Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Social consequences of being a victim of war

‘I hope to have plastic surgery, I hate the way I look, I feel embarrassed What is the future going to provide now that I am not myself anymore.’

Wasal Joni shows the burns she sustained when a missile crashed into her home in Basra. She is sponsored by MSF for reconstructive surgery in Amman, Jordan.

In 2005, Wasal Joni was in her house near the Basra airport when a missile hit. Wasals’ entire body was burned except for her face. “I don’t know who shot the missile, who was responsible because if any of the political militias launch missiles to attack the British at their base, the British have sophisticated weapons that return the missile or something like that,” she explains. She doesn’t know and it makes no difference now, she is scarred not only on her body but in her heart and soul.

Wasal’s husband divorced her and remarried, leaving her with 2 children to care for while she herself is in excruciating pain, and recovery. She has very little confidence left, she wants to go back and be herself again, she wants her life back. Wasals heart shines, her eyes are so full of beauty I can’t really express how I felt listening to Wasals story.

She told me of the Basra situation. The Mafia Militias, the insecurity, the kidnapping, no one buys anything new it will just be stolen or you can be killed for it, the collective punishment, the shooting of civilians, the curfews, the ever present suspicions, any flame or light can be a catalyst for an attack, another missile entering her home. She was happy the British were there, “they were not as mean as the American Army or the Iraqi Army.”

Civilian causalities, or shall we just call them mistakes.

“The Americans burst into our house pointed a gun at my 3 year old daughters head and shot her.”

"AH" a 23 years old double amputee sits in her wheelchair in her bedroom at the Zeda Hotel in Amman, Jordan. She is sponsored by MSF and is receiving prosthetic therapy.

I met AH who is a double amputee at the Zeda Hotel, she is sponsored by MSF and is receiving prosthetic treatment. AH wanted desperately to tell me her story but her father did not want her to go through this again. He told me that their story has been published many times, on TV and nothing has ever come of it, they have received no compensation or justice. AH would not give up and finally we got her fathers consent.

This is horrifying incident took place at noon in 2004 in Ambar. The American Marines had surrounded their neighborhood, the loudspeakers telling the residents not to come out of their homes. Amals family, her father, mother, 3 sisters, 2 brothers and baby girl were sitting in the living room eating lunch. They saw a tank in their backyard, it started to shoot at their home. Then 2 soldiers burst into their home, (both in their early 30’s which shows that these were not young 20 year old inexperienced soldiers, one white, one black.) They were only 2 meters away when they shot Amals daughter in the head.

“I was holding her in my arms, her head burst open and even parts hit the ceiling, then the soldiers threw 2 grenades and left,” says Amal, her eyes blank.

Suddenly, jeeps, tanks, and a helicopter surrounded their home. The family went to the kitchen, the father took his white scarf and through the opened window waved it to the helicopter above. He said it was so close he could see the soldiers inside. It made no difference, 2 missiles were shot and fell near the kitchen doorway. “AH” mother and 9-year-old sister were killed. The rest of the “living” family members were seriously injured, one brother sustained 2 broken and smashed legs, AH lost both her legs, miraculously only the father sustained minimal injuries. Alone AH’s father began moving his families’ bodies out of the house.
Many American Marines entered the house again, they saw the dead bodies and put them in black bags, put the wounded into the helicopter and took them to the medical base. Then they threw grenades and bombed the house to the ground. They said it was a case of misinformation, the official army response was, “it was a mistake, an accident.” In fact it was another cover-up, just like in Haditha. But at least those soldiers were charged, the case became known and maybe even the family members who survived were compensated. For this family there has not been any justice whatsoever.

For the next years AH’s father has sought compensation from the Americans, they have received nothing. “We live only day by day, we can not plan anything for the future, now we want only treatment, we have given up on the Americans, only MSF have helped us,” says the father of AH. He went on to tell me what he said to an American General he met at the American medical base.

“It would be an honor to kill you. If an Iraqi came to America and an entire family of civilians, Bush himself would hold the gun and shoot him.”

Another husband disappears

Wafa'a Taleb Faleh shows her UNHCR refugee papers in the small hallway of her apartment which she uses as the salon to greet guests. She is raising her 2 sons alone, her husband went to work one day and never returned. His body was never found, she has no idea what happened to him.

Wafa'a shows the ID of her husband who worked as a translator for one of the military contractors like Blackwater.

Wafa'a in the kitchen, a strong and independent woman who must work to support her 2 sons, she often suffers from severe depression and anxiety.

In 2005 Wafa’a Taleb Faleh worked with CARITAS helping people and the NEW IRAQ CHARITABLE SOCIETY showing dignitaries around Iraq. Her husband was a translator for one of the western contractors like Blackwater, (she refused to tell me which one.) Her husband was a Christian but converted to Islam in order to marry her. Wafa’ah and her husband were threatened because they worked for “the enemy as well as for being a Christian, those who threatened them would not believe they were Muslim.

On July 11, 2005 Wafa’as’ husband left the house, he never came back, his body was never found. Wafa’a suffers from severe depression in Amman, though does all she can to raise her 2 sons. She tells me she is exhausted by the stress and pressure of working illegally as a waitress for wedding parties in hotels where she earns 5 JD a night. She is sickened by the way the men at these events who call her bitch, whore and humiliate her treat her.

“We have no control over our lives, we can’t talk, we can’t complain, we can’t go to the police to report our mistreatment by people, by our neighbors. My kids are hit and beaten by the Palestinians and Jordanians, they call them names and intimidate them all the time. I just want to have the right to work, to have a home, to have some control over my life, to educate my kids. I don’t care about being rich or even going to America or wherever, I just want to be settled somewhere. I can’t go back to Iraq, they will kill me, and then what will happen to my sons,” says Wafa’a of her situation in Amman, Jordan.

She gets 140 JD from charity groups, her rent is 100 JD, she earns about 180-190 JD a month working illegally. Wafa’a went to the UNHCR to complain about her situation, they told her, “we are the UN, you can wait or you can go back to Iraq.”

*** Personal Notes:

I have listened to complaints concerning the UNHCR from almost every family I have interviewed. They tell me of rich Iraqis who were ‘invited’ to leave Iraq for America, Australia, Canada, but some of them refused saying they have a good business in Amman and don’t want to leave. In one case, so the rumor goes, the UNHCR representative drove to the rich families home with papers and full permission to leave, which the rich family refused. Another case is of a rich Iraqi whose sons are studying in Universities in America. I have tried to interview the rich families here, but to date they have all refused. Rumors, innuendos, who knows what the truth is? Each family feels their case is more important and compelling than the rest and deserve a better life, a settled life anywhere, most don’t care, as long as they can work, their children get an education, and they can, like Wafa’a said, have some control over their lives. My observations are that the Iraqis are becoming more and more disillusioned with the UNHCR yet feel helpless to plead their cases or seek legal council.

Today “M” my fixer here in Amman, told me that he was personally propositioned from one of the UNHCR caseworkers asking for US $10,000 who said he will be able to forward his case. “M” with a bemused smile said, “and how am I going to get $10,000?”

Mafia Militia a Profitable Business in Post War Iraq.

Kafah Ata a Sabean from Iraq and her 3 sons in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. Kafahs' husband was a personal bodyguard for Saddam Hussein and his son Oday. Photos of Saddam Hussein take center stage on their living room wall. They remain faithful to Saddam saying the chaos that is in Iraq now would never have happened if Saddam was in power.

The youngest son of Kafah looks out the window, he is often too afraid to go out and play with the neighborhood kids, Palestinian or Jordanian, because they hit him and call him names.

Kafah praying in her home.

“In my family they kidnapped my husband “M”, nephew, uncle, brother-in-law, shot and killed my aunt and her son,” said Kafah Ata of why she and her family are in Jordan waiting to be resettled. “In 2004 we paid US $2000 for my husband, we came to Jordan right after. My husband was a paramedic in the Iran war, the Gulf war, and this war, he was honored with 12 medals. When there was no war, my husband was a personal bodyguard for Saddam and his son Oday. He saw Saddam or Oday almost everyday, they were good to him, Saddam was like a father.”

The people who worked with Saddam were given a card which stated that they were a friend of Saddam and therefore untouchable. The family is Sabean, were allowed to go to church, pray as they wanted, and had no problems with other religious or ethnic groups in Iraq. Sometime in 2003 “M” was sitting in his office when he got a letter, which read, ‘either you convert to Islam or we will kill you.’ “We all stayed in our house in Baghdad but kept hearing news of friends being killed, so we left for Dialla,” said Kafah. “In Dialla, my husband had a business selling police dogs. After one year in Dialla we heard from friends that it was safe to return to Baghdad - so we went back.”

“M” was kidnapped shortly after their return. They don’t know who kidnapped him; the men were masked just one of the hundreds of Mafia Militias doing business by kidnapping people. They called “M’s” brother, the sound of M’s screams while being tortured in the background, and told him to pay 2000 American dollars or they would kill “M”. The family paid the ransom and “M” was released.

This was not the case for Kafahs nephew, uncle, aunt or brother-in-law all of whom were kidnapped and killed or shot in the attempt of being kidnapped. “Now there is no law, no order, no justice, no nothing, its uncontrolled,” says Kafah of the situation in Iraq. “They kidnapped my nephew at the university when he was walking on the road. We paid the money, but he never came back. My uncle, we also paid the money, then our neighbors called us saying to come quickly. We found my uncle dead on the street. My brother-in-law was kidnapped from his shop, the kidnappers phoned us and demanded 70,000 American dollars! They told us to throw the money over the bridge and don’t worry he will come back. That was a year and a half ago, we never found his body. In the beginning the Mafia Militias asked for 1000 or 2000 US dollars, like with my husband, then they got more and more successful and started demanding more and more money. So now if you are from a rich family you pay a lot of money and they kill them anyway, so tell me where is the democracy, the justice, the security the Americans promised,” asked Kafah looking visibly upset.

In Amman though they live the waiting game at least they are safe, they can sleep without the fear of being kidnapped, tortured, raped or whatever else the Mafia militias are doing to the people of Iraq.

Kafah wanted to say this to those of you reading her story,” I know the world is not happy because of what happens in Iraq. I know you support us, but we get nothing. You think we are okay because you support us be we aren’t. Iran is taking Iraq because they want the oil and to get revenge for the Iran/Iraq war. The government is speaking Farsi, not Arabic. Look at Muhktar Al Sadr, he even changed his name to an Iranian name.”

Alone and Six Months Pregnant with Twins

Iraqi refugee Shahar Hussein Mehdi shows the food she is able to make on a budget of 20 JD a month.

Sharah and her 13 old daughter. They are alone in their apartment in Amman. Her husband was caught working and was deported in April 2008.

Sahar is 6 months pregnant with twins, she receives medical treatment from CARITAS and some help from CARE. She will be needing a C-section and must rely on neighbors to help her after giving birth. Her husband is in Iraq.

In Iraq Sahar Hussein Mehdi and her husband were very poor but were able scrape enough money together to rent an unremarkable home in Baghdad. After the fall of Saddam Husseins’ Baath party in 2003, their landlord came threatening them with eviction if they didn’t pay more rent. The couple said they have a contract for their home and wouldn’t leave. A few days later the landlord came back, pulled out a gun and shot. The bullet hit Sahar in the arm, shortly after they left for Amman to claim refugee status.

In 2007 Sahar gave birth to her daughter in Amman. In April 2008 her husband was caught working and deported to Iraq. Sahar is 6 months pregnant with twins. She lives alone in a small apartment in Jabal Hussein. She receives 80 JD from CARE, 60 JD she spends on rent, the rest on food. CARE also provides her with 3 diaper packages a month. “Thank God,” explains Sahar, “some of my neighbors help me when they can. But I am scared because I will have to have a cesarean section and who will look after my daughter or me.”

Sahar went to Lawyer Yara at UNHCR where she was told that she will soon be accepted in the resettlement program and if her husband can make it to Syria she can pick him up on her way. (personally I question these facts, but it does give Sahar hope and that I hope will enable her calmness in the last months of her pregnancy.) Sahar must wait til she gives birth to her twins (a boy and a girl), before she is able to travel, but it looks like she may get a chance for a new life…somewhere….inshallah.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Heart like the Sun

A photo of Ranin at 3 years of age.

Ranins father shows the medical report and diagram of the 1st operation Ranin needs to battle her obesity. It will cost over $US 5000.

Ranin has a heart like the sun says her sister Ranin. She has come to Amman to recieve treatment for obesity.

Ranin is 177 kilos and cannot stand or walk, her she is helped to her feet by her sister and a friend. Her father (right) spent most of his savings to bring her to Amman for treatment.

Ranin and her sister Rana in a hotel room they rent waiting to find someone or an organization to help them receive treatment. Their savings will run out in a month and a half and they will be forced to return to Iraq.

Ranin poses for this photo in the hopes that someone will see it and help her become a normal human being, able to walk, visit friends and go to school.

“Ranin has a heart like the sun, she shines on everyone, she wants to visit her friends, she deserves the chance to be normal, she needs help. We are not rich, my father has spent all this money to come here, all of our savings. It cost US$1200 for a one-way ticket from Iraq and now the hotel and treatment, we don’t have much time and we hope that you can help us somehow please.

Ranin Raad Hashims father and sister brought Ranin to Amman in the hope that she will get treatment for severe obesity. Ranins soft sweet voice is in deep contrast to her 177 kilo size. Her disease has prevented her from going to school, visiting friends or leading any semblance of a normal life. Ranin is unable to walk, she suffers from liver problems, she doesn’t have her period, she sometimes sleeps 24 hours a day, the rest of the time she spends watching TV, talking on the cell phone with friends and often falls into deep depressions. She has tried to diet but it never helps. Ranin has been huge all her life, no matter if she eats of not, she can’t lose weight. It is hormonal and there are no treatments or programs for obesity in Iraq.

The doctors told her that she will need at least 2 operations, the first one costing 4050 JD, as well as hormonal treatment and follow up diet programs. Ranins father has only 2 months to apply for assistance and treatment before he must return to Iraq. If his daughter can find a sponsor he will agree to leave her here and arrange somehow to have her returned to Iraq. They are not refugees, they are seeking medical treatment only. It is the families hope that an NGO or doctor in the west will here of their case and offer help.

If anyone out there has any contacts or knows of NGOs who may be able to help Ranin, please contact me at it is of utmost importance, I am writing to various publications to see if I can raise awareness in the hopes that a doctor or organization will sponsor Ranins treatment here or elsewhere.

Settling old Scores

Namir Medina and family in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. Namir was tortured in Basra and now suffers from 3 slipped discs. He was able to escape, and one year later his family came to Amman in the hopes of starting a new life.

The injuries Namir sustained from torture are still visible after 3 years.

Namir Medina is unable to walk without a cane, he can only sit or stand for short periods of time. He has a special mattress to sleep on which was donated from an Italian NGO in Amman, Jordan.

Namir Medina shows the sort of tool used to torture him by a former co-worker who now heads one of the terrorist, or rather criminal groups in Basra. He says this one is small, the one they used on his was bigger.

Namir Medina is 40 years old, his wife Sohad A Meta Alblebesh is 35, they have 3 girls aged 16, 13 and 3. Namir was an engineer for the Revolutionary Commercial Council of Ministry of Heavy Industry (RCCMHI), in other words a melting and cast iron company. In order to work at this company Namir had to belong to the Baath party and therefore had to sign a paper saying if he knew anyone including his mother, father, friends, , who were speaking against the government, he was to take them promptly to the police for questioning. He signed this paper, knowing full well that his cousin who was the leader of a “communist group” ran away from Iraq in 1979. Of course Namir was a child at the time but that apparently didn’t matter, as Namir was soon to find out.

When applying for another job Namir was given a tip that the government had uncovered a file about his cousin and wanted to find him to question why he had not included his cousins activities or whereabouts when he signed the contract with the RCCMHI. This could lead to serious consequences so Namir fled to Jordan in 1999. He could not go back while Saddam was in power, his friend warned him that his name was on a “wanted list.”

In 2004 Namir decided to return to Iraq because he thought he would be safe and also as an engineer he would be in great demand in the reconstruction of Iraq. He applied at a steel company, based in Basra. “All that was left of the company was one office, the rest was inoperable because it had been bombed. Sitting in the office was Adan this big Shia man dressed like Muktar Sadr. I worked with him before, he was an electrician, says Namir of his experience when he went to apply for a job. “After waiting a week I went back and Adan said there is no work for you ever. I asked him why. He said you have to belong to a group.” Namir laughed as he explained, “there was hezbudowa, hezbulala, hezbu this and hezbu that, at least 36 hezus fighting eachother for control of Basra.”

Namir then opened a small market out of his apartment selling vegetables and dry goods. 3 months later 2 masked people came and took him away. They blindfolded him, threw him in the car and took him to a house. In the house he saw 14 other men. That night he was tortured. His feet and hands were bound, and hung on a rod. They didn’t ask him anything, they just tortured him like that all night. They would spread him by pulling his feet or hands along the rod. The result was 3 slipped discs. Then he was untied and put back into the main room with the other captured men. He wanted to know why he was there. The handler said I don’t know you have to ask the “manager.”

The next afternoon h was face to face with the manager, who said, “your name is Namir Mehdi, you worked at the RCCMHI.” Though “the managers” face was masked Namir recognized his voice as “J” the ‘parts and requisitions’ man who worked in at Namirs former company RCCMHI. Namir told me that this was during the Iraq embargo when things like ball bearing were very hard to come by. He noticed that many of the parts went missing and told his boss. The man he was now face to face with was “J” the parts man.

“J” told the torturer to tie Namir to a bed. “They tortured me with a welding rod. All over my body they burned me, I would pass out, they would throw water on me and do it again. Each session lasted about an hour and a half then they would put me back into the main room. I could hear screaming coming from the other rooms, we were all tortured. We were allowed to go to the toilet once a day. It was during one of these trips to the toilet that I told the torturer I would pay him money if he would get me out of here. He wanted $US 20,000. I told him my brother would pay. The torturer would have to escape too, because if he were found he would be caught and killed. Two days later during my toilet break I escaped with 2 of these torturers. They drove me to my brothers house, my brother gave them SUS 11.000, they didn’t even know how to count the money. They just took it and left. I escaped Iraq that night leaving my family behind,” said Namir of his ordeal.

After two days in Amman, Namirs daughter witnessed the brutal murder of her uncle. To this day she suffers from nightmares.

Trust is an Issue

From this interview I learned that the Iraqi refugees are not a cohesive group, and each have their stories, their secrets, and these secrets could cost them their lives.

"J" and his 2 sons in their home in Amman, Jordan.

A newspaper clipping of Saddam Hussein hangs on the wall of J's home. There are many Iraqi refugees who continue to honor Saddam Hussein as the father of Iraq.

J is a Muslim who has converted to Christianity, which is illegal in Jordan.

“I do my best to get through each day and keep what is left of my family together,” says “H” of his current situation as a refugee in Amman, Jordan, “my boys are my life, my love.” H and his two sons live in an apartment without refrigerator, or cooker. His wife died 4 years ago from blood poisoning. He now does everything for his two sons, including protecting them by not telling his story. He is too scared. Scared of his fellow Iraqi refugees, scared of the Kurds who he says now run the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan, scared of the UNHCR because they ask him questions he will not answer, scared of the Iraqi government, scared because he converted to Christianity, scared of the Americans, scared of his and his sons. “H” wants to live in peace, no more killing, no more death, no more army.

What “H” did tell me is that Saddam Hussein is his father, the father of Iraq, the number 1 President for all Arabs. “He was the one who kept Iraq together, he was fair, everyone was equal, Shia, Sunni, Muslim, Christian, Kurd it didn’t matter as long as you swore fidelity to Saddam, he would protect you and your family. Now look at the government, they are run by Shia and Kurds and they don’t stop the killing, they want the killing,” was all H would tell me. He also said he came to Jordan in 2003 before the Iraq War started.

During the 2 hours I spent with H and his sons, I did understand what was not said and I will honor his wishes not to write about it or speak about it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baptism at an Orthodox Church in Amman, Jordan

The head priest at an Orthodox church in Amman, Jordan.

The priest pours baptism water on the head of Jolie Mary.

Jolie Mary after being Baptized, she was so good, she didn't cry or make any fuss during the 15 minute ritual.

The priest leads Jolie Marys parents and godparents around the main altar at an Orthodox church in Amman, Jordan.

The baptism over Jolie Mary is held by her godmother.

Mohammed dropped me off to go to his family for the Friday family gathering. I decided just to walk around, as I had no translator today to visit Iraqis or Palestinians. I went to Jabal Hussein and along my walk I saw this Orthodox Church. I asked the well-dressed people standing outside if church was open and if I could go in. They told me there was a baptism about to take place so I asked if I could take photos, they all welcomed me.

I went in and met the Palestinian Christian family and Orthodox priests who were baptizing their young girl “Jolie Mary” they also welcomed me as did the two Orthodox priests, all saying sure and please do take photos. It never ceases to amaze me how welcoming the people are here, imagine walking into a church in Canada saying hey can I take some photos or your baptism, I think they would look at me like I was crazy! So here are some photos of the baptism of Jolie Mary. And of course I have offered to burn a CD for the family.

Wandering Amman on Holy Friday

Mohammed my new friend offered to drive me around Amman, and try finally to get my bearings. He took me to his neighborhood where thousands of Palestinians have lived since their diaspora.

Driving past another Palestinian refugee camp near the center of Amman, Jordan.

The amount of construction going on in Amman amazed me. I have been staying in the old city so a drive into the rich area made me question whether the real estate business in Jordan has benefited by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.

This is the construction site of the new super mall financed by the brother of Queen Noor.

Friday is the Holy and holiday in all Muslim countries. Many though not all stores are closed, government offices are closed, it’s the weekend. So today I thought I would drive around Amman with a friend of mine, Mohammed who is a Palestinian born in Qatar but is not allowed citizenship, instead he holds a Jordanian passport. He was in Qatar during the 1st Gulf War and told me how for a year most residents were not able to leave their homes. The Iraqi soldiers were brutal, they stole, they imprisoned and they terrorized the people of Qatar. He told me of how to make ends meet he would drive over 1000 km to Baghdad to buy cigarettes. On one of these trips he was stopped by Iraqi soldiers who made him give them 3 of the 10 boxes of cigarettes, it was that or come back empty handed. Finally, his family moved to Amman, Jordan where he got a job as a taxi driver and later as a bus driver for the tourism board of Jordan. He now lives alone in Qatar managing 3 restaurants, his family lives in Jordan because Qatar is too expensive.

While driving around the “new city of Amman” I noticed the amazing amount of building that is going on. It reminded me of Dubai. I asked Mohammed about this, he says that many investors do come of the Emirates.

I started thinking that it may have more to do with the influx of Iraqi refugees, the amount of money the UNHCR and other organizations have invested in the government structures such as schools, hospitals and yes housing. The amount of Iraqis renting homes fuels the real estate market here. Though yes the rent the Iraqis pay is cheap, it fuel the economy because all cheap housing is full! I will start asking around about this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

July 24, 2008 UNHCR interview

Ziad Ayad UNHCR Associate Research Officer in his office.

Ziad Ayad and intern Tamara in their office at the UNHCR headquarters in Amman, Jordan

A UNHCR poster showing that bribes to hasten asylum resettlement programs is not tolerated at the UNHCR.

After two days of trying to call the press attaché of UNHCR I decided it was time to test my luck and make a personal visit. I had expected long lines of Iraqi refugees but there were only a few people waiting outside. I asked the guards to speak to the contact Anna from Germany gave me, Rana Sweis but she had already left Amman, so I was directed to UNHCR Associate Research Officer Ziad Ayad,.

Please visit this link for more precise information about what the UNHCR is doing for Iraqi refugees. Or contact

From Ziad I learned that in April 2007 UNHCR held “Humanitarian Crisis of Iraqi Refugees,” conference in Geneva lead directly to the speeding up of the UNHCR resettlement program. Until that time UNHCR had no substantial resettlement program in place. Iraqis who were able to leave had gone through the process of immigration, which means they had to apply directly to the country they wanted to immigrate to.

According to the UNHCR, as of June 2008, UNHCR has cumulatively registered over 54,400 individuals. While Iraqis are by far the largest group, UNHCR also assists many other nationalities and Persons of concern (POC) to UNHCR Jordan.

Presently the only durable solution available for refugees in Jordan is resettlement. In 2007 the resettlement process sped up because more than 16 countries are willing to accept Iraqis and have established “resettlement” quotas, which are now being met. In 2007 UNHCR set a submission target of 7500 Iraqis, they met this target and more with 8062 Iraqis registered and processed. A cumulative total of 4,663 persons have been submitted to these 16 countries.

To register a refugee or POC files out forms, has an interview, this is processed and an registration certificate is given. This document is legal protection and is valid for 6 months after which is must be renewed. If problems arise the UNHCR will defend those who have this document. The next step in the process is acquiring the blue card, which this card the person goes to the International Organization of Immigration (IOM) who then completes the resettlement program.

I asked about the some of the concerns of the people I have interviewed. One was concerning Muslims who had secretly converted to Christianity. That they were afraid to tell the caseworkers of their conversions, afraid of reprisals as it is illegal in the Kingdom of Jordan for a Muslim to convert. Ziad assured me that anyone giving information about their case had to be forthright and need not fear any reprisals. UNHCR staff are not considered an Arab, Muslim, Christian, Jordanian, Canadian, they are considered a UNHCR worker. (I am not sure if this information will calm the nerves of those who have or who want to convert, in fact, I am rather suspicious of this myself.)

I also asked Ziad who was given resettlement priority. He replied that priority was given to; single females, the elderly, children separated from their parents or relatives, and family reunification. He also drew attention that no cases could be processed with bias. In other words any fraud or bribes by UNHCR workers would be severely reprimanded.

In terms of working illegally, Mr Ayad told me of a conversation the director of the UNHCR Antonio B had with a high ranking member of the Jordanian government who stated that “ we know Iraqis are working illegally and we do not cover one eye, we cover two.”

When asked about the Jordanian governments role in the Iraqi refugee crisis Ziad confirmed what I have learnt from Jordanian Immigration officers, that in February 2008 King Abdullah of Jordan issued a general amnesty for Iraqi refugees who had over-stayed their resident visas. They were given two options.

First option: If they wanted to stay in Jordan they would have to pay 50% of the overstay fine which is 1.5JD per day. This may not seem like a lot but if a family of 5 or 6 have overstayed for years the total is enormous, up to 10,000JD. Most if not all Iraqi refugee families would find this impossible to pay.

Second option: if they choose to leave the fine would be waved. *This may account for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who have left Jordan for Syria.

King Abdullah also gave a policy statement to the effect that Jordan will not encourage return until safety and dignity exists in Iraq.

It was a very pleasant meeting; the UNHCR Jordan staff were considerate, timely, informative and forthcoming. I would like to thank Ziad Ayad for his time and patience in meeting with me today July 24, 2008.

July 22, 2008 Artry

Artry (my friend and translator) an Armenian Iraqi refugee receiving physiotherapy at a private clinic in Amman.

Artrys therapist congratulating her on her quick response to treatment.

It was now time to take Artry to her physiotherapy. At the clinic I met the good Dr. a very dedicated and generous person extremely concerned with the situation of the refugees and locals who cannot afford treatment. The medicine is very expensive and often pays for patients out of his own pocket. As he went on to explain he cannot do it alone, he needs help and asked me if I know of any organizations that can assist.

Artrys therapist told me how well Artry is doing. In only 7 sessions she has gained balance and feels with the correct therapy Artry has a good chance of a full recovery. Artry suffered her form of cerebral palsy when she was born. Artry was a breach birth, the doctors pulled her out feet first and in the process damaged her hip and did not have enough oxygen. I asked Artrys parents what happened. They told me she was born in a private hospital in Iraq but the doctors didn’t do the right procedure. Until she was 12 years old Artry was paralyzed. Her father heard of a visting doctor from France who was performing the surgery Artry needed to be able to walk. The cost was too much for the family, so he went door to door begging. The surgery was a success. She can now walk, and function as any other person, though at great effort. Artry says, “see how much my father loves me.”

July 22, 2008 Interviews with Iraqi Refugees

Julan Ahmed Na’if and his wife from Fallujah now living in an apartment in Amman, Jordan

We left M and Z and I visited are Julan Ahmed Na’if and his wife from Fallujah. It is said that this couple are considering converting to Christianity but I seriously doubt it.
Julan was a reporter for the Falluja Tribes Shiek Council. Before being a journalist he worked as an electrician. But his dream was to be a journalist, so in 2005 he took a 6 month journalist course in Baghdad. Julan was almost killed by a bomb, which exploded in the next room of his office. Ibrahim Senat and Hadi Mora both directors of the news outlet were killed. Julan was kidnapped for 3 days. He was bound and gagged and placed in the trunk of a car. The American soldiers heard him banging on the car opened the trunk and after questioning him let him go home. When they saw his journalist card, the soldiers advised him to leave as soon as possible.

It was after this ordeal that Julan and his wife escaped to Syria by car and later came to Amman.

“I saw people who starved to death in Fallujah because we were not allowed to leave our houses for one year,” says Julans wife. “There was no medical treatment so a lot of old people or anyone who was sick, just stayed home and died. When the Americans left the Iraqi army came and they were much worse. They would take the pretty girls and keep them as sex slaves. They took our neighbors 19-year-old daughter, and kept her for a year, then they sent her home. Her family killed her, it was an honor killing.”

July 22, 2008 interviews with Iraqi Refugees

"M" going to his one room apartment in a poor neighborhood of Amman.

"M" and "Z" and their child, their faces are hidden as they fear reprisals from everyone!

Next Artry and I visited M and Z who live in a decrepit one room apartment for which the pay 15 JD a month. He worked as a “journalist” for the American forces. He endangered his life, the life of his wife and child as they posed as an innocent family traveling to visit family. They went to extremely dangerous areas, M with a hidden camera clipped on his shirt. M would film the fighters, pinpointing their location and well I will not get into details as its very very unsafe to speak of this. They are also converts to Christianity, a double price on their heads. Z’s brother converted in Iraq and fled years ago to Sweden.

Z told me of the bodies she saw who had been tortured. “ Everyone knows when it is Shia work, because they torture using cigarettes and then strangle people with wires. Sunnis would simply shoot them. My neighbor was visited in the night by the “DEATH ARMY” that’s the name we give to the Mehdi army, the Death Army! They came to my neighbor and said you must tell everyone we are good, we are better than good. My neighbor refused he said no, you are not good, you have no honor. They told him if you don’t say what we tell you we will take your wife. My neighbor said okay I will tell everyone you are good. No they said, you must tell them we are the best. My neighbor refused, saying he can not lie like that. They raped his wife in front of him and then threw their 3-month-old child against the wall. My neighbors’ wife died of shock. See what has happened to Iraq it’s the Iranians these Shia are animals they have no soul, they still hate us because of the war, they hate us and now they want to control Iraq.”

M told me in a cool and controlled manner that the Iranians are definitely in Iraq and are in the Death Army the Mehdi Army. The fighters speak fluent Arabic but when they are alone and think no one is around they switch to Farsi.

M seriously risked his life and saved hundreds of American soldiers due to his work. He has all the papers, which I have read, and which shocked me. He was allowed to carry weapons, had training etc etc and when he went to the American Embassy here they shut the door in his face! They are registered with the UNHCR and like all others are waiting, terrified that someone will find them and kill them.

“I am not afraid to die, they can even kill my husband. We did what we did and will suffer the consequences. But don’t kill my daughter, its not her fault. If they kill us okay, the church will look after our daughter, and she can live her life as a Christian, I will be happy if they just kill us but please please God don’t let them kill my beautiful daughter,” said Z as she held me, tears falling on my shoulders.

July 22, 2008 Interviews with Iraqi Refugees

Randa shows her UNHCR registration certificate in her apartment in Al Hussein, Amman, Jordan

Randas son looks out the window from his home in Al Hussein, Amman, Jordan. traumatized by the war in Iraq, this 5 year old boy will not go out of his home alone. He also suffers from constipation because he will not -go to the toilet.

Today I met up with Artry a 20-year-old Armenia refugee who has been in Amman for 5 years waiting to immigrate. She wants desperately to go to California and go shopping. She wants to be a teenager a real teenager, free to shop, to go to Starbucks, and most importantly to fully recover from cerebral palsy, which is a congenital birth defect. Artry is amazing, she is strong, and has learned excellent English. She has offered to be my interpreter. at

The first family we visited was Randa Haumis Paulus a Chalaean Christian who worked for CARITAS in Baghdad. “During the war we would go to victims of bombing, terror and try to stop the bleeding on the site, to prepare them for the ambulances,” says Randa of her service work. “I also visited victims, we gave money to Christian, Muslim it didn’t matter the organization we helped everyone. Then we started getting death threats for working for an international organization. I still don’t understand, we helped Muslims, everyone, why did they want to kill us for helping people? In our apartment building the Music store was bombed, there were rockets flying across the sky. The areas were so unsafe.” She went on to say, “we were rich, we had enough money, now it’s all gone, we spent it all coming here.”

Randa is married and has a 6-year-old son. “My son is traumatized from the war and suffers from severe constipation because he will not go to the toilet. He will not go out of the house without his me,” says Randa of her sons condition. “As far as government schools go, I will not send my son, I know that the Iraqi kids are called names, beaten up and this would only traumatize my son more.” Randa began crying when as she went on to say, “my son wants to play, he wants toys, he cries because he wants to have a normal life, he just wants to be a kid.”

The day we visited Randa had just received a refrigerator from a family who was able to immigrate. A few days ago he got a cupboard to put her clothes in and a bike for her son. The Iraqi refugees who do migrate give away their meager possessions to those left behind.

Randas family is also registered with the UNHCR but have no residency or guest visa. Randa is terrified because she works as a waitress in a club that caters to marriages. She earns 5JD a day and works from 4pm to 1am. She complains that the customers treat her badly, call her bitch and are very rude. She is tired and desperate and finds it difficult to sleep due to the stress and worry she faces everyday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

July 21, 2008 Latifa and gathering herbs

Kholod a biology masters student and Palestinian refugee living in Jordan, at Latifa, 3 hours south of Amman, Jordan.

When we finally arrived at the site, Kholod asked some children to help her gather soil and herb samples. Without the help of locals we would have had a very hard time getting all the field work done. The locals drove us to various sites. It was a nice break and a great meeting with a wonderful woman.

I accompanied Kholod to Latifa. We met at 6am at the Ragadan Bus station near the old city of Amman. The trip took exactly 3 hours, during which time we spoke of many issues both personal and political. I had a great time, met locals who helped us in the field, explained about the herbs and drove us to two different sites.

It was hot, but amazingly Latifa is in a part of Jordan with nice cool winds. I asked about the local industry. Omad the local English teacher, told me its agriculture and that this year has been particularly dry. The farmers were not able to grow wheat. I asked him what they do all day. He said they wait for next year.

In the field I walked up a hill to take photos of some sheep, goats and donkeys. As I approached dogs came out to protect their flocks. With patience we were able to make friends, I posed no threat and they let me get on with my photo taking. Actually I was very impressed with the dogs loyalty to their job. There were no shepherds in sight.

Kholods work complete we took the 4pm (the last bus) back to Amman. On the bus I met a Palestinian woman from Hebron. The Israeli army killed her husband, and one year later her 17-year-old son was standing on their roof when an Israeli sniper shot him. She said he was waiting for his final school results. That’s what she remembers; he was just waiting for his final school results.

July 20 Iraqi refugees in Amman Jordan

Araz Humbersom a 40 year old Armenian electrician and his 32 year old wife Danchur Vresh in their modest home at the Al Mahat'ah refugee camp in Amman, Jordan.

Danchur Vresh showing the article by Washington Post writer, Pamela Constable about her mother who was shot by terrorists in 2005, simply because she worked doing laundry for the American Army. Washington Post writer.

Danchur shows a copy of the photo of her mother and colleagues who worked doing laundry for the American forces in Iraq. This photo is proof that going back to Iraq could be a death sentence.

I was asked into the home of Araz Humbersom a 40 year old Armenian electrician and his 32 year old wife Danchur Vresh. They are from Baghdad, and came to Jordan in March 2007. Their home in Al Mahatah camp is spacious, clean and very well kept, it costs 45JD. They get 70 JD from CARE and 40JD from the church every month. (To convert US$100.00 = 70JD) Both Araz and Danchur are registered with UNHCR, but are not allowed to work. Araz earns extra money by doing odd repair jobs from his home.

In Iraq Araz worked in hospitals as an electrician. After the war he took a job with a company owned by Iraqis to reconstruct Iraq. According to Araz, the company became a sub-contractor for the Americans or British. His 3 brothers also worked in various capacities for the “occupying forces.” Danchurs mother worked doing laundry for the Americans in Fallujah. They began receiving phone calls… death threats. Danchurs mother was shot but survived. To date Danchurs mother, father and sister have resettled in Australia.

Showing employment documents given by the Americans or any of the “coalition of the willing” speeds up the immigration program. Pamela Constable a writer for the Washington Post published a story and photo of Danchurs mother, this is excellent proof and a fast reliable ticket to a new life in a new land. But, having these documents in a room in Iraq or carrying them to Amman is surely a death ticket. Araz confirmed the dismemberment mode of terrorist retribution, when he told me of a fellow worker who was kidnapped and dismembered.

“Our biggest concern and why time is essential is because we are childless.” Says Danchur. “In Baghdad I was pregnant and had a miscarriage. I was scared all the time, my husband, his brothers, my mother, everyone in my family worked for the Americans. I worried all the time. That’s why I had the miscarriage and now I can’t get pregnant. I want to go to a country where I can get reproductive help and where people respect humans, respect life.”

July 20, 2008 Iraqi Church in Amman, Jordan

The Al Nami Iraqi church in Amman Jordan

Worshippers at the Al Nami Iraqi church in Amman, Jordan. The people attending the church insist upon not being photographed. I was given permission as long as I did not take any photos of peoples faces.

Ah yes I woke up very early to attend the Al Nami Church service which Mr. Osama told me started at 9am. After waiting til 9:30 on the church steps I called one of the members of the church. She told me that the church starts at 10:30am, so I had an hour to kill and wandered around the camp. I saw another community center in the heart of the camp and went in. There were about 200 kids, Iraqi, Palestinian, Jordanian all geared up for a 4 day camping trip. I met one of the mothers, Kholod a Palestinian refugee from Nablus. She was born in Jordan and has never seen Nablus, but like all other Palestinians I have met, refers to her origins as the birthplace of their exiled parents. “If Palestine was not occupied I would not want to go there, but while it’s occupied I will support the struggle.,” says Kholod of her relationship with Palestine.

Kholod is an incredibly bright, intelligent, independent, opinionated and modern thinking Palestinian woman. She is a strict Muslim, wears traditional Muslim clothing but does show her face. We began to talk of her refugee status. She divorced after 8 years of marriage; her ex-husband and his new wife are raising her 3 children. She is fine with this as it allows her to pursue her goal of getting a PHD in Biology. Kholod is now studying her masters and aske me to join her tomorrow on a field trip to gather herbs in Latifa, a desert town 3 hours south of Amman. All this familiarity and after only 20 minutes of conversation! It struck me then that this is why I love the Middle East, the chance meetings, and the open, warm heart of the people, the constant welcoming into their homes and lives. I said yes, and we made arrangements to meet at the Ragadan Bus station at 6 am tomorrow.

I said good-bye to the Kholod and the kids and went to the church. The door was unlocked; the members were arriving for the service. Suspicion greeted me with a handshake. What was I doing here, why did I want to take photos, who told me about the church, what would I do with the photos? An American woman who has lived in Amman for 11 years and is married to the senior pastor explained to me that I could not take any photos of peoples faces. It seems that other journalists have come to the church taken photos of the members, lied that they would no be published, and later the same photos were seen on the TV, this all caused much distress.

The majority of the church members are Assyrian and Chaldaen but the financing and actual running of the church is evangelical. The government allows the evangelicals to have churches but frown heavily upon missionary work. It is illegal for Muslims to convert, and if they are caught converting or preaching to Muslims, the church will most likely be closed and the “foreign leaders of the church” expelled from Jordan. After interviewing I found that they even fear for their lives. For more information on this please visit this link so I was very very careful not to take any photos showing anyones face, only the priest as he is an Iraqi Christian refugee.

The members were friendly and helpful and after going through my photos introduced me to Christian Iraqi refugees.