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,.
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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.