June 20, 2009
Some 2 million Iraqi refugees across the Middle East will spend a fifth World Refugee Day far from home and even further from any prospect of return or a better life as their needs and rights continue to go largely unaddressed.
'Exposure to violence, instability and disrupted education characterise the childhoods of many of Iraq's refugee children – some of whom can no longer call Iraq home because of what they experienced there', says Siobhan Kimmerle, Programme Director for World Vision in Jordan. 'We must not turn our backs to their needs, which require long term interventions', she added.
Lack of prospects for Iraqi refugees to return because of instability, or to integrate into host communities, coupled with the effects of the global economic crisis, including rising food and commodity prices, are exacerbating their sense of vulnerability and displacement in countries like Jordan, which still hosts some 500,000 Iraqi refugees or 8% of its population, according to the UNHCR Global Report 2008.
Jordan's hospitality and generosity towards refugees has been significant, but so too has the strain on resources such as water, which is already lacking for its own population, as well as its already under-resourced health and education systems. Both the governments of Jordan and Syria claim that hosting Iraqi refugees has cost them up US$1 billion per year, according to the report 'Realizing protection space for Iraqi refugees: UNHCR in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, January 2009'.
Despite hosting most of Iraq's refugees, neither Jordan nor Syria are signatories to the refugee convention. Iraqi refugees are therefore 'subject to the restrictive legislation applicable to foreigners, diminishing the likelihood that their basic rights are upheld', claims the same report.
Without access to a residence permit, refugees in Jordan can't work and their savings are quickly depleted. Many Iraqi refugee families in Jordan's second city of Zarqa, rely on supplementary food aid because their usual breadwinners can't find work or wages from the illegal casual work they resort to are low and irregular.
'Even with the food aid we do not have enough. I have a big family,' said Um Raed. 'It's not adequate, but it helps', added the mother of six. Her family was one of 1,250 families in Zarqa that received a monthly supplementary food ration from World Vision, funded by the Government of Germany.
'In our work with refugees around the world, World Vision prioritises the needs of the most vulnerable, especially children,' said Jeff Hall, Deputy Advocacy Director for World Vision's Middle East and Eastern Europe Region. 'We also take special steps to help the displaced live with dignity despite their rather precarious situation.'
Education for Iraqi refugee children in Jordan is also a significant need and key concern for World Vision, which is providing opportunities for informal learning, recreation and psychosocial support to children in the capital Amman, and the cities of Zarqa and Irbid.
"Iraqi children in Jordan are now permitted to attend any school but they are still competing for precious space in overcrowded classrooms, which impacts upon the quality of education children in Jordan receive. Students have also missed a lot of their schooling and need to catch up and then there are some families that can't afford the transport and school supplies or need their children to work to support the family', said Siobhan Kimmerle.
'World Vision is offering an education and recreation programme for 225 children in Zarqa, for example, because without extra tuition in Arabic, English and Maths, these refugee children would really struggle in school', she added.
According to a February 2008 study by the International Organisation for Migration, there is a growing need for psychosocial and psychological support for the refugee population in Jordan – a need that World Vision is trying to meet through recreation centres and Child Friendly Spaces that give children a safe and structured place to express themselves and experience a fuller childhood.
'Children need a place where they belong – for Iraqi refugee children in Jordan, home is a foreign concept – so these spaces and the opportunity to interact with other children are very important to their sense of wellbeing and development', explained Kimmerle.
World Vision's programmes are currently supporting some 4,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, half of whom are children. The organisation plans to provide assistance to around 15,000 refugees and impoverished Jordanians, but requires adequate funding to implement the activities focusing on food aid, education, psychosocial support and vocational training. World Vision's approach is designed to not only benefit the Iraqi refugees, but also the communities that are hosting them.
Relief and development projects across the Middle East, Central Asia, Balkans and Caucasus are also assisting thousands of refugees and displaced persons with a special focus on children.
'At the end of August 2008 more than 300,000 people were registered with UNHCR in the countries surrounding Iraq. However, it is believed that a total of some one to two million Iraqis are living in these countries, mainly in Jordan and Syria. UNHCR is also involved with an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and some 42,000 refugees, including Palestinians, in Iraq. (UNHCR Iraq Situation Update August 2008)
'The largest displacement crisis in the Middle East since 1948, of approximately two million Iraqi refugees in the region, the UNHCR estimates that at present Syria hosts 1.2 to 1.4 million Iraqis, Jordan 500,000 to 600,000 and Lebanon 20,000 to 30,000.2 These countries have no specific legislation concerning refugees. ('Realizing protection space for Iraqi refugees: UNHCR in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon January 2009).