Saturday, February 10, 2007

Iraqi refugees in Jordan

oh, so heart rending. T

Friday, February 8, 2007
Dear Friends,

Yesterday I felt so much outrage, rage at what is now being referred to here as "the 'G' nightmare." Iraqis are being told they must return to Baghdad to get the new "G" passport. It is now required by the U.S. and British embassies. One older couple who has loved ones in the states has been waiting in Amman for almost a year now. Recently they received the good news that their visa has finally been approved! In the same breath, they were advised that the passports they hold are no longer valid. The Iraq embassy in Amman is not issuing the new passports; they can only be gotten in Baghdad. I find this impossible to grasp.

I heard that the passport from Baghdad can be obtained in just a few days if someone is able to "pay" $500, $750, or even $1,000. Those who cannot pay, and go through the "normal" process, should count on a month's time to get the new "G" passport. The long lines at the Baghdad office are prime targets for bombs. It is no longer possible, someone said here the other day, to cross the city of Baghdad let alone travel the road from Baghdad to Amman. As if that weren't bad enough, if one is fortunate enough to survive the deadly road from Baghdad to Amman and have the "G" passport in hand, there is no guarantee whatsoever that they will be allowed to reenter Amman at the Jordan border. With no monitoring presence at the border; it depends entirely on the mood of the border authorities and arbitrary regulations.

A dear friend of ours (she lives with immediate family in Amman because of death threats she received} is presently in Baghdad with her three children. To our distress, she said she needed to see family as well as get needed documents from the Ministry of Education there. In the last weeks she has been in contact by phone, each time with desperate accounts of increasing violence and bloodshed.

She couldn't get to the Ministry of Education building because of fighting between different armed groups, military, police and coalition forces in the area. Her sister-in-law's apartment (we know the family of nine well) is now unlivable as a car bomb went off at the corner blowing out windows, plaster, etc. A couple of days ago this friend called saying "It is a miracle we are alive." She and family members had gotten off a bus when 100 meters further down the street the bus exploded. "There were dead bodies and parts of bodies all over" she told me in a shaky voice. It is into this horror that people are being told they must return.

I have been struggling unsuccessfully to come up with an appropriate image to describe this newest "G" passport development. A warehouse in flames? On fire with deadly explosions going off randomly throughout the building. And people are being told they must go back into the burning building? Going back to Baghdad is not an option.

Feeling the need to do something, anything, I went in the afternoon to a small office downtown that acts as a go-between for people seeking visas from the U.S. The owner's anger and indignation at what is being asked of people matched my own. "Do you know how many people are crying here in the office, grown men, grown men breaking down? They are suffering so much, and now this!"

As part of a trip to the Middle East, the High Commissioner of the UNHCR, Antonio Gutierrez, was in Amman this week. A friend sat in on the press meeting and was able to give me a report later that day. High Commissioner Gutierrez had met with the King as well as with Jordan's Minister of Interior, Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice. He said that the International community is not fully aware of the Iraqis who have been displaced by the current crisis ( 1.8 million within Iraq, 2 million outside). He spoke of the need to combine maintaining a "protected space" for the Iraqi displaced population in addition to recognizing and supporting countries [like Jordan] that "are making such a remarkable sacrifice" to carry this weight. He is calling on the International community to assume full responsibility.

Last November, here in Amman, Human Rights Watch's (HRW) released a report on Iraqi refugees, "The Silent Treatment." President Bush was in Amman at the time of its release. I highly recommend the report. Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) had a small part in that work last spring as we were able to direct their research lawyers to an area in Amman where Iraqis are particularly vulnerable to police pickups and deportation. Yesterday, together with a trusted friend translating for me, I went to see friends there. I had secured copies of the report in Arabic from HRW in New York, and wanted these courageous folks to see the concrete result of their willingness to speak with HRW representatives.

Our friends welcomed us warmly but were highly nervous. A raid had taken place earlier that day, causing everyone to flee. We learned that the daily raids have increased, and that vehicles in the city are now being stopped and IDs demanded of the inhabitants. Tragically one of the persons quoted in the report, and for whom I had brought a copy, had been picked up and deported back to Iraq over a month ago. We were told that he was returned to Iraq even though he had an ID from the UN on his person.

Our friends were frightened to even take the report in their hands. They felt if they were caught having it in their possession they might be put at even greater risk of deportation. In addition to their fearfulness, we felt a sense of overwhelming hopelessness on their part. "What can we do?" one said, "We only want to live in peace."

I greet you with love,

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