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“The System Isn’t Set Up for the Applicants”

Posted by Sally -

Sat, Jan 3, 2009

Citizen Diplomacy, War Dollars Home, War is SO over

  • Sharebar

Ok, I can’t attribute that quote, but I can demonstrate it. Today I’d like to tell the story of one family that has been displaced by the war and the legal processes they are now navigating. They are clients of the law school group I am working with (referred to us by Collateral Repair), and have agreed to have their story told as an example of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Iklass and Raed are married with five children (unfortunately I can’t remember/spell all their names, but if I ever find a mini USB cord and upload pictures, you better be sitting down because the cuteness is overwhelming). They left Iraq several years ago to escape threats from all sides: they were simultaneously in danger from American bombing, Shi’a extremists targeting all of the Sunnis in their neighborhood, and militia factions threatening to kill Raed if he did not join them. Things became unbearable when their Sunni neighbors who had received the same written threats they did were killed. Around the same time, a bomb exploded near one of their small sons, who suffered serious brain damage, and their daughter developed a kidney disorder and required regular medical care, which was simply unavailable. So the family fled, joining the growing population of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

This population is estimated at somewhere between 165,000 and 800,000, depending on which study or organization you believe. A Jordanian official we spoke with estimated the number at approximately 500,000, which he got from the most recent international study, plus the border entry numbers from 2008.

The first step for a newly arrived refugee in Amman should be to register with UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. It doesn’t cost anything, and it opens the door of eligibility for a number of benefits, most of which UNHCR pays for through grants to other NGO’s (Caritas for medical care, IRC for cash assistance and so on). UNHCR also refers registered refugees to other charities (like the Jordan River Foundation, which works on domestic violence and empowerment issues). If necessary, it also refers Iraqis to their Special Protection Unit (if they’re under a specific threat even in Jordan), and/or to the Resettlement Office. Even though registration is, by all accounts, pretty simple (we haven’t heard of anyone turned away), only 70,000 refugees have taken this step. Where the others are and why they haven’t registered is somewhat of a mystery, but it probably has to do with misinformation, rumors of deportation, and fear of authority, all pretty natural responses to the total destruction of their former lives.

OK, so this is where things get a little more complex. Our family is registered, they’re certain they cannot return to Iraq, they’re running out of money here, and their children aren’t getting necessary medical treatment. They need to be resettled, and through the Collateral Repair Project are in touch with Oregonians who will help them transition and establish themselves there.

But they couldn’t take their resettlement needs directly to the US department, since they didn’t work for the US government in Iraq (which would get them Special Immigration Visas), and they don’t have blood relatives in the US (which would help them apply for a green card directly). So they were required to apply for a referral from the UNHCR’s resettlement office. UNHCR interviews resettlement applicants and judges them based on a list of 11 priority categories,* and if they are approved, refers them to one of the embassies whose host country is accepting refugees for resettlement.** The UN allows applicants for referral to appoint a legal representative, although there are not really legal resources available to most of them (yet), and Iklass and Raed did not have one.

Nevertheless, Iklass, Raed and their children, since they were medically vulnerable and persecuted based on their religious origin, were referred to the United States Embassy, via IOM (the International Organization for Migration, which the State Department essentially contracted out this review work to), so they made it to the next level of refugee bureaucracy. Here, the IOM opened another file on them and did another interview, but the process stalled. Since it is socially unacceptable for a woman, rather than her husband, to attend an official function like this, Raed was in the interview by himself, and when he was asked what would happen if he went back to Iraq, he made a mistake (if you can call it that).

He said he didn’t know.

Of course, no one knows what would happen to them if they went back to Iraq, although the most reasonable prediction would be death for one or all family members, but at this point his interviewer closed his file and the family got a notice from the US embassy that they were “ineligible for resettlement,” that “there is no appeal” and that the principal applicant may make a detailed request for review based on new evidence or significant error within 90 days.

There are no guarantees that we will be successful in pressing Iklass and Raed’s case, of course. But I hope I’ve demonstrated that at this point, a family in their situation needs a lawyer. Any rational person faced with this final determination on their entire future peppered with legalese would head straight for the nearest directory of attorneys. Unfortunately, refugees at this stage have no right to legal representation. No, more than that, they’re not allowed it. Our legal advocates can help them prepare their documents, make legal arguments on their behalf, and moot them before their last interview, assuming it is granted. But unlike an asylum seeker (who has already made it to US soil), these applicants may not bring a legal representative with them to meetings at IOM, and their representatives are not allowed access to their files. Their legal rights are about on par with someone applying for a tourist visa – none.

By the way, there have been some large demonstrations here, and yesterday the police tear gassed a pro-Palestine rally. I’m completely fine, but if you’re the slightest bit worried about my safety, it would be great if you could channel that into supporting the end of the siege: http://www.codepink4peace.org/article.php?id=4410. Thanks!

*

1. victims of severe trauma, detention, abduction, torture by state or non-state entities

2. members of minority groups and/or individuals which are/have been targeted owing to their religious/ethnic origin

3. women at risk

4. unaccompanied or separate children, children as principal applicants

5. dependants of refugees living in resettlement countries

6. older persons-at-risk

7. medical cases and refugees with disabilities with no effective treatment available

8. high profile cases and/or their family members

9. Iraqis who fled as a result of their association with Multi National Force, Coalition Provisional Authority, UN, foreign countries, international and foreign institutions or companies and members of the press

10. stateless persons from Iraq

11. Iraqis at immediate risk of refoulement

** Many applicants get stuck at this point in the process, since if they’re not approved, they’re also not denied – they just sort of stay in limbo and keep renewing their registration. This can be terrible if, for example, the applicant is very ill, since they don’t know whether to go home to Iraq to die, or to stay in Jordan hoping for resettlement and risk dying here, separated from friends and family.

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  • allen tanimoto

    thanks for sharing your experiences with us. many of us know about the death toll in iraq, but i have been pretty clueless about the refugee crisis, and about the experiences of those trying to navigate – under these horrible life or death scenarios – what seems like a daunting and busted bureaucracy. code pink should be proud to have members like yourself doing such critical work in jordan.

  • Grandma

    Ah, dear Sally. You cannot know how proud we are of you and the other college students involved in the work with the Iraqi refugees. However frustrated you might be, know that your very attention is helping the families cope and to feel hope. Blessings on the tasks you and your group are doing. Will go put a little something extra in the puka you suggested, to help CodePink help the refugees. All best and love, Grandma

  • Jessica

    Why won’t our embassy allow refugees legal representation when they are at their most vulnerable?!

    I can only imagine how infuriated you are, and how saddened. Thank you for being a witness and reporting back.

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