09/18/2007versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

Starting a new life outside Iraq: the situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan
Written for us
by Bruno Neri
I am back in Iraq after two years, since the two Simones' kidnapping and Baldoni's death. My arrival in Erbil coincides with the Asian cup winning by the Iraqi national soccer team. Scenes of the “Two banks Lions” and of the outstanding moments of the victorious match against Saudi Arabia are scrolling on the Erbil airport monitors. Outside I dip in the joyous traffic-jam of Iraqi supporters. Dances along the roads, horns all over, waving flags, overfull vans and cars in an unexpected and merry atmosphere.

Profughi iracheniAt the same time, while people are rejoicing at the win, thousands of Iraqis are crossing Syrian and Jordan borders to shelter from the daily horrors of the war. I am carrying out a mission for Syria, Jordan and Iraq to study the situation of refugees and evacuee as well as the possible relief efforts that Terre des hommes Italy, the ngo I am working for, can activate for their benefit. United Nations agencies data are impressive, more than 4 million people sought refuge in Syria and Jordan in the last two years and as many are the internal evacuees. It is estimated that more than 5.000 people are leaving Iraq each day: a huge and unceasing flow. The news I get in Erbil, in Northern Iraq, are disastrous. Mosul, the second Iraqi city is getting completely empty. The city is totally under Al Qaeda control. Whole families have moved away, abandoning their homes and jobs, their most intimate things, their relationships, friends, relatives to reach safer places, especially towards the North, controlled by the Regional Kurd Government, or towards neighbour states.

In Erbil, as well as in Amman, Iraqi refugees are rebuilding pieces of a small Baghdad. Many owners of famous restaurants and cake shops moved here opening new activities after closing them in the Iraqi capital. Many, but not easy are my encounters with the refugees. In fact in Jordan, as well as in Syria, Iraqis hide, being afraid to be sent back in Iraq, very often for trivial reasons, like a whim of the policeman on duty or for a decision of the intelligence of these countries. Neither Syria nor Jordan have ever signed an international agreement concerning refugees. Iraqis have just a temporary residence permit and it is not by chance that Unhcr (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) recorded no more than 200.000 over a total of 4 million present in the two countries. In order to survive many refugees are forced to accept temporary, under-paid jobs, although the cost of life, especially house rents and medical expenses, is high.

Profughi iracheniIn Jordan I visited the city of Irbid with our collaborators Shant and Elisa; we are here to assess the number of refugees and understand where they live. We meet Abu Dimitrios, Irbid parish, who gives us some information regarding the Christian and Muslim Iraqis he knows.
In Irbid the middle and low class families have settled, as here the rents and the life cost are more affordable compared to the capital, Amman, where rich people sheltered. Since few years ago prices in Amman soared both for Iraqis and Jordanians: speculation has no limits! Abu Dimitrios indicates a few Iraqi families and asks an assistant of his to take us to Abu Jusef's. When we arrive he is waiting for us at the door and Shant, who is Iraqi, as soon as he sees him opens his eyes wide and says: “I know this man, I think he lived in Baghdad in my neighbourhood, Dora!”.

As soon as we get off the car Shant realises that Abu Jusef is one of his father's best friends and a refugee in Syria as well. They recognise at once and hug each other. They talk about Dora and of course of Shant's father, immediately called upon the cellphone. Abu Jusef and Shant's father speak together, talking about their families and common friends now far away, parted by an unjust war. Abu Jusef cries, being moved by the talk with his friend. While we are talking Khaled, another friend and refugee, arrives taking Abu Jusef's daughter, Mariam, back home. Khaled has been in Jordan for few months and tells us he decided to leave Baghdad after being involved in two different car bomb explosions in the same day. The first when he went meeting some friends in a restaurant, the second in the Jamuk hospital car park, where he had just driven his friends being injured by the first explosion. The job and health care problems are becoming besetting for refugees. In Jordan the government decided not to grant access to public and private schools to Iraqi children. In Iraqi Kurdistan public schools only Kurdish is taught, a language totally different from Arabic, and therefore incomprehensible for the Southern refugees who belong to the Arab ethnic group.

Profughi iracheniFrom Jordan I move to Damascus and meet the Terre des hommes staff. They are doing an incredible work, their base in the old city is overfull by Iraqi refugee women, many of them poor Shiites, wrapped in their black baya and needing health assistance for their children. Terres des hommes Syria signed an agreement with some hospitals and medical offices to grant free health assistance to refugees. Many children with heart malformations are cured in Syrian hospitals or sent to Europe to be operated thank to a Tdh programme. During my stay in Syria I collect many data on refugees' health and life conditions. The most surprising and puzzling element is the increase of cases lf leukaemia, that according to many doctors could be caused by the use of depleted uranium bombs. In Damasco I also meed Firdus, an Iraqi refugee who worked for the intelligence during Saddam regime. At that time he discovered that top level personalities in the regime were corrupted and managed illegal activities. He denounced them and had them convicted. Their families persecuted and harassed him, so he had to escape with all his family. After Saddam's fall he returned to Iraq, but after few months one of his daughters was kidnapped, probably still for revenge against his complaint towards the old regime personalities. To free his daughter he had to pay a ransom and sell his home, car, his wife's jewels and everything else he owned. Now Firdus works in Damascus in an handcrafts laboratory producing mattresses. His family is untroubled and his daughters go to school, something that in Baghdad would have been impossible.

After my mission, Terre des hommes Italy started in Jordan an aid programme for 600 Iraqi refugee families. The programme foresees supply of first aid goods, especially sanitary and home products, clothes for 4500 people and the opening of two children centres with educational and recreational activities, with psychological support funded by UNHCR and private funds.
Topic: War, People
Area: Iraq