Story highlights

Jordan has taken in 1.4 million refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria

Some Jordanians blame refugees for taking jobs and for higher living costs

But many refugees say they are making a significant contribution to society

Editor’s Note: CNN’s Connect the World is in Amman this week, and we want you tell us what you’d like to know about Jordan’s refugee crisis – send us your questions in the comments below, and we’ll answer the best ones live Thursday on the show at 6 p.m. Jordan time.

Amman, Jordan CNN —  

On a Thursday afternoon it’s hard to find a table at Al-Mahar (The Oysters), an Iraqi restaurant in Amman, Jordan. But for many of the patrons here, it’s not just about the food, it’s a taste of home.

Eating Iraqi food makes you feel like you are in Iraq,” Mahdi al-Zobai says as he dips his tanour bread into masgouf, a traditional Iraqi dish of barbecued carp.

Al-Zobai left his home in Abu Ghraib 11 years ago and moved to neighboring Jordan, where he settled down in Amman and married a Jordanian woman.

“I am used to life in Jordan now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think of my country and long for it,” Al-Zobai says. “Every time I hear an Iraqi song, I cry.”

The restaurant is packed with many other Iraqis who, like Al-Zobai, live here but miss their homeland.

Al-Mahar first opened in Baghdad in the 1980s. But when its owner, Abu Haytham, had to flee the violence there in 2004, he moved to Amman and brought his restaurant with him.

“I provide people with something to try and make them feel less homesick,” he says.

The restaurant has been a huge hit over the past decade, popular with Haytham’s displaced countrymen but also with locals who until recently had never tasted masgouf.

Haytham, 70, sits on his chair outside the restaurant greeting customers. He speaks with pride about the success of his business, but when speaking about Iraq, he is bitter – and he doesn’t think he’ll ever see his country again.

“We have now reached a stage where we are convinced that our country is finished,” he says. “I like living in Jordan. My sons are in the U.S., but I want to stay here because this is our country now.”

Over the last 12 years Jordan has become home to more than half a million Iraqis, the majority from their country’s upper and middle classes. They live in cities like Amman and the government does not consider them to be refugees.

Before the U.S.-led invasion and the Iraqi exodus of 2003, Jordan took in Palestinian refugees in 1948 and 1967. They were granted Jordanian citizenship, and today it is estimated that more than half of the country’s population is of Palestinian origin.

More recently, Jordan’s stability in a turbulent region has once again turned the country into a sanctuary for those fleeing violence. Over the past four years Jordan has opened its doors to 1.4 million Syrian refugees displaced by the civil war engulfing the country.

About 20% of these Syrian refugees live in the Zaatari and Azraq camps. Zaatari has become so crowded that it is now considered Jordan’s fifth largest city.

But the vast majority of Syrians are urban refugees in cities and towns across the country – and the influx has been a burden on an already-strained economy.

In some cities, Jordanians blame Syrians for higher living costs, like rent increases, or for taking jobs by working for less money than a Jordanian would.

But there are some Syrian refugees who have moved their businesses to Jordan and say they are contributing positively to Jordan’s growing economy.

Abu Abdullah had a good life in Damascus, but the war forced him to shut down the factory he owned and flee to Jordan with his wife and three children in 2012.

As soon as he got to Amman he began exploring business opportunities. The restaurant and café sector looked the most promising.

“One needs to live, and work is life,” Abdullah says. “You have to work and survive, you cannot surrender.”

His fast food and fresh juice restaurant, Orange Al-Sham, is one of many restaurants, cafes and sweetshops on Amman’s bustling Madina Al-Munawara Street.

“It is very difficult restarting your life from scratch, it’s like moving to a different planet – especially when you have children,” he says. “It’s a neighboring country and it’s like our own people, but it’s still difficult.”

Despite the continuing bloodshed at home, with no end in sight to the war, Abdullah still clings on to the hope that someday soon they will be able to return to Syria.

He says his business is doing well, and that his children have slowly adjusted to life in Amman, but the sad look in his eyes reflects the human cost behind this new life.

“At the beginning everything is tough, you have to condition yourself to the circumstances you’re in,” Abdullah says. “No one leaves their country because they want to.”

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