Wednesday, December 30, 2009

year-end UPDATE

Dear Friend of CRP

Another year is coming to a close and it has been nearly 7 years that many Iraqis have been living in impoverished limbo in Jordan. The way things look now, most think that they will be in the same or worse situation a year from now. Although some have been resettled to third countries, many more are left behind, unable to return to Iraq because of death threats and home either destroyed or occupied by others. UNHCR estimates that there are approximately 54,000 registered as refugees - but many more do not register and every day more Iraqis find their way into Jordan or Syria, escaping the escalation of violence in some part of Iraq or seeking medical treatment they cannot get in Iraq.

They are still barred from working in Jordan and now, because of the shaky world economy, contributions from donor nations have plummeted and UNHCR and its NGO partners have been forced to cut back or eliminate essential aid programs Iraqis have relied on for their survival. Already suffering PTSD from the war and depressed because of their displacement, Iraqis are floundering, many wondering how they will survive. They all tell us "I am too tired" - they are exhausted from the constant struggle to get their basic needs met and from not being able to foresee an end to their problems. They are feeling frightened and vulnerable.

A few have risked return. One was my neighbor in Amman. I want to share some of his story with you.

Abu Ibrahim (pseudonym) is nearly 40 years old. He is well educated with two degrees and was successful in his profession until the US invasion. After 2003 his life turned upside down. He was married to a woman of another sect. As with most Iraqis, this was a non-issue before the war. But, with the rise in sectarian violence that was fostered by open borders with neighboring countries, no real police or police who were aligned with militias, and under the new, "elected" sectarian government, those in mixed marriages began receiving threats. His wife's family was concerned for her safety if she remained married to Abu Ibrahim and they divorced.

Abu Ibrahim tried to remain in Baghdad. He hoped to eventually find employment so he could support his son. He wanted to be near his elderly parents. But one night his door burst open and two men ran in. One was chasing the other, shooting at him and his shots dropped the other in front of Abu Ibrahim. The shooter fled and Abu Ibrahim began giving artificial respiration to try to save his life. He then carried the wounded man outside and hailed a taxi and took the critically wounded man to the hospital. This man was of a different sect than Abu Ibrahim and the hospital was under the control of militia of the same sect as the shooting victim. Abu Ibrahim stayed all night at the man's bedside, even giving blood for his transfusions. He told me he could not sleep, fearing he would be killed as the militia there were giving him threatening looks, but still he stayed at the side of this man whose fate was thrust so suddenly into his own. But the wounds were too severe and he died in the morning. Abu Ibrahim was allowed to leave the hospital but then his real problems began.

After a few days, some of the dead man's family members came to Abu Ibrahim, demanding monetary compensation. They assumed Abu Ibrahim had something to do with the shooting because their relative was shot in his house. When Abu Ibrahim refused to pay, they began to send death threats. Meanwhile, the militia that was responsible for the shooting of the dead man began to threaten him also because he had tried to save the man. Abu Ibrahim left his home and began moving around Baghdad, staying a few days at one relative's home but then moving to another's because of fear that those seeking him would harm his relatives as well as himself. Finally the pressure and fear became too much and Abu Ibrahim fled to Jordan.

He had only been in Amman a few months when I moved in next door to him. Already he was deliberating returning to Iraq and taking his chances despite the danger he would face. Every day would tell me "maybe in three days" or "maybe next week I will go" but it wasn't a decision to be made lightly. Finally he told me he'd decided to return and had set a date to go. I asked if this was wise and he replied, "What difference is it if I am killed there? I am already dead here. I have no life. All I do is sleep and eat and then walk the streets in the evening. I cannot work. I have nothing - no way to live, no way to support my son. My parents are ill. They need to see me before they die. So, yes, I am afraid but I must go home. I will die in Iraq rather than be dead while alive here" He left a few days later. I am happy to say that he is ok - I receive short e-mails from him now and then. I worry between.

I tell you Abu Ibrahim's story because it illustrates how this war has imposed unimaginable challenges into ordinary people's lives. It has torn families and formerly amiable communities apart. It has stripped people of their safety, their homes, their livelihoods, and careers. In exile, they enjoy freedom from the violence but they endure incredible hardships to pay for that freedom. It comes down to a choice between death or destitution. And now, with cutbacks in aid, that destitution is even deeper and more devastating than before.

Collateral Repair Project is there, responding to this crisis, in your name. It will be a challenging year as we try to meet some of the needs of those who have so little.

As always, we are so grateful for the support you've given to us in the past. We hope that you will continue that support so that we can help those in need. They need you now, more than ever.

We know many of you are struggling financially and are unable to give as freely as you have in the past. We hope that you'll continue to support us by telling others about us (please forward this UPDATE widely). Also, please read the report on how others are finding creative ways to help below.

CRP co-director, Mary Madsen, and I will return to Jordan on January 11th. We will be writing more stories of Iraqi refugees in Amman on our blog. We'll tell you about those you've helped and report on the deteriorating situation for Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

With gratitude and hope for a more peaceful and abundant New Year for us all,

Sasha Crow
- and the USA CRP Team: Mary, Marilyn & Karen