"There are 750,000 Iraqis living in Jordan with all of the horrors of refugees - and none of the benefits." Noah Merrill, consultant to AFSC's Middle East Task Force, spoke to audiences in Des Moines and Iowa City recently about the people and the stories he encountered during the six weeks he spent with refugees from the Iraq war who are now living in Jordan.
"Undocumented," we know from our own work with immigrants arriving in this country without legal status, means they live in the shadows; no legal work, no access to healthcare, and education is a risk. Forced by war (note Lee Searles' letter, page 4) out of their own country, the displaced Iraqis are without welcome in neighboring countries.
"Before pointing your finger at Jordan, understand the US role in all of this," Noah cautioned. "The US knows how to tear things down-we just don't know how to build them back up. After the US invasion, passports were declared obsolete, and the system put in place has been an abysmal failure. Further complicating the situation is the international communities' refusal to declare those displaced by the Iraq war as refugees."
With a hint of sarcasm in his voice, Noah noted, "Refugees do not come from democracies...The Iraqi refugee crisis is our responsibility. An earthquake did not hit Iraq. This is a political disease with a political solution." The solution is not more rockets and tanks. "We have," Noah said, "a responsibility to rebuild and pay reparations and create a space for a diplomatic process with all the players in the region."
Voices of the Iraqis
"I am here because they cannot be," Noah told a quiet audience. He held up a scarf given to him by a young child as she asked him to share it with the people of the US as a gesture of friendship from the children of Iraq. "Please tell them about us," she said. "I think they will help us." Noah shared two stories.
Saidy was a Sunni child of the sanctions imposed on Iraq throughout the 90s. Her family relocated to Baghdad for healthcare. However, following the US invasion in 2003, the family left Baghdad for their home in Fallujah, where they hoped it would be safer. After the destruction of Fallujah, the family moved back to Baghdad where they were welcomed by Shiite neighbors and given food and shelter.
Saidy's mother tells the story with tears. "That can't happen now because of the divisions," another fallout from the US war. As the situation worsened inside Iraq, the family fled to Jordan. In the absence of healthcare, Saidy's health deteriorated. Noah struggled to tell of Saidy's death after his departure.
Mustaffa was 25 years old when the power from the cluster bombs knocked him off the roof he was working on. It was as if "I was kicked by the air" he told Noah, the blast knocking him to the ground and breaking two bones in his back. His 12-year-old brother became his caretaker and was able to get him to the hospital.
Since this was at the beginning of the war the hospital was still functioning and doctors were still available (2000 Iraqi doctors have since died and 12,000 are now "disappeared".) However, the years of sanctions limited the medical supplies available, and the steel screws used to repair Mustaffa's back eventually led to infection.
Mustaffa is confined to a wheelchair. His brother, now 15, continues to be his support, though the future is questionable because the brothers are undocumented and without work permits in Jordan.
"Mustaffa is an inspiration to me, he gives me hope," Noah told those gathered. Mustaffa has not given up. He is certain he will get to the US where the Mayo Clinic will treat him and he will walk again."
Fifty thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homeland each month. The US is discussing allowing between 2,500 and 7,000 into this country.
To see a webcast of Noah's presentation, visit http://www.afsc.org\central\desm.html