Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Refugees: Waiting for status.

Most of us never think we'll be in this situation. To be, for whatever reason, forced to leave the country of our birth and travel to a new country that may not be so welcoming of our presence. How would we deal with such a situation. How would we handle the new rules, regulations and limits that are placed on us because we are "outsiders". What would it be like to know or atleast believe that we could never go "home"? What would it be like to live in limbo, become illegal, seek refuge?

I've met alot of such people living here in Jordan. Jordan has long established refugee camps for Palestinians. They get constant support from the UN for these camps ... they could not exist otherwise. Jordan, as a desert country without oil reserves to speak of, simply doesn't have the resources to support it's large refugee population without outside help ... the majority of which comes from the U.N. This is what they mean when they say, "the rest of the world pays for the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land."

Jordan doesn't want to take on anymore refugees but Iraqis have come here in droves ... before, during and particularly now, after the war in 2003. Rich and poor alike, came to Jordan. Some are hoping to immigrate to another country. My Iraqi neighbors down the street, christians, have relatives in the U.S. ... they think it is only a matter of a few months before they can immigrate to the U.S. (though I've been told they are deluding themselves and it can take many years to accomplish this).

Some are hoping just to stay out of Iraq until things settle down so that they can return back to their old lives.

Some are Baathist that have a history in Iraq and are afraid to return because of the long memories that exist in their homeland.

Some have been arrested and released by the Multinational Forces (MNF) in Iraq; some have been targetted by insurgents for working with the MNF or the new Iraqi government or international aid workers; some have lost their livelihoods and all they've worked for, and some are just tired and discouraged and heartbroken over what has become of their country. Many of these never want to see Iraq again.

These photos were from a refugee protest in May outside the offices of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) ... there were only a few refugees protesting (most probably are afraid to) but they seemed to make the UNHCR security very nervous and they refused to allow us to take pictures showing the building or the UNHCR sign.

Iraqi refugees in Jordan (as in many other countries) have a precarious existence. They can't work and they can't stay legally for more than three months (without paying). If they are checked by the police and found to be illegal they are thrown in jail and quickly deported. The people in the first shot are holding up their letters from the UNHCR stating that they are refugees ... which should give them some protection. But many claim that these letters, which can be hard to obtain, really don't help them to stay in Jordan. Sometimes, we were told, as soon as the police see these letters, they ship them right back.

Iraqis with their UNHCR letters stating that they are official refugees

A man with his child ... the wife left them he said, because she couldn't face the hardships of living as a refugee.

It's easy to be callous towards these people (they tell me that is how the UNHCR is) ... there are so many, their hands are reaching out ... and grasping at you so hard! For any crumb or ray of hope. It is overwhelming.

But you have to ask yourself ... would you be any different if their shoes?

'Oh, but that will never happen to me,' you think. Perhaps you're right ... but many of these people would, once in their life, have said the exact, same thing. Life is precarious. Our connection to our current life is a simple thread. Who knows how easy or how hard it would be to break?


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