Friday, October 17, 2008

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Back in Jordan! This time I’m here to work with the team to start up two new USG funded programs for the Iraqi Refugees. One is a continuation of our health program we were implementing last year – providing outreach health and psychosocial services to over 75,000 refugees living in and around Amman. This year we are expanding that program to the cities of Irbid and Zarqa in Northern Jordan, and we are putting more focus on clinical secondary health care services and medications.

Our other new program is a vocational training program for Iraqi Refugees. This is a new avenue for IRD here in Jordan, and it is definitely new to me – a Health program manager! So far it looks like it will be very interesting though. We are identifying over 600 male Iraqi refugees from the most vulnerable households to be supported in 3 to 6 month vocational training programs in a wide variety of topics, ranging from construction and plumbing to computer hardware maintenance and AutoCad training. A local training organization that is a spin-off of Habitat for Humanity will be providing the trainings. In addition we are working to address the social, day care, and early childhood developmental needs of pre-school age Iraqi children, through the development of community-driven day care services.

The situation for the Iraqi refugees in Jordan remains difficult. After 5 years of displacement, they are still not considered refugees, much less residents, in Jordan. They still get the tricky title of Iraqi “guests”. Being a guest in Jordan means they can not legally enroll their children in school, can not get government health services, can not legally be employed, etc. This is not to say the Government of Jordan hasn’t done a lot to improve the policies surrounding what the Iraqi guests do have access too. In the past year they have made it easier for Iraqi families to access the Jordanian education system as well as the health system, and have been working with the WHO to provide needed pharmaceuticals and other basic supplies to the most vulnerable families.

There is still some contention between the GoJ, the UN, and the implementing agencies on the number of Iraqi refugees that are actually residing in Jordan. The GoJ and UN claim 500,000 – 700,000, while many of the implementing agencies, including mine, believe the number to be less than 200,000. Yes, there were large numbers of refugees crossing the border during the first few years of the war, but many refugees have left Jordan and moved on to Syria, where the government is not as restricted, and a few have even made the choice to return to Iraq. Regardless of the actual numbers of refugees in Iraq’s neighboring countries, the scale of the problem cannot be disputed. There are nearly 2.5 million refugees outside of Iraq and nearly the same number of displaced Iraqi’s within Iraq. This is one of the worst displacement crises in history.

The United States Government reported on October 2, 2008 that it had reached a record for Iraqi refugee admissions during fiscal year 2008. “By the end of the U.S. government’s fiscal year on September 30, 13,823 Iraqi refugees had arrived for resettlement in the United States, surpassing the target of 12,000.” Thirteen thousand, eight hundred and twenty three. That is 0.005% of the total refugee crisis that is a result of the US’s invasion of Iraq five years ago.  What a record.

How much money was donated to support the refugee crisis? “During fiscal year 2008, U.S. contributions totaled $398.27 million”. Let’s see, FY08 spending on the war in Iraq was $158 billion, thus funding for humanitarian support in FY08 was only 0.002% of war funding.

The state department report goes on to state “During the next fiscal year, the U.S. plans to continue to help meet the needs of Iraq’s displaced population, and has pledged to admit a minimum of 17,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis for resettlement in the U.S. through the U. S. Refugee Admissions Program.” Wow, it will be another record, at 0.007% of the displaced population.

As an American humanitarian worker, working in both Jordan and Iraq, I struggle with the concern that I too have become “part of the problem”. My salary, per diem, danger pay, etc. all come out of that measly $398.7m, yet I feel as an American it is part of my duty to try to do what little I can, through my programs, which hopefully are providing needed services and care to an extremely vulnerable population, to try to help clean up the mess that my country has caused and continues to bungle about in. I’d be very curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue.


Peter said...


You wrote:
"I struggle with the concern that I too have become “part of the problem”. My salary, per diem, danger pay, etc. all come out of that measly $398.7m, yet I feel as an American it is part of my duty to try to do what little I can"

Many humanitarian workers with a conscience struggle with the fact they are "paid through the misery of others".

First of all, it is that struggle that keeps us on our toes.

Second, someone has to help. If we were not to help, the people would be worse of.

Thirdly, never stop asking yourself if the previous point is correct. Which brings me back again to the first point. ;-)

Seriously, though, when we, aidworkers, stop asking ourselves questions "are we doing right", then we stop being humanitarians.

Why, though, would you feel it is your duty to help "as an American"? Every person should help, no?

Wishing you a safe stay in Jordan. Continue bringing your message to the world.


Peter said...

Oh and by the way, I once wrote a post about this topic...

Have a nice weekend!