Mahad al-Jadi, her mother Sahara and six sisters, all Iraqi Shi’ite Arabs, have been living in Amman for almost eight years, but their situation has not improved.
“On the contrary, we’ve been living illegally all this time, and our savings have run out,” said 35 year-old Mahad, who arrived in the Jordanian capital in 1998 after fleeing Iraq in fear of reprisals by the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
According to Mahad, she used to work in Baghdad for a military company. Because of her refusal to provide the regime with confidential information about her colleagues, however, she was fired and imprisoned, while her family was subject to threats. Once she was released, she and her family fled to Jordan.
Now, sitting in their two-room apartment in the residential area of Sports City north of Amman, they talk of how their situation has worsened since their arrival. “Because we aren’t recognised as refugees, we don’t have residence status, so we can’t work legally,” explained Mahad. Apart from the second-hand clothes, food and medicine that they occasionally receive from neighbours, the women generate a modest income by baby-sitting.
The family tried applying for refugee status with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) upon their arrival to Amman, without success. “UNHCR denied us refugee status without reason or explanation,” said Sahara. Mahad believes that the UNHCR refusal was influenced by the agency’s discovery that she had changed details in her passport to escape Iraq.
The family originally hoped to be resettled in Canada, where a eighth daughter has been living since 2003 after being granted refugee status there. “Now, though, we would go to any country that agrees to shelter us, because we want to live legally,” said Sahara.
Nevertheless, with no possibility of resettlement in a third country, the family would rather continue to live illegally in Amman than return to Baghdad. “Given the current situation in Iraq, Jordan is better,” said Sahara.
Mahad’s family is only one example of the poor living conditions faced by much of Jordan’s expatriate Iraqi community, say NGOs working in the field. In order to help the most vulnerable of these, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) has been running a relief programme with local partner-organisation Caritas-Jordan since 2002. The programme offers a wide variety of services, including medical, humanitarian and educational assistance to an ever-increasing number of expat Iraqis, struggling under dire economic circumstances.
“When Iraqis arrive in Jordan, they usually come with gold, which they sell to support themselves until it runs out,” explained ICMC Project Assistant Joseph Livingston. “This situation forces Iraqis to work illegally, which means they can be fired and abused without legal recourse.”
There are no official figures on the size of Jordan’s Iraqi community, but estimates range between 500,000 and 800,000 out of a total population of around six million . Some put the figure as high as one million. According to the UNHCR, there are currently about one thousand non-Palestinian refugees in Jordan eligible for UN assistance, including 700 Iraqis. Palestinian refugees are taken care of by a specially dedicated UN agency: UNRWA. Overall, there are 18,200 unrecognised refugees seeking asylum in the kingdom, according to the agency.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions