- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan | Sitting and waiting - not by choice, but by the lack of any alternative - describes the life of Iraqi citizens sheltering here from the daily violence in their war-ravaged country.

“They gave me many warning letters and some bullets in the warning letters,” said Mohanad A. Mohamad, referring to armed militias that took over the streets of Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion five years ago.

“Four bullets: One for me, one from my wife, one for my daughter and one for my mother.”

A grenade exploding in his kitchen in late 2004 convinced him it was time to go.

“Now, thanks to God, we are living here,” he said. He works odd jobs repairing computers, awaiting approval of his asylum application to Europe or Australia, where he has family. He won’t go back to Iraq.

More than half a million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to Jordan since post-invasion violence took over their country. Many more sought out the Jordanian capital before 2003 as a temporary home after coup d’etats a half-century ago or a dictator’s wrath in the last decade.

Some dream America will eventually become their new home.

But in Amman they wait, part of a global refugee line of millions from the latest Iraqi diaspora.

They’re not refugees officially, but “guests,” said Nathaniel Hurd of the International Rescue Committee.

Jordan isn’t a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention. It doesn’t recognize refugee status, thus putting Iraqis here in “legal limbo,” Mr. Hurd said.

Mr. Mohamad lives in Amman with his 4-year-old daughter, wife and mother. He was from a well-off Baghdad family. His father a general in the Iraqi army until 1989. He has a degree in engineering.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its September report estimated 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced to either inside or outside their country.

Between 500,000 and 750,000 “recognized refugees, asylum seekers and other Iraqis who may be in need of international protection” are in Jordan, the U.N. report said.

“This is no life,” said Hanan, 32, a former English teacher accused of working for the Americans. Her family is still in Baghdad. She’s now in Amman illegally, racking up a more than $1 per day in fines for being here illegally. That’s a big expense for one who is not allowed to work.

She is hoping to be one of the 12,000 Iraqi refugees to be resettled in the United States this fiscal year, but is open to any country that recognizes her.

The State Department’s senior coordinator for Iraqi refugee issues, James B. Foley, said 4,742 Iraqis have been admitted through May.

“We are going to have to average a little over 1,800 refugee arrivals [a month] in the final four months of this fiscal year in order to reach that 12,000 goal,” he said. “This is a tall order. It’s a tough hurdle. But we are determined to succeed and increasingly confident that we can succeed.”

“Even though the government hasn’t been deporting people,” Mr. Hurd said, “there’s a fear of detention and a fear of forcibly being sent back to Iraq. The fact that it doesn’t happen doesn’t matter” because they’ve been given no official guarantee of safe haven from the Jordanian government.

“It makes it much harder to get employment,” he said. “It affects their day-to-day life in a very real and serious way.”

It has been two years since Wasan, 28, began a security check to be granted asylum in the United States.

Seven years ago, she and her immediate family were forced to flee then-Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s regime for a number of reasons, including her brothers’ opposition to joining the Iraqi army.

“Life became difficult for fear of arrest, so we decided to flee, especially after we learned that two of my brothers were political opponents against the ruling regime at that time,” she said. “[We made] the decision to travel to save our lives, leaving all our dreams, and our future into the unknown.”

She now shares a small apartment with her mother, sister and one of her brothers, working 12-hour shifts illegally at a shipping company, earning less than most.

Her family has had U.N. refugee status since 2001, but is unable to get asylum, unable to continue her college education.

For those struggling in Amman, there is Asma, a 61-year-old who left for school in England in 1959 after the revolution ousted the monarchy, to which her family belonged.

She plays a networking role of sorts, connecting those in need with those who can give, and trying to educate everyone about the status of Iraqis in and out of the country.

She is grateful to Jordan, considering the tremendous “strain” of the post-2003 influx of refugees, and said Amman offers a vantage point of being close to Iraq, with access to Arabs, Europeans and Americans. She has been in Jordan since 1997.

Iraqi refugees here have “very great problems,” she said from her modest three-bedroom apartment.

“Most of them have [used up] their money. They need help. They are not allowed to work legally.”

But the self-described Iraqi nationalist said she will only return after what she calls the dual occupations of America and Iran have ended.

“I not only hope that one day I will be living in Iraq,” she said, “but I certainly know and feel I will be, … God willing.”

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