Refugee Urbanism in Jordan
: An Investigation into Refugee Settlements Typologies and their Implications on the Host Urban Area: Toward a Multi-level Urban Upgrade Strategy

  • Dana Mohammad Hamdan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The issue of forcibly displaced people is growing worldwide, with approximately 30 million registered refugees globally (UNHCR, 2020a). Jordan has the second-highest number of refugees in relation to its population, topped only by its neighbour, Lebanon (The UN Refugee Agency, 2021). The country is a host to 13 refugee camps from three different generations of refugees arriving between 1948 and 2011. Most of these camps have turned into permanent settlements, but with varying degrees of integration with the nearby urban areas. This makes Jordan a prime example to investigate the different typologies of refugee camps and the factors impacting their transformation. Additionally, as a result of the various refugee movements to the country, the population of the capital city, Amman, has almost doubled during the last 10 years (United Nations Population Division, 2020). Most existing literature addresses refugee settlements from humanitarian or political perspectives. They are often depicted as a burden to the host area, with their impacts mitigated until the crisis is over (Stevenson & Sutton, 2012).
Few studies address refugee camps within the field of urban studies and architecture. This includes analysing the camps as a physical space with urban processes and addressing the relationship between camps and the host urban areas. Such analysis can help understand the transformation of long-term refugee camps and recognise the positive and negative patterns, enabling the proposition of strategies for upgrading these settlements and advising on the allocation of future ones. Therefore, the main aim of this research was to develop a series of urban upgrade strategies for refugee settlements in Jordan, through analysis at the national, regional, and local levels. The national level addressed the 13 refugee camps in the country. The regional level analysed the urban context of the two million refugees in urban areas of Amman. Finally, the local level analysis targeted the community scale of the Al Wehdat refugee camp in Amman, with the aim to inform a series of community-led urban upgrade strategies for this urban camp. This research used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, including archival research, GIS analysis, semi-structured interviews, and observations informed by ethnographic approaches.
The research outputs contribute to our understanding of the variables impacting long-term refugee settlements and represent a steppingstone for action-research targeting their urban upgrades, with the possibility for expansion to other types of informal settlements. The research found that higher integration of refugee camps within the host urban settlement, through less restrictive policies on their residents’ work and movement, has created more self-sustained refugee settlements in the long term. It has also transformed the camps from temporary emergency shelters into permanent informal structures with urban functions. Moreover, evidence shows that such integration has contributed to urban and economic generation in Amman (the host). On the other hand, isolating the refugee camps was found to have stunted their socio-economic development, where they require continuous dependency on relief agencies regardless of how long they last. Moreover, the research, through semi- structured interviews with long-term refugees, found that the main challenge facing upgrades of the urbanised refugee camps was not the lack of resources or poor technology and infrastructure. The main challenge was found to be in policies that prevent refugee ownership of their long-term homes and that exclude the urbanised camps from any regional or national planning. Overall, the research concluded that there is a need for higher-level integration of refugees at an administrative level in Jordan, and possibly similar contexts too. This can positively contribute to refugees’ self-independence and can represent an opportunity for socio-economic development in the host urban area.
Date of Award2 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorAntonino Di Raimo (Supervisor), Tarek Teba (Supervisor) & Fabiano Lemes De Oliveira (Supervisor)

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