JRS organises English classes for refugees in Amman to foster a sense of community. Pictured here are Lamiaa Daoud and Murad Badawi. (Don Doll SJ/JRS).
Amman, 23 April 2012 - It's hard to tell how many Iraqi refugees there are in Jordan. Estimates vary wildly, from roughly 32,000 registered with UNHCR on the low end to more than 450,000 claimed by the government on the other end. The discrepancy in numbers has fomented questions about the response to the needs of a people whose land has been plagued by years of violence.
Counted or not, Iraqis in Jordan remain in a state of limbo, with sharply decreasing numbers being resettled to third countries, lack of integration in Jordan, and poor prospects of repatriation. An estimated 105,000 to 128,000 civilian deaths due to violence have been documented in Iraq since 2003 and political instability perpetuates lack of security in many regions. As for resettlement, between October 2008 and October 2010, more than 36,000 Iraqis were resettled to the US, which receives more than 70% of all Iraqis being resettled, while 9,400 were resettled in 2011 and only 826 during the last three months of the year.
"Numbers, numbers… we're sick of being just another number," says Laith Eskander, an Iraqi living in Amman. "It's hard to be a refugee. It's hard to know you are just part of UNHCR's or the American government's graphs or charts. I'm sick of being just a number and now we're numbers that are being forgotten about."
Laith's insights bear truth: in the past year, revolutionary events in the Middle East have drawn international attention away from Iraq more than ever. While reaching out to people newly displaced by the violence in Syria and elsewhere, JRS is determined to ensure that Iraqi refugees do not become forgotten numbers.
In Amman, a team visits refugee families scattered throughout the city, accompanying them during prolonged waiting and uncertainty. Headed by Laith, and made up entirely of refu"gees, the team can connect with others who fall through the cracks and lack access to services provided by other agencies.
Khalil* is one refugee who has fallen through the cracks. A 31-year-old who worked as an interpreter for the US army for four years, Khalil fled Baghdad in 2008 after being caught in crossfire and receiving repeated personal death threats. He and his parents moved to Mosul in northern Iraq where they lived for years with hopes of resettlement. After being denied through the normal channels, Khalil applied for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), which allows for an expedited resettlement process to the US for Iraqis who worked for at least one year with an American company or the US army in Iraq. When Khalil was accepted on 21 October 2010, he immediately began preparations to add his immediate family members to the application.
Meanwhile, Khalil's father had moved back to Baghdad because friends told him security had improved. Ten days after Khalil's SIV application was approved, his father, along with 45 other civilians, was killed in a bombing at the Saedat al Najah Church.
Three months later, Khalil was informed that his SIV had been revoked without any explanation. Khalil continued to stay in a village near Mosul with his wife, who was then pregnant with their first child. "After my father died, and they took away my chance to go to the US, I knew I needed to get out of Iraq," he says. Death threats began coming from unknown sources in Mosul and, the day after receiving the passport of their newly born daughter, Khalil and his wife went to Jordan with their child.
Khalil has been living in the urban neighbourhood of Hashemi Al Shamali, east Amman, for nearly five months, unable to work and struggling to scrounge enough money to pay for his eight-month-old daughter's diapers and other basic items. It is very difficult for Iraqis in Jordan to get a work permit: first they must obtain a residency permit, which can cost up to 25,000 euro, and then find jobs in a struggling Jordanian economy.
The family visits team is accompanying Khalil and has put him in touch with volunteer lawyers from the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which takes on obvious candidates for the SIV. JRS has also invited Khalil to attend computer and language classes and, in doing so, to meet other refugees.
Apart from being there for Iraqis like Khalil, who risk falling into oblivion, the family visits team is also helping many Syrian families who are in urgent need, most of whom have fled from Homs and have not had any contact with UNHCR or other NGOs in Amman due to fear. The Iraqis on the team have been consoling the Syrians, sharing the wisdom gleaned from their experience as refugees in Jordan.
Reaching out to both 'old' and 'new' refugees, JRS Jordan will continue to identify those who are most vulnerable, to walk with them in their plight and to assure them they are more than just numbers.
* not his real name
Colin Gilbert, JRS Jordan Director
This article came from the latest edition of Servir. Click here to read more.