We have been able to visit some Iraqi families who are refugees here in Jordan.
Presently there are 9,000 Christian refugees in this country, some of whom have been waiting for more than two years for the ONU to assign them to a country where they can re-establish themselves and begin their lives again. Most of the families come from the north of Iraq, from Mosul, but there are also some from Baghdad.
Jordan offers asylum to those fleeing the scourge of war. Presently there are more than 3 million refugees in the country, most of whom are in refugee camps. However, Jordan cannot offer them the opportunity to find work, since it is a small country struggling with unemployment and lack of resources (in the past Jordan took in Palestine refugees that have since been incorporated into their society, now representing more than 30% of the population).
Christians are not sent to refugee camps. Instead, the Church helps them to settle in different neighborhoods or Parishes, giving them real help in covering the expenses of rent and of supporting their families. Caritas and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem do their best to assist their needs, but obviously it is not possible to take on everything nor to cover all their costs.
Visiting these families makes one appreciate the faith and strength of these people who have abandoned everything, fleeing the day before or even during the very arrival of ISIS in their cities and towns. Their faces are marked by suffering, the result of having to leave behind everything they owned and of the agony of waiting and uncertainty that defines their time here in Jordan.
Here they have a place to live but are prohibited from working—so they stay at home, doing nothing. This means great suffering, especially for the fathers of families, who watch the few resources that they brought with them more than a year ago disappear, all without news of any sort of definitive destination where they could establish themselves in the world.
Many countries that used to receive Iraqi refugees have since closed their doors; the only country that still offers asylum is Australia.
It is both moving and edifying to listen to the accounts of how they left Iraq and how they are dealing with the present situation. The majority of the families come from the Iraqi middle-class and were working professionals; now they find themselves reduced to struggling for survival. Other families were already poor in their own countries, and here they suffer even more. Here they usually rent a tiny flat, sometimes with only one bedroom, a little kitchen, and a bathroom (a latrine/toilet). Others in a more ample situation sometimes have two or three rooms, though many times the grandparents, parents, and three or four children all live together—around seven or eight people in all. The flats are empty, with some mattresses on the ground, some burners to cook with, a stove, and, for those better off, some couches.
Jordan is an expensive country for them, and it is hard for them to pay the rent. One young woman, here with her husband and three-year-old daughter, told me that they couldn’t continue living in the flat where they were: that the humidity was suffocating them, that the latrine and the floor would flood with water that would come up from below and spread through the whole house, etc. She told me “Where are we going to get the 100 DJ (120 euros) we need to pay the rent? My husband needs to find a job.” When she showed us her belongings (three mattresses, some suitcases with some clothes, the heater given them by a priest for the winter, some burners to cook with) she told us: “This is all that we have: God is so generous! We are in a place at peace.”
For some, this is the second time they have relocated: some emigrated from the south to the north of Iraq during the time of the Gulf War and are now forced for the second time in their lives to leave everything and begin anew. One can perceive their great suffering and, at the same time, their great serenity. They speak very simply of what they have gone through, oftentimes with a face drenched in tears, but without a word of complaint.
There is also a perceptible fear, and its effects are visible in the children. Some watch silently with tense faces, while others—as their parents tell us—cover their faces at night so they can sleep or hide themselves between the blankets out of fear. They also suffer in this place of asylum, not being able to restart their lives. Some parishes offer classes two or three days a week for the children of refugee families, but these classes only reinforce what the children have already learned. They will not leave here with any sort of diploma to help them continue their studies in the schools they may later attend. In addition, the youth are in the same situation. Everyone is paralyzed by ‘the wait’. Fr. Mario Cornioli, in an effort to help alleviate the situation, has organized classes for sewing, cooking, carpentry, etc., so that they can spend their time doing something.
Here, as in Iraq, the life of these Christians revolves around the parish: it is from the parish that they seek help; it is in the parish that they gather to pray. Currently, they have a Chaldean priest who assists them and celebrates Sunday Mass. In turn, it is the Church who watches over them.
After a few visits, we decided to bring aid to the poorest families. For this initiative, we sought the participation of the girls at our house of mercy in Anjara. But our girls didn’t want to just help us to prepare and load the vehicle with all the goods, clothes, etc. that we were bringing—they also wanted to make gifts for the children and especially for the families which we had spoken to them about. The youngest girls decided to put together their savings as a gift for the next time we go to visit.
María de la Contemplación