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On the fringes of society: Jordan’s Gypsies

On the fringes of society: Jordan’s Gypsies

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Life Homeless Marginalized Groups Basic Rights

Saturday 25 November 202305:39 pm
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This report was produced with the support of Civil Rights Defenders.

On the outskirts of Jordanian cities and along the edges of the streets, makeshift tents, some canvas and others plastic, serve as homes for a large segment of the Gypsy community known as Al-Nawar.

This community cannot access education, electricity, or any other such essentials. While some accept and adapt to their realities, others successfully integrate into Jordanian society. The Al-Nawar are subjected to stereotyping and a lack of government support or protection.

Accounts of these Gypsies origins vary. Some say they came from India to work and never returned. Many claim that they are from the Arabian East and are Arab Aqbat (affiliated with the Bani Mura tribe, also known as Qawm Jassas) who migrated following the Basus War and conflicts with the Bani Taghlib tribe, also known as Qawm Al-Zeer Saleem.

Despite the lack of evidence linking them to the Bani Mura tribe, and the unclear history of the pre-Islamic Basus War, the Gypsies uphold this narrative.

On the outskirts of Jordanian cities, along the streets, makeshift tents, some canvas and others plastic, serve as homes for a large part of the Gypsy community known as Al-Nawar. They cannot access education, electricity, or other basic essentials.

Forgotten Jordanians

Throughout the regular updates to the Jordanian academic curriculum, the emphasis on national culture is maintained. However, the curriculum perpetuates traditional societal divisions between urban, rural, and desert areas and does not acknowledge the Gypsies as part of Jordanian society. Even after other minorities, such as Chechens, Circassians and Armenians, have been written into the curriculum, the Al-Nawar Gypsies remain overlooked.

Brahim Hussein, one of these Gypsies, tells Raseef22, “I have lived in Jordan my whole life, and I have a Jordanian national ID, but I have never felt like a Jordanian. Our lives lack the basic necessities: no electricity, no water, no access to healthcare. Every two days, we have to move, because the land is not ours; migration is not our choice, but we are forced into it.”

"And we live relying on God. We are a family of 10 living in one tent, and the situation is the same in all the tents here. We work collecting scraps; some days things go well, and other days, they don't,” Hussein questions how feasible it is to keep living on the fringes of society.

Typically, gypsies prefer to live away from dense urban areas, in order to avoid societal prejudice and harassment. Hussein adds, “Society doesn't want us; they don't accept us even though we don't harm them. Some throw stones at us, and others burn our shacks. 'You're one of Al-Nawar' has become a common way of belittling someone."

Hussein believes that despite his ancestors having been in Jordan long before other more accepted minorities and communities, they did not make an effort to establish their name and integrate into society. “We are forgotten by the government and rejected by society,” he laments.

In Jordan, Gypsies prefer to live away from dense urban areas, to avoid harassment. Brahim Hussein tells us, “Society doesn't accept us. Some people throw stones at us, others burn our shacks. 'You are Nawar' has even become a widespread insult"

Learning as a secondary right

Access to education within Jordan’s gypsy community is almost nonexistent. All those Raseef22 interviewed confirmed that children in the camps cannot read or write; there are no government schools operating within their camps. It is worth noting that many have had access to literacy classes, although they are insufficient and infrequent, and thus, have not made an impact.

Raseef22 spoke with Shireen Zaid, a mother of seven. She explained, “My children cannot read or write; they have not gone to school because there are no schools near us, and we don't have the money for education. My husband and I also cannot read or write, although we believe in the importance of education and wish for them to learn. However, our circumstances make this impossible.”

Zaid continued, “As a result, most girls marry at a young age, while children and young men start working, collecting and selling scraps to support their families. The smallest family here has eight members, we love having children.”

Similarly, Brahim Hussein shared, "We don't own land, and this is why we constantly wander. We would like the government to grant us land while retaining ownership, so that we can settle and send our children to school.”

Demands for parliamentary representation

After decades operating in a closed society, the Al-Nawar Gypsies have begun to emerge and advocate for their rights and equality, alongside other minorities. They seek a representative league, and there have been numerous calls urging for parliamentary seats and quotas for the Gypsies, ensuring recognition of their rights and parliamentary recognition.

Fathi Abdo Musa, spiritual leader of the Al-Nawar Gypsies in Jordan, unsuccessfully ran for parliamentary elections, once in 2003 and again 2010. His attempt was unsuccessful, as the Gypsy community is dispersed across the country, preventing him from garnering enough votes in any one constituency.

Fathi Abdo Musa spoke with Raseef22, and stressed the right his community has for parliamentary representation. “We demanded the allocation of quotas for Gypsies in the House of Representatives, just as other minorities have. However, our demands were rejected on the grounds that we are not a minority. Indeed, we are not a minority; we are a tribe, totalling over 80,000. The government deals with us as a tribe, but it does not grant us the privileges given to Jordanian tribes."

Musa explains that the government’s neglect of its gypsy community has had a negative impact on it. Although some gypsies have sought education, they remain “ashamed to identify themselves as 'Al-Nawar.'” Musa continues, “Governments have not offered us anything. Today, we have to make an effort to show the true face of the 'Bani Mura' and prove our existence. We are therefore forming a tribe association, composed of 63 clans from across the Kingdom, and we will keep trying until we reach the dome of parliament.”

In the same context, former deputy Qais Zayadin tells Raseef22 that quotas divide the divided, and the solution is to integrate into political parties that help the Gypsies engage in politics and prove themselves. He adds, "We must aim for a state of citizenship, where every Jordanian gets their constitutionally mandated rights. Therefore, it is essential to activate and emphasize the concept of citizenship in the school curricula because this concept is what will save people who feel oppressed in their societies."

“I've lived here my whole life, and I have a Jordanian ID, but I've never felt Jordanian. We lack basic necessities: electricity, water, healthcare. Every two days, we have to move, since the land isn't ours; migration isn't our choice, but we're forced into it”

Subjugated perception

Social perception of the Al-Nawar gypsies is demeaning and negative. There are a number of reasons for this, primarily, their fear of integration into Jordanian society and their commitment to preserving their traditions. Al-Nawar marry within their community, and maintain certain unique customs, such as the complete reliance on women for work.

Violations or rejections towards this group can be placed in several categories. There are self-imposed rejections, stemming from their isolation and reluctance to be seen. Some come from society, which diminishes their status. Finally, the absence of structure and government policies to integrate this group into society also contributes.

According to Fathi Abdo Musa, “Our ancestors failed to secure our dignity and existence. For this reason, Jordanian society views us with disdain.”

Although, it must be pointed out that there is a contingency among Jordanians that cherishes the local Gypsy community. One such figure is the Jordanian poet Mustafa Wahbi Al-Tal, who in his poetry, has described their virtues, highlighting the unity within their society, where there is neither rich nor poor, and everyone is equal.

"Among the ruins, no slave or nation, no prestige in attire, all are free

No criminals, no land soaked in innocent blood, no one seeking revenge

No judges, no judgments submitted to justice, a fire-born justice delivered

No plantations, no tax-collecting income, no one demanding a share

Among the ruins, no greed, no ambition, no exploitation for a coin or a dinar

All are equal, a realized equality, eradicating disparities between neighbor and neighbor."

                                                        — Mustafa Wahbi Al-Tal

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