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Iraqi children are not denied vaccines, gov’t says

The Jordanian government and the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) on Sunday denied claims that government health centres are refusing to vaccinate Iraqi children whose families are living in Jordan illegally.

Officials from the Ministry of Health said all foreign nationals in Jordan can benefit from vaccination programmes even if they did not have residency permits.

"All foreign residents, including Iraqis, can take their children within the age of vaccination to the nearest health centres to immunise them," Radhi Jwarneh, Health Ministry spokesman, said. He added that the decision was taken "to prevent the spread of diseases that have been eradicated, such as polio”.

UNICEF officials, on their part, said the Jordanian government was committed to vaccinating all foreigners despite their legal status.

However, a number of Iraqis contacted by IRIN said that their children were denied vaccinations because they did not have residency permits.

"Government-run health centres refuse to vaccinate my children because I do not have a residency permit. I tried with UNICEF but they also turned me down," said Mohammad Saad, 42, who fled violence in Iraq three years ago.

Since then, he and his wife have had two children who they worry will catch any number of debilitating diseases - such as measles, whooping cough and tetanus - that young children are susceptible to if not vaccinated. Saad added that he cannot afford vaccines in private clinics.

Without refugee status and without a residency permit or valid tourist visa, Saad lives in Jordan illegally. Saad’s monthly income from his unofficial job at a car maintenance garage in Ein Al-Basha, 20 km west of Amman, is the equivalent of US $120 a month, half of which he spends on house rent.

"It is already very hard to provide my children with food, let alone other basic needs. How do you expect me to pay for their vaccines?" said Saad.

Vaccines in Jordan cost between $150 and $200. The Ministry of Health does not control these prices though it said that it provides Jordanians and foreigners free vaccines against preventable diseases such as polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis [whooping cough], measles and tuberculosis.

Saad and other Iraqi nationals say they tried several times to vaccinate their children at government health centres but were denied.

Thousands of Iraqis have fled their country to Jordan over the past decade and a half, initially after Iraq was hit by UN-imposed sanctions and then after the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.

Iraqi professionals - such as doctors, university professors and businessmen - got Jordanian residency permits quite easily. Jordan’s Ministry of Interior estimates that there are nearly 300,000 Iraqis in Jordan holding such permits.

However, hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis were given three-month tourist visas, which have to be renewed by exiting and re-entering the country, or else pay a fine of $2 for each day overstayed.

Because of lack of money to do this, the interior ministry says there are now some 400,000 illegal Iraqis living in Jordan. They are mostly found in the highly populated cities of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid.

Maha Humsi, UNICEF’s project office manager of Child Protection and Early Childhood, said it was possible that these Iraqis avoid sending their children to be vaccinated at government-run health centres for fear of being discovered as illegal residents and being deported.

Handyman Abdul Sattar, 32, has four children, neither of whom has been vaccinated, he said. "I left Iraq to save my children from dying in the bombings, but death is following us in another form. I am afraid I will see them die slowly in front of me eyes because of disease,” he said.

mbh/ar/ed

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

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