‘It is our land’: Palestinian children born in refugee camp abroad dream of return

Third-generation refugees whose grandparents left Hebron remain ‘nostalgic’ for home

“A human is always nostalgic for their homeland,” says 12-year-old Palestinian refugee Farah Hisham.

Sitting beside four of her classmates at Talbieh Camp’s elementary and preparatory girl’s school, situated 35 kilometres south of Amman, Jordan they all say they would like to “go back” to Palestine one day.

“It is our land,” says Majd Ahmad Abn Jarrar (12), also among the group of third-generation refugees whose ancestors were displaced more than 50 years ago.

The five girls, all dressed in blue shirts and jeans as part of their school uniform, explain their grandparents were originally from Hebron, a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank, and often talk about their pastimes in Palestine and old traditions.


Luna Khalil Ali (11) says they are aware of the situation currently unfolding in Gaza and “sympathise” and “pray” for the people there, and “help with donations whenever we can”.

Majd adds: “We need to raise awareness of what is happening in Gaza. The world should know their story.”

We have enough funding until the end of June and we’re imploring governments and partners to continue funding

—  Tamara Al Rifai

The Talbieh Camp was established in 1968 following the Arab-Israeli War, when some 5,000 Palestinians fled the West Bank and Gaza. The school was subsequently set up in 2017 and caters for 1,126 students, with 18 teachers and a counsellor available to support them. The children and their families live in concrete shelters beside the school.

Talbieh Camp, which has a population of around 10,600, is among ten such camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa) in Jordan.

According to Unrwa, there are about 170,000 ex-Gazans who cannot get citizenship in Jordan, with around 2.5 million refugees there.

Several countries suspended financing of the Unrwa earlier this year after Israel accused a dozen employees of involvement in Hamas’s October 7th attack which saw 1,200 people killed and 253 abducted. Ireland did not suspend funding to the organisation.

An independent panel, which released a report on Monday about Unrwa, said Israeli authorities had yet to provide proof of their claims that some UN staff were involved with terrorist organisations.

Tamara Al Rifai, director of external relations and communications with Unrwa, said the impact of such allegations had been “very damaging” to the organisation financially and politically.

She said while the report was “key” to countries changing their positions, its largest donor, the United States, has not resumed funding. Germany said on Wednesday it plans to resume co-operation with Unrwa, signalling a resumption of funding.

“We are still not out of the woods,” Ms Al Rifai added.

“We have enough funding until the end of June and we’re imploring governments and partners to continue funding.”

She also said what had been seen in the current conflict was the “power of misinformation and disinformation”.

“As Unrwa we have not only been very active in responding to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, we have also been very active in responding to claims and misinformation and at times outright lies against Unrwa,” she said.

“It took allegations for 18 strong governments – partners of Unrwa – to stop their funding, if that becomes a tactic in all wars in the region, that really threatens the ability of the aid community all together, not just Unrwa, to respond to emergencies.”

Ms Al Rifai was speaking as the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin continued his two-day visit of Egypt and Jordan on Wednesday, which included the camp’s girl school and medical centre.

Dr Bilal Ashour from the centre, said many of the patients he came in contact with suffered skin diseases and respiratory problems due to the cramped conditions as well as mental health problems.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin said he would be calling for a mechanism in the future whereby if there was a “shock or surprise announcement” or revelation in respect of “one specific aspect of Unrwa, in one place” that countries don’t do a sudden move to pause or review funding.

“The value of me going to that school this morning and the medical clinic is, I go back to the European Union, to my colleagues and say ‘who in their right mind could take funding away from an organisation that provides such an opportunity for young people’,” he said.

“To me, it is completely unacceptable to be undermining Unrwa.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times