So it’s becoming a bigger story now on the blogosphere, Iraqis in a prison at the Queen Alia Airport, where they are interrogated for hours, whipped by the evil Jordanians, then put in a cage with lions and those who are lucky enough to survive the ordeal are sent back to Iraq to die. It took me a while to decide if I should write this post and in the absence of few people willing to talk about and at the risk of having Jordanians appear complacent about the issue, I thought I’d give a Jordanian perspective on things.
Let me clear one thing up, I think the fact that Iraqis are being occupied and being slaughtered everyday by various parties is horrendous. I think the fact that so many of them have been forced to leave is also horrendous. I think the fact that Jordan has opened its borders to our brothers in the east for well over a decade now, throughout their various times of strife, has been a great honor. There’s a little pan-Arabism still left in all of us yet.
I find it just as horrendous that people are only NOW waking up to the fact that there is a problem.
Reading blog posts that say “Shame on you Jordan” or what have you, as if Jordanians all got together and conspired to make life a living hell for Iraqis, has been a pretty horrendous sight unto its own. In these situations its usually our security forces that get the flak, and then of course its the rest of us.
Silly Bahraini Girl even went so far as to say:
From the bottom of my heart – shame on you Jordan. Thanks for showing your true face!
I should point out that this isn’t a public policy, nor is it a social element. It’s like the difference between hating Americans and hating American foreign policy. So “shame on Jordan” entails a whole social aspect to it that is as valid as saying “Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist”; he was just a terrorist.
I also want to point out that for those who may be shocked by the “photographic evidence”, that what some have lovingly dubbed a “prison”, well, that’s actually our airport. It’s pretty bad; we know. We have to sit on those same chairs, and don’t even get me started on passport control. If Iraqis were put in a real Jordanian jail, they would have a whole other story to tell.
Back to the issue. Most have rushed to the defense of Iraqis, which is fine. But I am surprised that no one even bothered looking at it from the Jordanian angle, which I’m guessing is just too difficult to do without receiving any amount of flak.
I’m sorry that when Iraqis come to Jordan there isn’t a red carpet waiting for them and a palace hall with a golden buffet of exotic fruits. And to expect thousands of people coming in from a war torn country to be given the exact same treatment as that of a tourist, then you must be out of your frikin mind.
This is a country of about 5.6 million people that has extremely limited resources. We are in the top 10 list of countries in the world with the least water resources.
In 4 years we’ve had just about 1 million Iraqis come into the country. One million.
They don’t live in refugee camps they live in urban areas, predominantly the capital Amman, which is home to about 2.3 million Jordanians. In other words, nearly one third of the city is Iraqi.
Most Jordanians make about 150JDs ($211) per month. With Iraqis in the country (and their high level of consumption) inflation is at a record high for Jordan, with purchasing power virtually eroding that 150JDs to dust. Most Jordanians are poorer than they were 5 years ago before the war started.
Food prices have gone up. The most common staple, tomatoes, have gone from 30piasters to 70piasters in only 2-3 years. Petrol has increased, as has electricity and water (for those who still manage to get it pumped to their home once a week). Natural gas, which pretty much keep Jordanians alive by either heating their bodies or their food, has gone from roughly 2JDs to about 4.25JDs. Universities classrooms are growing larger and larger, as will our public schools this year (which are already ailing), now that Iraqi children will be allowed to enter, regardless of their parent’s residency status.
Not to mention the burden on other infrastructure that includes sewage, waste disposal, health, education, roads, government services and yes, our security apparatus.
It is no secret that the MAIN thing that has kept Jordan as stable as it has been in a region that is a mess, has been the security apparatus. It is a sector experiencing unprecedented strain. They have no way of vetting each and every Iraqi, who despite decreasing numbers in the past few months due to stricter border controls, are still arriving in high numbers for a country the size of Jordan. Roughly 50,000 Iraqis flow in and out of the three main entry points, Karameh, Jabir and Queen Alia airport every single day, with the emphasis on the latter. At the airport, there are more resources dedicated to Iraqis than there are to Jordanians or any other nationality for that matter. That’s just how big this is.
This is a security apparatus that deals with a country in turmoil next door. To say nothing of Palestine and Lebanon, the former of which has had a lot Palestinians forcefully expelled to Jordan, the latter of which saw thousands of Lebanese invading Amman last summer; so we’ve had some experience with this.
There are Sunnis who want to kill Shittes living in Jordan and there are Shittes who want to kill Sunnis living in Jordan. There are hundreds of cases of fake passports being issued in Iraq. There is smuggling of millions of dollars to be laundered in Jordanian banks. There are weapons being transported. Thousands of cars entering and exiting. There are Iraqis inside Jordan who are receiving daily threats from other Iraqis; sending our security forces on wild goose hunts. Saddam-loyalists and people whose families were killed by Saddam live in the same 10kilometer radius. This is to say nothing of so many (if not most) Iraqis who are here illegally as well as those (most) who are not allowed to work (except in illegal things such as drugs and prostitution, both of which are on the rise), which is something the international community as well as NGOs have been quick to chastise us for (I assure you, we appreciate the joke of employing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in a country with 33% unemployment). To say nothing of Iraqis who seem to come and go between Iraq and Jordan as if there isn’t a war going on; thus inevitably raising suspicion.
Not to mention that there are Iraqi security forces being trained in Jordan in an effort to send them back to establish some sense of stability in their country, but in the meanwhile, making us the biggest target outside Iraq.
Police forces in Amman have massively increased not to mention overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed. The average policeman in Jordan makes around 210JDs (nearly $300) a month. Hotels, malls, buildings, ministries, even restaurants (specifically those with a lot of Iraqi customers) all require a massive allocation of security resources.
Jordanians are paying higher taxes to fund these resources as security has never been more relevant, especially in the post Amman bombings era. Foreign aid, specifically from the coalition forces, has been peanuts; laughable, according to most experts in the field.
The influx of Iraqis has virtually destroyed any hope of the average Jordanian becoming a home owner.
And for those who argue investments, I need not remind you that most investments are coming from Kuwait, France and the Gulf, as opposed to Iraqis who have invested fairly little in Jordan (mostly by way of cafes and restaurants they can sell quickly). Iraqis with the most money have taken to laundering a great deal of it (inspiring an anti-money laundering law that has just gone into effect). What little has been invested has also been outdone by the level of consumption.
This is not a complaint, this is our reality and I am merely stating it as is. Jordanians stuck in traffic know it. Jordanians who are barely managing to pay bills and taxes know it. Jordanians who have to have their cars checked and then go through a metal detector just to get some bread from the local Safeway, know it too.
People are looking at Iraqis coming into Jordan as if they are tourists. They’re not. They shouldn’t be treated as tourists. They are part of a humanitarian crisis that the world has turned its back on once again.
We live in this strange international arena where every one is so quick to chastise Jordan, heck, even Jordanians, as is we started the war. The international arena whose members, specifically its first world members, have done little to take in Iraqis. All the Iraqis in Jordan who are waiting for asylum in the US, UK, Canada, and all the western nations that claimed there were weapons of mass destruction and that Iraqis need to be freed of tyranny.
Unless the international community, including Arabs, begin to step up to the plate by taking in Iraqis, or giving us a whole lot of funding, then I don’t think any one is in a position to pick on Jordan.
This is by no way an excuse for any unnecessary mistreatment Iraqis may receive at our airport. But this isn’t profiling just for the sake of discrimination. This is an influx of people who have little else where to go. There’s already a million of them in Jordan and if there was a policy to hate on them then our borders would’ve been sealed shut (as many borders around the world were) in March 2003.
Jordan can easily let down its guard, by allowing any Iraqi in without so much as looking at his or her passport; this would save us a whole lot of money. But what does that entail when we, as the biggest target outside Iraq who happen to live right next to it, implement such a policy. We put the lives of our citizens at risk and the lives of a million Iraqis inside the country at risk.
This not your everyday refugees-dressed-in-rags situation. They’re not ushered into camps for UNRWA and the UNHCR to deal with. They are not “out of sight, out of mind” (although I guess they are for the rest of the world). They are our next door neighbors here in Amman. This is a completely different situation, which few seem to have fully grasped.
Iraqis are not staying here for a few months. They’ve been here since 2003. Many have been here since the first Gulf War. This is a crisis that will not end with Jordan expelling Iraqis but ONLY and ONLY IF there is stability in Iraq, followed by a voluntary return of Iraqis to their homeland. And that situation isn’t happening any time soon with the current occupation, rise of terrorism, and an Iraqi government that is essentially a myth.
But hey, I’m a reasonable man.
If there is a country out there that feels it can do a better job then go ahead, raise your hand. Are you a wealthy Arab nation with a lot of room to spare? Feel free to put the “we are open” sign up at your borders. If I was Iraqi, I would be more than happy at all the choices the international, particularly the Arab world, has offered me as a way of empathizing and sympathizing with my situation.
As for us…
I would be ashamed of any Jordanian who ever mistreated an Iraqi brother out of personal spite. But I am proud of our security forces for keeping both my family safe as well as the Iraqis living next door safe, in the context of one of the most difficult and turbulent times in our history.
And I am not, nor will I ever be, ashamed to be a Jordanian.
p.s. please don’t leave me idiotic comments about how this post is blaming Iraqis for everything. that’s frankly an idiotic conclusion that will only serve to embarrass whoever makes such an absurd remark.