"Bagdad Cafe" in Amman, Jordan
Anybody who travels to Jordan, and particularly to Amman, cannot ignore the fact that Jordan has been most charitable to the Iraqis fleeing war and insecurity in their own country. Most of those who left are men, particularly young men, in search of a better life elsewhere. Occasionally, you can see an Iraqi woman sitting on the pavement selling cigarettes, but this is far from representing the majority. Most Iraqi women have been left behind in Iraq and many of them are suffering. They wait for funds to come from their sons/husbands who have gone abroad looking for a better life.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees carried out a study in early October 2010. It found that the majority of Iraqi refugees who have returned to Baghdad from neighbouring countries regretted their decision, citing insecurity, economic hardship and a lack of basic public services. The survey of more than 2,300 Iraqis who had returned to Baghdad’s Resafa and Karkh districts between 2007 and 2008 found that more than one-third was uncertain about whether to stay permanently in Iraq. They would consider seeking asylum again in nearby countries if conditions did not improve.
Somewhere near the centre of Amman you will see a small coffee and sandwich shop on the corner of a very busy street. This is the gathering place for the Iraqi refugees. Jordan is one of the major host countries for those who fled in the early days of the war in 2003, and people are still coming every day looking for a better future. The owner of the place, a corpulent man, says, “I do not need money, I’m here to help my compatriots, so whenever you meet one of them please give them my card, and here is my mobile number… If I can be of any assistance I will definitely do my best to help them … We want to do business,” the owner of the café says. “We need peace and stability so that we can work.”
The new arrivals all share more or less the same sad story … they left their country in search of a better life elsewhere. Some of them have submitted an application for refugee status, but many of them have never received an answer from the organizations that are supposed to handle these matters. Why did they never receive an answer?
In the coffee shop we talked to several of them. One of them is a young man who arrived a year ago. He says: “I come from Baghdad. I applied for a visa to Jordan and obtained it. I found accommodation here and can now start to do business here in Jordan. More and more people are arriving every day. King Abdullah has done so much for the Iraqis since they enjoy the same privileges as the Jordanians, and we are very grateful for that. When I left Iraq for Jordan, it was the Iraqi side that made it difficult for me to cross the border, not the Jordanians.” When we ask him about European aid, he simply says: “We often hear about the Europeans who are going to help the Iraqi people, but we do not know about it, nor see any results. The United Nations is supposed to give us some funds, but this is not always the case. Even if we present the right documents, we do not always receive the funds we are supposed to. So, it is definitely better if the persons who would like to help us come here and give us their assistance directly. To go through an NGO or the United Nations does not help us at all because we do not see the difference. In 2007 I submitted my documents to the organization dealing with refugee affairs, but up to date I have not heard anything … not even an acknowledgement.”
Another one came to Jordan seven years ago and says that he considers Jordan his second home. He shares more or less the same story as the other young man –– waiting for a reply to his application…
I left the coffee shop with a heavy heart. We can only hope that one day the people to whom we talked will achieve the life they are hoping for …