Thursday, July 26, 2007
The haze of hubbly-bubbly smoke hangs thick and blue in the Saxaphone café in Amman, Jordan. It’s packed with eager Iraqi soccer fans, watching their team play South Korea in the Asian championships. Everyone here is a refugee. They’ve fled the grinding violence of Iraq, hoping for a better life. The noise is deafening – drums are flamboyantly pummeled, as men dressed in Iraqi soccer shirts dance and sing in support. I hang at the back of the packed room, as we film the chaotic scene. But despite my best efforts to remain anonymous and discreet, I am warmly proffered soft drinks on the house, by the owner, who is delighted to have an outlet for his generosity. In my experience, the most welcoming and hospitable people, are those who have nothing at all.
Jalal La’eighty is typical of the men gathered here. He arrived a year ago after the situation in Baghdad became intolerable. His two and a half year old son was kidnapped by a sectarian gang. Little Ali was released unharmed, but for Jalal it was the breaking point - he simply had to leave. At first, he and his family fled to Syria, but then they came to Jordan. In many ways they are lucky. Jalal lost his father to the civil war in Iraq, but his children and wife are alive and safe.
They are staying in the apartment of a family friend. But money is tight. Jalal is not allowed to work in Jordan; a condition of his admission to the country as a refugee. He had to borrow $4500 from a relative to pay for food. But he only has $300 left and doesn’t know what he’ll do when that runs out. In reality, he’ll probably be forced to work illegally. He isn’t just providing for his three children though – his family has been touched by tragedy in Jordan; his brother and sister in law were killed in a house fire in Amman, leaving three orphans. Jalal is now also looking after them. Six children, no income and no hope of a proper job – Jalal is facing a bleak and uncertain future. But he is relieved at simply having escaped the oppressive nightmare of Baghdad. His wife Siham, weeps as she admits that she may never breathe the air of Iraq again. The whole family desperately wants to go home – Jalal wants to take-up his job as a taxi driver in Baghdad again. They had a nice house, friends and family all around them But now it’s simply too dangerous to contemplate returning.
I ask him if life was better under Saddam. He says life is better now – but says the country is in chaos. He is resigned to life as a refugee for now. He’s determined not to put his family at risk again by returning to Baghdad – not until the kidnapping, torture and killing stops.
Jalal is just one of an estimated four million Iraqis who have been displaced by the sectarian violence. It’s putting a huge strain on Iraq’s neighbors, like Jordan and Syria. When they arrive, refugees want to send their children to state schools, they need hospital treatment and healthcare. Jordan is a country of just five million people, but the government estimates the population has been swelled by up to 750,000 Iraqi refugees. It’s stretching resources to breaking point. The UNHCR is appealing for $123 million dollars to help. For Jalal, with his dwindling $300 dollars of borrowed money, help can’t come soon enough. He needs money to feed his family and time is running out.
Watch my report
-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent, in Amman.
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