A View from Jordan
Not for the first time, stable, Jordan is serving as a haven for refugees from a strife-torn neighbor, its streets filling with Iraqis. As Iraq is now closer to an all-out civil war, neighboring Jordan is playing a key role as a refuge for hundreds of thousands fleeing the mounting sectarian violence. Many of those now fleeing lack financial resources and it is unclear how much longer Jordan can continue to absorb them.
The number of refugees outside Iraq is now 2.2 million Iraqis who fled the war. 750,000 of those are in Jordan, which is more than 10% of the total population of Jordan (5.5 million). This has resulted in a serious economic pressure in a country with limited resources. Jordan has called upon the international community to carry part of this burden, especially the education. It is estimated that there are 19,000 Iraqi students now registered in the Jordanian schools and there are 50,000 students out of schools. Jordanian officials have repeatedly asked the international community to lend a hand to the cash-strapped nation in order to be able to meet the demands of the growing number of Iraqis it hosts. The Jordanian government agreed to proceed with a survey of all Iraqi refugees in Jordan to determine how many there are exactly and how much impact they have on Jordan’s economy.
The general public services available in Jordan are overwhelmed by the increased continuous needs. Food prices are going up. For example, the price of one kilogram of tomatoes, which was the cheapest commodity for anyone to buy and to feed their children, used to be less than half a dollar. Today it exceeds $1. Amman has become overcrowded and the water supply is hardly enough for all the population. Any country that receives over half a million people should be able to handle this sudden increase in the population. Jordanians are not able to help their guests due to there own shortage of resources.
The majority of Iraqis do not hold legal status to enable them to work, though many are highly educated. Due to their unregistered status, they cannot find a job and many have no financial support other than what small amounts a few relatives living in Canada or Sweden would send from time to time. Medical facilities and other major needs are available in Jordan but due to the large number of Iraqis and their lack of resources, many of these services are not available to them. Food and non-food parcels, clothing, and the immediate day today needs are unmet for most of the Iraqis.
In a short visit to Jordan and especially the capital Amman, anyone can experience directly the burden Jordan is trying to carry in hosting Iraqis. Traffic jams are everywhere. A very few NGOs are trying on a small scale to support the Iraqis, but there is a great need. The international community should seek ways and methods to support the Jordanian community and government in assisting the refugees, though Jordan calls Iraqis “Guests” rather than refugees. Jordan is not a party to the 1951 UN refugee convention nor has it a domestic refugee law. Many Iraqis and Jordanians are frustrated with the international community for not doing more to deal wit the consequences of the war. The international community and international NGOs can be of great help in regard to the situation, considering the pressure and burden Jordan nowadays is facing to help and support the Iraqis. Roughly 47,000 Iraqis are registered at the UNHCR office in Amman.
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) started preparing with most of its partners and through the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Coordinating Office in advance of the 2003 invasion. Through four appeals, the MECC has been able to support and help, but the problem became more serious when the number of Iraqis increased quickly in Jordan, and when the local churches started receiving hundreds of Iraqis seeking help.
The MECC works though the local churches and when the burden exceeded their capacity, the local churches needed the MECC to support in other ways. The issue is not only food and shelter; the main problem is that Iraqis in Jordan are allowed to obtain neither a work permit nor a residence permit. Accordingly men and woman are not able to get jobs to support their families. Additionally, children were not enrolled in schools until 2007, which means they missed three years of education. These are the Consequences of the Iraqi War.
The severe impact on Jordan is exacerbated by the fact that it is not a rich country and does not have the resources to support at least half million Iraqis needing jobs and education. The consequences on the Iraqis themselves include the trauma they are suffering, the lack of education, the health issues, and the depression they experience—all of these issues are results of the war on Iraq. These are issues that the Iraqis and neighboring counters who are hosting them will be facing for years and years to come. The MECC has advocated for solutions to the Iraqi crisis directly and indirectly, and tried with its full team of workers to raise the voice of the serious problems with its international partners.
In speaking in the US about the Iraqi war, it consequences, and the refugee issues, I have been able to advocate and explain the reality of the Iraqi war. I have emphasized the very serious long term effects that require the global Church to respond, especially to enhance the Christian presence in the Middle East.
In closing, speaking out more noticeably about the Iraqi refugee issue in Jordan and Syria is an urgent matter because I believe that many of us who are witnessing the crisis are the last generation who will be able to really make a difference. In a time when problems in the world are multiplying, there is a risk that the world’s attention will shift from one place to another. The Iraqi children—just like the starving children in Africa and suffering children everywhere—are part of the future of this world. We must interfere and raise our voices to provide them security and their natural needs.
Ms. Wafaa Goussous is the Director of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Amman Liaison Office, based in Amman, Jordan.