VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
Michael Kocher on Helping Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
October 5, 2007 by The IRC
|Photo: The IRC|
|Cross-posted from the IRC Web site: The International Rescue Committee has launched relief operations in Jordan for Iraqi refugees as the humanitarian crisis in the region grows. The IRC’s Michael Kocher is just back from Amman where he was overseeing start-up efforts. He shares his thoughts on the deteriorating situation for vulnerable Iraqi families and what the IRC is doing to help. Q: You were just in Jordan. Are things getting better or worse for Iraqi refugees there? Kocher: It’s getting steadily worse for Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqi civilians forced to flee the chaos at home are now living in a state of misery and uncertainty. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis whom I’ve met there are frightened and concerned for the future of their children. They are struggling to hold their families together with very little means. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them. Their current situation is grim, but they say there’s no way they can go home. Home is where they saw the killing and kidnapping of loved ones, the destruction of their communities and the constant threat of violence, torture and extortion. Resettlement in a third country is an option for very few, yet prospects for successful integration in places like Jordan are slim to non-existent. Q: Can you describe the day to day lives of Iraqi refugees? Kocher: In Jordan, many Iraqi families, especially men, try to remain in hiding because of concerns about their legal status. They hesitate to come out of the shadows to access the little assistance that is available. Growing numbers are living at or below the poverty line. They can’t work legally so many peddle on the street. The resources of many families have dwindled to almost nothing and this creates concern about the simplest things, like how they will feed their children each night. Q: What are their living conditions like? Kocher: The shelter situation is increasingly untenable. They tend to stuff into cramped shabby apartments, most often an entire family in a single room. There’s little furniture and inadequate heat, which is especially troubling as winter approaches. Living in such congested quarters can increase the spread of illnesses, but most can’t afford or access health services. Q: How are the children coping? Kocher: I can tell you that every parent I’ve talked to is overwhelmed with worry about the health and education of their children. Iraqis put great premium on education. One piece of good news is that the Jordanian Government has taken steps to welcome Iraqi refugee children into their classes, which is a very generous move considering Jordan’s schools are already overcrowded and under-resourced. This needs to be watched to make sure it happens in practice. Q: How is the IRC helping? We have had to be creative in our programming. The challenge is that these are urban refugees trying to be inconspicuous for fear of being deported. We’ve made the decision to work with local partners and are going door to door, doing aggressive community outreach to identify very specific needs. So with our partners, we’re providing emergency materials, like basic household goods, blankets and soap. We’re also working to provide what we call safe to play spaces for children. These are welcoming and nurturing environments where children can go to play games and music, do artwork, and for some, catch up on lost learning. Q: Are there any programs for older children and teens? Kocher: We’ve started partnering with an organization called Questscope to reach out to youth. So far, we’re developing programs to work with about 1,200 young people, most of them ages 10 to 18, who have missed out on schooling. Many are working on the black market in order to help their families. We’re working with their parents to encourage their kids to return to school and we’re assisting with modest school fees. Q: Has the influx of refugees caused tension among Jordanians and Palestinians? Kocher: To date, the host communities have been very understanding, but we see signs of the welcome mat wearing thin. With our partners, we’ve started working with local community and youth groups to bring the populations together for activities aimed at creating better understanding and acceptance.|
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