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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
Iraqi Refugees in Jordan: The heartbreak of fatherhood
August 8, 2008
|Jawad, an Iraqi refugee, spends a few hours every day talking with other Iraqis and staff at the IRC funded Chechen Community Center in Zarqa, Jordan. He says as an Iraqi it is the one place where he is comfortable socializing. Photos: Jessica Malter/The IRC|
|Jessica Malter is blogging from Jordan. She arrived there in June to support the International Rescue Committee's regional programs to aid uprooted Iraqis. Read her earlier post from Amman, Jordan here.
With the cost of living skyrocketing in Amman, many Iraqi refugees have moved on to the less expensive city of Zarqa, about 45 minutes north of the capital. In Zarqa the IRC is supporting the Chechen Society, a community based organization that is helping the recent arrivals. The day I visited the center, IRC-funded vouchers were being distributed to be redeemed at a local store for much-needed household items such as fans, ovens and refrigerators. Most Iraqis in Zarqa are extremely poor and live in dilapidated apartments, many that lack functioning appliances. So while this may not sound like typical humanitarian relief, this sort of assistance is crucial when working with an urban refugee population.I discovered, though, that the Chechen Society serves another important purpose beyond being a distribution center; it has become a second home for Iraqis like Jawad, who otherwise remain secluded in their apartments with little opportunity for social contact. Jawad told me that being at the center reminds him of being with his family, whom he hasn’t seen since the war broke out.
Jawad fled Iraq in 1994 after he quit the army, something that was frowned upon by Saddam’s regime. Until a few years ago people could easily and safely travel back and forth between the two countries, but that is no longer the case. Jawad’s wife and four children have not been able to get the travel documents they need to enter Jordan to visit him as they once did.
Jawad wants nothing more than to see his family, but if he goes back to Iraq now he will not be able to get back into Jordan. Even though he is not allowed to work here and cannot support his family financially, he says it is better for them if he stays put. In Jordan, he has applied for the family to be resettled in a third country and he doesn’t want to give up on that possibility. He worries constantly about his children and what sort of future they will have if they cannot leave Iraq. They stayed there to finish their education (until last year Iraqi children were not allowed to attend Jordanian schools), but now he fears all their learning is going to go to waste.
From the Chechen Center we walked through the bustling streets of Zarqa to Jawad’s apartment. He wanted me to see his new refrigerator, which he says could not have come at a better time. A mass on his neck was recently diagnosed as a malignant tumor and his medication needs to be refrigerated. Jawad says he needs treatment that he can't get here in Jordan, so the medicine is a sort of stop gap measure.
Despite everything, Jawad is a good humored man who still enjoys a laugh and is more than happy to talk politics. “I hope the next American President does not give up on the Iraqi people and does the right thing,” he tells me. “We need somewhere else to go. What other option is there?”
After leaving Jawad’s, I visited the appliance shop where the vouchers were being redeemed. There I met Hatif who was getting an oven. At first he didn’t want to talk to me or have his photo taken, but after a bit more thought he agreed if he said it would help get his voice out on behalf of his family and other Iraqis.
In Baghdad Hatif had owned a successful car repair shop and was living well, with more than enough to provide for his wife and four children. Militia raided his shop though and took everything. The threats followed and the family fled to Jordan two years ago. Unable to work here, he is trying to keep the family going on the 160 Jordanian Dinars (USD $225) he receives every month in assistance. He still owns his house in Iraq, but can’t go back to try and sell it and has no idea what has become of it.
His eyes well up when he talks about how hard it has been for his children, who are old enough to remember what their lives were like before becoming refugees. Now, he says he can’t even bring them chocolate. His children still ask for things—clothes ,toys, a bicycle –and every time they do he tries to pacify them with the same line, “maybe next month”. For Hatif the worst thing about his situation is being completely dependent on others for their survival, especially when it is totally unnecessary. He could easily give his children what they want and buy his own oven he says, if he were only somewhere where he was allowed to work.
Read more about Iraqi refugees and how you can take action to help here.
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