Iraqis Fleeing Violence Flood Jordan

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As Iraq inches closer to an all-out civil war, neighboring Jordan is playing a key role as a refuge for hundreds of thousands fleeing the mounting sectarian violence. Many of those now fleeing lack financial resources, and it's unclear how much longer Jordan can continue to absorb them.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Politicians representing the various sects in Iraq - Sunni, Shiite and Kurd - today called for an end to the violence after what was the deadliest week of sectarian fighting since the war began. That's the backdrop as President Bush travels to the region this week for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The meeting takes place on Wednesday in Jordan.

Jordan shares a long border with Iraq and is one of the countries dealing with the fallout from the growing sectarian strife there. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees have crossed into Jordan seeking security. Among them is Salwan Jamilouda(ph). He moved to Jordan four months ago after a series of attacks on his communications company in Baghdad.

Mr. SALWAN JAMILOUDA (Businessman): And what happened in May 2006, we are attacking from the interior ministry, because all (unintelligible) their uniforms, their cars, all the time this is for interior ministry. They thinking that we have money in my company.

ELLIOTT: Later, he says 35 of his employees were kidnapped.

Mr. JAMILOUDA: After that I shut down. I am scared inside Baghdad. I change my house because I am afraid for these people. For this I come, I come to Jordan.

ELLIOTT: He rented an apartment in Amman and sent for his wife and two teenage children. Even though he hasn't found work yet, he feels better than off than his friends because he's gotten out.

Mr. JAMILOUDA: My friends is all the time is call me. They want to come in Jordan. But you know, now is a problem. Not easy to enter, the Iraqis entering in Jordan. It's not easy. It's very difficult in the border. Also in the airport. The Jordanians, their law is very, very tough now. Not easy.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Jamilouda says living in Jordan is expensive even without his resources. Lack of money has prevented some of his friends and family from getting out of Iraq, but as the violence worsens, even people without financial resources are increasingly on the move, according to Ron Redman with the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees.

Mr. RON REDMAN (United Nations High Commission for Refugees): Many of them now are people who don't have a lot of money to subsist on, and that's what worries us, because where originally you saw people turning up in Syria and Jordan driving Mercedes Benzes and bringing money along, now you're seeing, you know, average people, poorer people leaving. They don't have enough resources to subsist on.

ELLIOTT: Thus far, Redman says, there are no camps set up for the Iraqi refugees, but that could change.

Mr. REDMAN: How much longer Syria and Jordan can continue to absorb such large numbers of people is questionable, and we know now that there are a lot of vulnerable people. There are, for example, female-headed households. The husbands may have been killed in the violence. So we've now had to shift our focus from repatriation and reintegration inside Iraq to once again having to focus particularly on the most vulnerable of these Iraqis who are once again fleeing and fleeing in large numbers.

ELLIOTT: The U.N. estimates that half a million Iraqis have settled in Syria, 700,000 in Jordan, and Redman says the numbers will only go higher, as about 1,000 refugees a day flee into each country. For Jordanians, the constant flow of refugees is starting to take its toll.

Mr. AYMAN SAFADI (Editor in Chief, Al Ghad): The strain on the infrastructure is enormous. The strain on the economy is enormous. And also in terms of demography, you're talking about newcomers who are one-fifth of the population.

ELLIOTT: Ayman Safadi is the editor in chief of the Al Ghad newspaper in Amman. He says the influx of Iraqi refugees has driven up housing prices and put a strain on schools. And as the violence in Iraq spirals out of control, Safadi says, security becomes a factor.

Mr. SAFADI: We've had two terrorist attacks in the last year. Both operations were perpetrated by Iraqis who came across the Iraqi border. So in the event of total collapse in Iraq, then the possibilities of terror manifesting itself beyond the Iraqi border is real.

ELLIOTT: Jordan had dealt with large numbers of refugees before, notably the Palestinians, and now the large Iraqi population is a potentially destabilizing faction, according to Steven Simon, a Middle Eastern Studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. STEVEN SIMON (Council on Foreign Relations): What Jordan needs now more than anything is the help of other countries in dealing with this flood of Iraqi refugees.

ELLIOTT: All these issues are likely to come up this week when President Bush meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and with Jordan's King Abdullah. On ABC's TV "This Week" today, the Jordanian leader expressed concern about tensions throughout the Middle East affecting his country.

King ABDULLAH (Jordan): We're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, Lebanon or Iraq. My discussions at least with the president will be to provide whatever we can do for the Iraqi people, but at the same time we do want to concentrate ourselves on the core issues which we believe are the Palestinians and the Palestinian peace process, because that is a must today, as well as the tremendous concern we've had over the past several days of what's happening in Lebanon.

ELLIOTT: For now, Jordan remains a safe haven for Salwan Jamilouda and what's left of his family. Tragedy struck in August when his 17-year-old son returned to Baghdad to get school records he needed to attend university.

Mr. JAMILOUDA: When they (unintelligible) then some people shot, firing, all the people in the street, and my son is killed. And he hit in the head when one bullet and he's killed. I have brothers and sisters there, and the situation, you know, that is (unintelligible) now because no one knows who's the killers, or why the killers do that. No one know.

ELLIOTT: He plans to stay in Amman for a few years and will then decide if it's safe to return home.

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