Monday, May 23, 2011

Exploitation to Desperation

Recently, while having an informal planning meeting at our main center, a woman and her four young children came to CRP’s door. 
Zainab’s face showed her weariness as she began telling us her family’s story.  They arrived in Amman about 6 weeks ago, having been forced to flee because she and her husband belong to different religious sects.  They’d received death threats from local militia and decided to leave, taking with them only their clothes and around $1,000.  When they arrived in Amman, they visited a real estate broker who charged them a large fee and found them an apartment which cost $500, half the money they’d brought with them.  After staying there for a month, they moved to a less expensive apartment but are now down to their last $200. 
It is common for Iraqis new to Amman to be exploited by persons looking to profit from their predicament.  Unless a refugee family has friends or relatives to help them, they usually have no idea of what to expect when they come here; they don’t know how much or little to pay for an apartment, and they don’t know how to go about finding one, so they go to brokers, who often cheat them.
I watched Zainab’s face as she spoke in Arabic to Ghazwan about what she and her family have endured.  Her dark eyes became glasslike with unshed tears, and her weariness and anxiety mapped her features with shadows. 
She told how, on their way out of Iraq, she and the children saw bodies lying by the roadside, attesting to the continued atmosphere of violence and horror in Iraq.  The kids, so traumatized by the sound of gunfire and explosions, are fearful and upset whenever they hear the sound of fireworks.  Her husband assumed he would be able to find a job quickly in Amman; they weren’t aware that Iraqi refugees cannot work here legally.  They also believed that UNHCR cash assistance would be available immediately.  Sasha informed her that the process can take many months and that there is no guarantee that their application will be approved. Zainab’s face was a portrait of shock and disappointment when hearing this news. She left a 19-year career as a school administrator, a job that paid well.  Now, she and her family have almost no money left, no way to pay next month’s rent and utilities, and no way to buy food.
This is a common scenario here; a family flees with nothing more than their clothes, a few personal belongings and whatever cash they have on hand, and they have no idea of what awaits them or how they will cope.  The application for refugee status is tortuously slow, its outcome uncertain.  This family could wait months, or a year or longer, for an outcome on their applications, and in the meantime there is very little help for them.  We will be visiting this family soon to assess their situation more fully and to see what help we can provide.  Ghazwan had the difficult task of explaining to Zainab that due to the reduced number of donations we’ve received, we are not sure of how much assistance we can give her family.  We have many families here whose circumstances are as severe as Zainab’s, and some whose situations are even worse.  We are hoping that we will be able to give this family the assistance they so desperately need.

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Collateral Repair Project
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Medford, OR 97501