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Counting Iraqis to allay fears

[Iraq] An Iraqi Shiite woman sells cigarettes in downtown Amman.
(Maria Font de Matas/IRIN)

As the plight of Iraqi refugees scattered in the Middle East receives increasing international attention, authorities in Amman said they would conduct a survey of Iraqis in the kingdom, including legal and illegal residents.

Diplomatic sources told IRIN that Norway-based Fafo Foundation would participate in the survey, thanks to a Norwegian government grant.

The announcement of this survey comes at time when international human rights groups have said Jordan is imposing restrictions on Iraqis trying to enter Jordan. Government spokesman Nasser Judeh denied these allegations but admitted that the overwhelming number of refugees in the kingdom was a burden on its fragile economy.

“The presence of so many Iraqis or other non-Jordanians does put a strain on our natural resources, but we still accept them. We still welcome them because we have always been a haven and we understand the difficult situation they are facing back in Iraq, and we understand that they need to go somewhere,” said Judeh.

Officials in Amman have repeatedly urged the international community, mainly the US and the European Union, to provide Jordan with financial aid to help it cope with an increasing number of refugees.

“The western countries contributed in creating this mess in Iraq, now it is their moral obligation to help Jordan and other host countries,” said a former Jordanian minister who did not wish to be named.

The government hopes an internationally recognised study would persuade donors to grant Jordan the support in needs to accommodate the refugees and their respective needs.

''The western countries contributed in creating this mess in Iraq, now it is their moral obligation to help Jordan and other host countries.''

Two sectors in particular that are feeling the strain of this influx of refugees are public health and education.

Last year, the government allowed Iraqi students to join public schools provided they find a place in the already crowded classrooms. According to figures from the Ministry of Education, no more than 40,000 Iraqi students out of the 200,000 who are in Jordan were enrolled in public schools.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said the problem of Iraqi refugees in the Middle East is one that needs urgent attention. Earlier this year, UNHCR said US $60 million was needed to help the agency carry out its programmes of protecting and assisting Iraqi refugees in the Middle East.

Exodus of Iraqis

The exodus of Iraqis is considered the biggest movement of people in the the region since the Arab/Israeli war of 1948 when millions of Palestinians fled their homes in what is now Israel for fear of prosecution by armed Israeli groups.

“This is a problem that the international community has neglected,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, during a recent visit to Jordan.

UNHCR estimates on the number of Iraqis who have fled to neighbouring countries include up to 700,000 in Jordan; from 500,000 to one million in Syria; 20,000 to 80,000 in Egypt; and up to 40,000 in Lebanon. Turkey has an unknown number of Iraqis who have sought refuge there.

Observers believe the survey is necessary to determine not only the number of Iraqis in Jordan but also their profiles, impact on the economy and their ethnic backgrounds.

''The survey is crucial because it would help policy-makers determine possible methods of bridging the gap between Iraqi ethnic groups living in Jordan.''

Although Jordan has absorbed waves of refugees over the past 60 years, there are signs of a growing resentment among Jordanians towards the new arrivals because of the perception that Iraqis have contributed to a recent increase in the cost of living, mainly in real estate prices.

“The government must be transparent with the nation about the exact number of Iraqis. Are they one or two million? People want to know how much their existence has contributed to the recent increase in prices,” said Mohammad Masri, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

Masri believes the findings of the study will quell growing fears of a possible anti-Iraqi current in Jordan and might lay the ground for reconciliation efforts in Iraq.

“The survey is crucial because it would help policy-makers determine possible methods of bridging the gap between Iraqi ethnic groups living in Jordan,” he added.

mbh/ar/ed

see also
Iraqi asylum seekers in Jordan to increase threefold
Rights group calls for more protection for Iraqi refugees
High price of asylum


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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