After enduring persecution, violence and uprooting, a group of Iraqi religious and laypeople are on…
The difficulty of being an Iraqi refugee in Jordan
Rami Hanna and his family — his wife, Sama, their 3-year-old daughter, Julia, and his parents — are now in Jordan after a long journey from their home in Iraq. But they are hoping it does not end there.
Our Sunday Visitor learned about the Christian family’s story during the international conference “Media and their role in defending the truth,” which offered a reflection on dialogue between religions and people in the Middle East. The conference took place in Amman, Jordan, on June 18-20 and was promoted by the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan, with the collaboration of the Platform for Dialogue and Cooperation between Religious Leaders and Institutions of the Arab World and the Jordanian Office of Tourism.
Pope Francis visited Jordan — home to the site of Jesus’ baptism — during his 2014 journey to the Holy Land. He did so in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI (2009) and Pope St. John Paul II (2000).
Jordan, with a large Islamic majority, where Catholics are less than 1% of the population, has a reputation as a peaceful and tolerant country in the Middle East. However, Iraqi refugees seeking work have found other difficulties while living there.
Hanna, a computer-graphics professional and photographer, with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, expressed the challenges he and his family have encountered.
Sama, his wife, had studied at the nursing college, but did not complete her studies because of religious persecution against Christians in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq.
“We hope that our requests for asylum in a stable country will be accepted, because it is the best solution for us,” Hanna said.
“As refugees, in Amman [Jordan], we are not seen as refugees, but as refugee seekers,” he said. He noted that life is especially hard because in the nation, while peaceful, refugees are not allowed to work.
He expressed his gratitude for the ways the Church helped some refugees work and noted that through the Catholic agency Abouna he is able to still do some photography work.
Yet, he warned, all refugees who work are at risk “for a type of police, which specifically works to understand and follow up on those who are working illegally.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Hanna explained, distinguishes between Iraqi and Syrian refugees, giving the Syrians financial support. Work permits, he pointed out, are given to Syrians in Jordan, “but not to Iraqis unless they do a formal residence in Jordan, and it costs about $30,000. The Iraqis, those who receive salaries from the UNHCR, are very few.”
“Julia was born after we immigrated to Erbil, and when we came to Jordan, she was only 3 months old,” Hanna said. “Now, we cannot provide all of her needs or develop her skills as a child due to our bad financial situation. We cannot even send her to kindergarten or, in the future, to school, because we do not have the money to cover the costs required. State schools here do not accept Iraqi refugee children.”
He articulated his experience in impeccable English. Hanna said, “I studied English in Iraq, but I also speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, Arabic and Kurdish.
When asked about his 3-year-old learning to speak English, he said, “She already does. She watches on YouTube often a program called ‘Baby Bus,’ which teaches various aspects of life in English.”
While expressing appreciation for a safe and relatively peaceful life in Jordan, he lamented that practical aspects make it very challenging.
“We do not have medical insurance,” he said, noting that while they are grateful to have some health care through Caritas, it does not cover everything. “For instance,” he said, “if someone needs a surgery, insurance doesn’t pay or doesn’t pay more than 10-20%, but this doesn’t cover if someone needs more expensive surgeries.”
Without the ability to make a living or afford adequate health care, and since the processes for being welcomed takes more than three years, Jordan, Hanna said, could not become home.
When asked if his family would wish to return to Iraq if the situation were better, he was not optimistic.
“Even if the situation seemed better, as it does at times in certain areas,” Hanna said, “I think it is only temporary.”
Christians in Iraq are concentrated along the Nineveh Plain, around Mosul. Yet even though the situation for them seems stable now, that can change quickly, he said.
“The terrorists,” Hanna saiddecried, “do not like this situation of relative calm. So, I think this moment where things seem OK will change.”
What he and the other volunteers (refugees) of Caritas Jordan are hoping for are positive responses to refugee programs in Australia and Canada.
Canada, he said, requires great funds and does not provide health care or income. It also calls for one to have a sponsor. Australia, on the other hand, offers salaries and health care.
A family’s journey
The young man lamented that Christian refugees in Jordan, not being able to work and not having adequate health care, struggle to pay for the essentials and tend to live in the Al-Hashimi Al-Shamali area of the city together, where things are more affordable.
Hanna’s journey began when his family made their way to Erbil, a town in Iraq that has welcomed many refugees and where baby Julia was born. They have now been in Jordan for about three years and will stay there until one of their travel applications is accepted by UNHCR or through an embassy.
The young Iraqi acknowledged that the timeframes for any of these procedures is very long. “Many of us have applied to Australia and Canada, but have been rejected or are waiting,” said Hanna, who noted that while spouses apply together, entire families must apply for asylum individually.
“We do not know how much time this will take, but several years is possible,” he said.
Deborah Castellano Lubov writes from Rome.
|Caritas Jordan assists Iraqi refugees|
Caritas Jordan is a charitable organization with the Catholic Church, and a part of Caritas International, which belongs to the Vatican. It operates health clinics in different parts of Jordan that provide general medicine, dentistry and medicine services to patients free of charge for the needy and refugees. It also provides legal assistance of migrant workers and emergency response for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The Latin Patriarchate, alongside Caritas Jordan, rapidly set up an emergency program and is now working to find sustainable solutions by providing humanitarian aid to more than 11,000 displaced Iraqi families: food, clothing, shelter, water, health care and money to cover hospital costs, transportation, etc., but also by responding to the housing problem for many families. The patriarch, in cooperation with Caritas Jordan, assists more than 11,000 students with their children’s tuition fees, in addition to transportation, stationery, uniform costs and a skills training program. Both Catholic institutions provided humanitarian assistance to 11,235 displaced Iraqi families. More information about Caritas Jordan can be found at www.caritasjordan.org.