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Out of Place

For Fleeing Iraqis, Jordan has become a limbo

by Sahar Aloul

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Up until seven months ago, 27-year-old S.D. Duraid, an Iraqi Chaldean, had a lucrative job repairing air-conditioners for U.S. troops in Iraq.“If I stayed, I could have made a lot of money with all the rebuilding contracts, but the price might have been my life,” said Mr. Duraid, who declined to give his first name. “I already escaped death twice – two bombs had exploded a few meters from me on different occasions. So I decided to leave and never go back.”

Mr. Duraid fled to neighboring Jordan, sharing an apartment with three other Iraqis in a poor section of Amman, the kingdom’s capital. Lacking a work permit, he volunteers at the Chaldean parish and depends on money from family who settled in Michigan eight years ago. His American relatives introduced Mr. Duraid, via the internet, to an American woman, whom he recently married.“Marriage was a means for me to get out of Iraq,” said Mr. Duraid, who hopes to resettle in the United States soon.

But not all Iraqis in Jordan have been as fortunate as he.

The transit hub of the Middle East. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is sandwiched between two of the most volatile areas in the world: Israel/Palestine and Iraq.

Though lacking water, oil, minerals and other natural resources, Jordan has offered asylum to hundreds of thousands of refugees, remaining remarkably stable yet irrevocably altered by the turbulent events that have rocked the region since the middle of the 20th century.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flooded Jordan after the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 and 1967; most became Jordanian nationals and are now completely integrated into Jordanian society. Perhaps half of Jordan’s estimated population of 5.7 million people are Palestinian. But some 1.7 million Palestinians are still cared for by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), and live in 11 camps around the country.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War forced another wave of refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 2 million people of different nationalities fled to Jordan from Kuwait and Iraq during and after the war. Among them were some 360,000 Jordanian expatriates, most of them of Palestinian origin, significant numbers of Iraqi Shiites who fled after the failed Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1992 as well as middle- class Iraqis desperately seeking relief from the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Jordanian officials estimate that some 350,000 Iraqis now live there, the vast majority of whom entered the country between the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The number of Iraqis “fluctuates according to a number of factors, [particularly] the level of violence in Iraq, but we haven’t seen a mass movement across the Iraqi borders recently,” said Faisal Qadi, a Jordanian Interior Ministry spokesman. “Many Iraqis wait here for their immigration applications to other countries to come through.”

Though the numbers may not be staggering, another wave of Iraqis is seeking safety in the kingdom.

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Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan War Palestinian Refugees