AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Iraqi refugees who fled sectarian violence following the 2003-U.S.-led invasion are fearful they could fall between the cracks as aid agencies scramble to help fresh arrivals escaping Islamic State brutality.
One interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq never expected to become a refugee, let alone someone who is now battling for his rightful place to receive resettlement in America after years of service aiding officers.
Unlike other Iraqis who are now resettled in America due to threats because they worked with the U.S. government, the interpreter, who identifies himself only as Joseph, is languishing in the Jordanian capital. He wonders how to scrape together enough money to pay the rent and other bills for his young family.
“They made big promises to me. After five years of working with the U.S. Army, why hasn’t the U.S. granted me asylum?” asked the 31-year-old-man, who once served on the base of Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American forces in Iraq.
Militant threats against Joseph for his work with American troops and for his Christian faith forced him to flee to Jordan in 2009, while other family members escaped to Syria.
“When I see terrorists, bad people getting resettled in the United States, this hurts me,” said the man, who said he risked his life on several dangerous missions for the U.S. military in Baghdad and Iraq’s restive Sunni Arab heartland.
Joseph and other Iraqi refugees cite an example of an Iraqi kidnapper who was given the green light to settle in the U.S. It came as a surprise to all given Homeland Security’s tough requirements.
Joseph and many of the other 300,000 Iraqi refugees still sheltering in Jordan live in cities, not camps, and face hardship just trying to survive. Refugees are not permitted to work in Jordan due to the country’s own high unemployment.
Recently, the impoverished desert kingdom opened its doors to 1,000 Iraqi Christians forced to flee their ancient homeland of Mosul following persecution by Islamic State militants who demanded they convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or be killed.
The United Nations has accused the Islamic State of committing “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” since storming minority Christian and Yezidi areas and parts south this summer. Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused the jihadists of “war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions.”
Authorities say that Jordan is also sheltering 1.6 million displaced Syrians. Appeals for international financial aid have met a lukewarm response, so additional numbers seeking refuge place an enormous burden on Jordan’s already scarce resources in water, energy, education and health. Officials are asking for $4.5 billion in badly needed assistance.
“Nearly all of the monthly stipend we receive from the U.N. refugee agency goes towards rent. The small remainder pays for water, but how do I pay for electricity?” Joseph asked.
“We must eat. I’m just sitting in the house, but I want to do something,” he said, expressing the frustration felt by many long-term refugees.
“I would like to continue my studies. I once worked in the telecommunication industry. But I can’t even go outside because if I do, I’ll spend 75 cents which I don’t have.”
“There is a big risk for refugees who do try to work,” said Abu Ishak, who arrived with his family of five in 2005. “Those who do are paid under the table for far less money. But there are unlucky ones who may work and find themselves at the end of the month with no salary at all.”
Abu Ishak said life is expensive for all the refugees in Jordan compared to prices back home. Yet, the refugees have little to no disposable income to spend on necessities, like medicine and education-related expenses for their children.
Although the international Catholic charity, Caritas, does provide help with medical treatment through its clinics and other volunteer agencies trying to assist by supplying ordinary medications, there is often no provision of needed medicines for those suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
Abu Ishak added that some unscrupulous landlords have been known to kick out Iraqi refugee families from apartments in order to offer the spaces to Syrian refugees, but at a much higher price.
Iraqi children also report some discrimination against them in the public school system.
“There are a lot of people who have been here for a long time, waiting to go somewhere else. But not much has happened for them,” Abu Ishak said, commenting on perceived logjams whether from the U.N. refugee agency or Western countries accepting refugees for resettlement.
“I want a good education, especially for my children, because every day is hard for us parents. I feel like I can do nothing for my children, I just cry,” said Abu Ishak. “I pray for a good future for my wife, my children. But here, there is no job.”
“I escaped from Iraq because I was targeted both as Kurdish and for my religious beliefs,” said Abu Ishak, who also worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces.
“We would love to have more freedom. In Jordan, we seem to face the same problems like in Iraq from the society,” he said. “Hopefully, the U.N. refugee agency will help us to get out of here.”
The general manager of Caritas Jordan, Wael Suleiman, said his group can only afford to house and feed the Christian refugees for around one year. Ultimately, he said, it is likely they will have to find resettlement and new lives somewhere else.