of wood, both covered with a layer of soil mixed with straw. Because there was no sewer system at the time, manholes were dug next to each dwelling. The area of these houses did not exceed 80 square meters, and they consisted of two or three rooms, usually overcrowded, which caused many sanitary and social problems. Residential units were densely packed next to one another, separated by no more than a meter. The neighborhoods were connected by dirt roads that turned muddy in winter when it rained heavily. Houses built of cement and iron appeared in the camp only at a later stage.
After many camp houses were demolished for the city construction project, some refugees were transferred to al-Husseiniyya. They were housed in buildings, each of which consisted of two floors in addition to the ground floor and contained six apartments, each having an area of 70 square meters. Those who moved received monetary compensation, calculated from appreciating the value of their demolished homes in Jaramana Camp, which was then adjusted against the value of their new apartments, and they were supposed to pay the difference in installments. Some of these new occupants refused to pay the sums they owed and tried by legal means to evade payment. The dispute over the payment of these sums has not yet been resolved.
UNRWA and the governmental General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR) are jointly responsible for essential facilities in the camp: GAPAR is in charge of water, electricity services, and roads, while UNRWA supervises sanitation and waste removal in the camp; a contractor affiliated with GAPAR is part of the process. UNRWA has also helped provide sewage disposal. There are storage tanks for water in the camp, but they do not provide potable drinking water, which obliges the camp’s residents to buy drinking water from tanker trucks at high rates. The camp’s residents also complain of power outages, especially in recent years; the electricity supply in the countryside surrounding Damascus does not exceed a total of four hours every twenty-four hours, with an average of two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening. As for sewage disposal, a sewer network was built to serve the entire camp, but the sewers frequently get clogged, especially after heavy rain, which leads to sewage overflowing onto the camp roads and even into some residences on the ground level. All parts of the camp are connected to the telephone network. GAPAR paves main roads and lanes. Street lamps are not available, so residents place electric lamps in front of their houses at night.
History of the Camp’s Social and Economic Conditions
The refugees of Jaramana Camp work in nearby factories, such as the cooking oil manufacturing plant, the al-Khumasiyya Modern Company, and confectionery and canned foods plants. Some of them obtained a small amount of capital and invested it to work as street vendors and owners of small shops inside the camp that provide basic necessities. There are no major commercial stores in the camp, nor is there a marketplace that can meet all the needs of the camp’s residents. Some residents work in sanitation or in collecting and selling nuts and bolts from the areas surrounding the camp. Girls and women are part of the workforce; they work in the nearby factories and clean the homes of the people in Damascus. The hard work and long hours of working women have a negative effect on the health and education of their children. UNRWA runs programs for emergency assistance, relief, and microfinance loans for the benefit of the poorer and more impoverished families.
Education falls primarily within the purview of UNRWA. It runs six schools in the camp, all named after Palestinian villages, which operate on a double-shift system. Four of them are primary schools that cater to children ages 6–12 years: al-Qudayriyya and Ara are for boys and Nahf and Sirin are for girls. In 2011, the two boys’ schools had a total enrollment of around 1,212 students and the girls’ schools around 1,160 students. Two junior high schools operate in the camp: al-Rama for boys (481 students) and al-Kabri for girls (414 students). Two other schools, al-Tur and Kafr Birʿim, were closed when residents moved to al-Husseiniyya. There is one government co-educational primary school. There is also an UNRWA preschool in the camp that is part of the agency’s women’s program, another called Baraʿim Bisan [Rosebuds of Bisan] run by the Democratic Women’s Committees, and a third named The Martyr Majed Abu Sharar run by the Palestinian foundation that bears his name. For secondary education, students transfer to schools outside the camp, mainly to the high schools in Jaramana town and al-Duwailʿa.
Jaramana Camp has a health center operated by UNRWA that provides primary medical care to those registered with it. Healthcare is also provided by the dispensaries of the Ministry of Health in Jaramana town and Duwailʿa; there is no government-run dispensary inside the camp. Residents can use the services of hospitals run by the Ministries of Health and Higher Education and the dispensary (The Martyr Ahmad Abu Omar dispensary) of the Palestine Liberation Army, which provides services at nominal fees. It includes three specialized clinics: one for pediatrics, one for inpatient care, and one for dental care. There are also five privately run clinics inside the camp that provide healthcare, four pharmacies located in different areas of the camp, and one laboratory for medical tests. Some hereditary and chronic diseases are widespread among the camp’s residents, such as tumors, diabetes, and blood disorders like sickle cell anemia and thalassemia.
Jaramana Camp is a tight-knit community; family and village ties among residents are strong. The camp is also distinguished by the close relationships that link its residents to their immediate regional surroundings. The camp has no cafés or places for leisure, so many residents go to Jaramana to socialize. Until the mid-1970s, sports in the camp were limited to a few grassroots teams such as al-Karama, al-Nusour, Abnaaʾ Filastin, al-Fida’, and al-Wathba, none of which had their own offices. Then in 1975, al-Jalil [Galilee] Sports Club was founded as part of the Palestinian General Sports Federation. Cultural activity is also widespread in the camp through the work of cultural forums and clubs, such as the Palestine Culture Club, the Palestinian Cultural Forum, the Shataat [Diaspora] Cultural Center, and the Right of Return Committees. One camp resident, Muhammad Ali Fares, set up a museum of Palestinian heritage inside his home, which contains antique items that he acquired through his personal effort. These items include traditional household utensils, Ottoman-era property deeds for homes, and some denominations of the Palestinian pound in both paper and coin form. He also collected farming and agricultural implements, tools for making textiles and straw-weaving and for manufacturing musical instruments such as the yarghoul and mijwiz (double-pipe reed instruments and castanets), an old radio, traditional Palestinian clothing, and a Palestinian bride’s trousseau; he recreated a traditional Arab majlis or reception area with all its accessories for hospitality such as a mehbaj (coffee grinder and pestle), a kettle, and coffee cups, along with ancient weapons on display, such as swords, knives, rifles, and slingshots.
The camp is plagued by many social problems: continuous migration, high unemployment rates, rising inflation, child marriage, increasing rates of divorce, child labor, high school dropouts, habitual drug use, and a general increase in violence. The extremely poor quality of life of the camp residents has been worsened in recent years by the conflict in Syria, the corona pandemic, the dramatic deterioration of the economic situation, and the collapse in value of the Syrian pound. To address these problems, UNRWA has conducted activities for prevention and awareness-raising and provided mental and social support through its schools and its community center.
Administration and Political Activity
Jaramana Camp officially comes under the administrative supervision of GAPAR, which was founded on 25 January 1949 and is part of the Syrian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor; it runs the affairs of Palestinian Arab refugees and the assistance they receive. GAPAR coordinates its activity with UNRWA. It has its own office in the camp as well as a registrar for public records. On the political front, many camp residents have participated in the Palestinian revolution since its outset, and hundreds have been martyred for the cause. Almost all the Palestinian groups who operate publicly in Syria are active inside the camp, with the exception of Hamas, which was proscribed because of its support for the opposition in the war that erupted in Syria in 2011.
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