Falling off the edge: Iraqi and Syrian refugees

A refugee child’s picture on the wall of the Evangelical Philadelphia Nazarene Church of Marka, in Amman. March 2019. (photo: S. Komarovsky)
Jordanian church welcoming those displaced by war and trauma as “guests” not refugees.

By Alice Rothchild | Mondoweiss | Apr 24, 2019

The pictures of Syrian families walking from their homes, carrying pillows and belongings, evokes for me the iconic photos of Palestinian expulsions in 1948. I feel my tears rising. How many more refugees will suffer this fate?

The day begins at The Evangelical Philadelphia Nazarene Church of Marka, a church in Amman that has a particular focus on refugee care. I am told that the number of refugees has doubled since 2010 with mostly Syrians followed by Iraqis (who are classified by the Jordanian government as “guests” rather than refugees). For older data see the UNHCR report here. In the never ending bureaucratic craziness, after 2007 Iraqi children were allowed to go to government schools, but many did not because of displacement due to war (arriving in the middle of the school year, falling behind), confusion over valid residency permits, financial challenges, or the already overburdened public schools. “Many Iraqis still face barriers to education as many families are running out of resources and sending their children out to work, especially in female headed households. In addition, some vulnerable Iraqis are unwilling to register their children at state schools because they do not have legal status in Jordan.”

I hear repeatedly, “The Iraqis, they all arrived by plane,” implying they all came with money. It turns out that the Iraqi population that arrived in 2003 was mostly the Muslim white collar class from Baghdad, some with striking wealth who took their gold and built companies and bought residency permits in Jordan. The folks arriving in 2014 were from ISIS controlled areas in northern Iraq and often had only six hours to leave, the announcements arrived at midnight, and the families fled with nothing but their terror and trauma. While religiously diverse, the latter group was an exodus from many historic Christian communities, although the religious breakdowns for the total Iraqi refugee populations are roughly the same from both the 2003 and 2014 communities.

I meet an eleven-year-old girl from Mosul who loves to draw, who fled Iraq when ISIS attacked her father and grandfather, severely injuring her father and killing her grandfather for the crime of being Christian.

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