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Toni, age 9, draws a red, green and black flag and a heart. He says he loves his country and that it is his heart.

“The kids talk about Iraq all the time,” said Sister Wardeh. “They love their country and say it is very beautiful. If the situation gets better, they say they will go back. When you ask them to sing, they sing the national anthem of Iraq.”

Fadi, age 5, colors a huge orange mass on his paper. Having arrived from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil last autumn, he regularly experiences anxiety and often hits his classmates. His father, Alaa, a 37-year-old man with closely cropped graying hair and a dark mustache, is a chemical engineer. His 29-year-old wife, Ban, is a pharmacist.

The family used to live in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. But their lives changed on 24 May 2006. Ban was walking to her job at Baghdad University when a bomb went off in the street. Her pants now hide where she lost a portion of her right leg, just below the knee.

Several months later, a group of young, masked men kidnapped Alaa, beating and torturing him. They shocked him using electric cables on his feet and legs. The kidnappers set Alaa’s ransom at $50,000. Ban sold their two-bedroom house to pay the ransom and afterward the family fled to Erbil, where Ban’s parents lived. Ban sold her jewelry and Alaa worked for a few months to gather money before fleeing to Jordan.

Alaa’s elderly parents in Baghdad were the next victims. Soon after Alaa’s capture, his parents’ house was ransacked and they were badly beaten. Removed by force from their home by extremists, they fled to Damascus to stay with relatives.

Alaa now has scars on his back and feet and suffers from anxiety and nightmares and takes tranquilizers to sleep at night.

Fadi used to attend a Christian-run kindergarten in Baghdad, but he stopped going when his father was kidnapped. The boy became very nervous and sad, his mother said, and refused to play with other children. Now, women in Islamic dress who cover their faces terrify Fadi and his sister, Farah; their father’s kidnappers wore masks.

The family lives in a two-bedroom apartment in east Amman that costs about $350 a month. With the family savings drying up, Alaa and Ban are hunting for a cheaper place. But if Alaa does not find work soon, they may have to return to Erbil, where at least the couple can legally work.

“We have no options,” Alaa protested. But there is no guarantee he will find work in Erbil and the cost of living there is equally high.

Something more serious is keeping Alaa, Ban and the children in Amman, however. Ban is undergoing treatment at the Italian Hospital in Amman for cysts on her ovaries. Administered by the Iraqi Dominican Sisters of the Presentation, who also run an 86-bed general hospital in Baghdad, the Italian Hospital is one of the few places where Jordan’s Iraqi refugees feel comfortable receiving medical attention. A number of Iraqi women doctors even practice there.

The stress under which these refugees must live takes a heavy toll on relationships, eating away at the fabric of the family. Heads of households feel ashamed that they cannot provide for their families; distraught men sometimes become violent toward their wives and children.

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Tags: Iraq Refugees Middle East Iraqi Christians Jordan