Interview: Behind the Lines

What is your name and what organisations do you work for?

My name is Samia Qumri, I live in the Kingdom of Jordan. I lived and studied in Beirut from 1996 until 2007. In February 2007, I gained my MA in International Affairs and my thesis was titled; “The Political ramification of forced migration: the case of Iraqi migrants in Jordan”.

I have done extensive work on the many issues surrounding Iraqi refugees in Jordan and their political status, along with highlighting their socio-economic plight, at various conferences in the region.. I work as a volunteer with the US based List Project and the Collateral Repair Project, which is based in Amman, and one of the roles I undertake, is to serve as a liaison, between Iraqi refugee’s and a US based legal group, which provides special support and guidance for Iraqis, who are applying for the Special Immigrant Visa’s.

How did you become involved with working for Iraqi refugee’s?

My involvement started while I was a researcher, where I was able to develop my passion for humanitarian work, by assisting refugees and vulnerable families. After completing my Masters, I became more involved with the lives of vulnerable people and over time, I have been able to increase my support to those who have experienced real atrocities back home in Iraq.

In addition, for over two years I have also been undertaking research in to the role of Education in Emergency Situations; by promoting the positive roles that education can play in countries which are being torn apart by war. By using such approaches, it allows people to identify the fragile area’s being affected and education can help reduce a variety of social problems such as ethnic tensions, while promoting greater social cohesion.

Can you describe some of the situations that Iraqi refugee’s are fleeing from?

Quite often, when people arrive they are feeling isolated because of the situations they are fleeing from and with Iraq having been ravaged by recurring violence, there is also an increased fear for the welfare of their families.

The majority of Iraqi refugee’s are fleeing because of the threat of kidnapping or they belong to a different ethnic or religious group. Others have witnessed the torture and killing of relatives or friends at the hands of militia‘s. Schools have also been made the target of death squads and parents fear for their children’s lives. Refugee’s have also told me, that they have left, simply because they no longer see Iraq as being a country, where they can pursue a future.

What professional support is available to those with mental health and physical disabilities?
Lots of the refugees in Jordan, are suffering from either mental or behavioural problems as a result of the violence they have experienced or witnessed. Almost every refugee family suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of what they have gone through and this is coupled with the uncertainty of life as refugee‘s. The problems faced for the Kingdom of Jordan though, is finding the right people who are capable of taking up the many challenges but also finding the right treatment for the patients.

There are centres associated with the United Nations, who do assist with counselling for trauma but confronting the depth of trauma, can sometimes render a person from pursing treatment. This setback impacts negatively, especially on those with children. The UN and other Non Governmental Organisations try to help and support some cases by partially funding private treatment but are often unable to cover the total cost.

How do you feel about the lack of international attention towards those who are now displaced?

The ‘Iraq refugee crisis' has gained the status of an ‘unprecedented humanitarian crisis', ever since the 2003 invasion. Iraq has gone through challenging years and it is now perceived as being one of the largest countries for producing refugees and asylum seekers. Children in particular are the ones who are directly victimized and Jordan has become the hub for those fleeing.

Those who have left Iraq, represent people from diverse educational, ethnic, religious, or national backgrounds and it’s not easy to address the situation as a "collective problem“. Iraqi refugees are dispersed in urban areas within Jordan and do rely upon local and international assistance. There have been few opportunities for Iraqi refugee’s to be resettled to a third country, where they can legally work and reside.

More attention is needed to be given to this issue, as it’s still ongoing. The role of the international community, international organizations and humanitarian groups, along with host governments need to make more of an effort, to implement reforms and enhance the social inclusion of Iraqi Refugee’s.

When you think of the amount of Iraqi’s who saved British and American lives in Iraq, do you think this is recognised in either the US or UK?

I’m not familiar with the role of Iraqi’s working directly for the UK, although I am aware of the Iraqi role in saving the lives of British nationals who were kidnapped in Iraq.

Critics of organisations like the List Project, often view these Iraqis as being traitors serving the enemy. The risks these people have undertaken, has not only endangered themselves, but also the lives of their friends and their families. Most of the Iraqi’s who I meet, are the ones who have faced threats and torture because of their affiliation of having worked for the US army as translators’, or for having worked for US companies who are now based in Iraq.

Apparently, some “advocates say that the administration is ignoring a directive from Congress to draft a contingency plan to expedite visas, should those Iraqis who worked for the United States military come under an increased threat after American forces are drawn down” but statistics show that both the Bush and Obama administrations haven’t met the targets, for issuing visas to those Iraqi‘s who worked for them.

According to the List Project founder Kirk Johnson, ‘the impetus for the legislation was to avoid a huge refugee crisis like the one after the pullout from Vietnam. After British forces pulled out of Basra, interpreters were routinely rounded up and killed.’

In conclusion, if you could give one piece of advice to people, about what the Iraq war really looks like, what would that be?

Throughout the different episodes of recent Iraqi history and the ongoing displacement, even through the UN sanctions on Iraq and during the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people face lives of uncertainty. The unknown future of the Iraqi people is like a malicious animal hunting the families who have fled, and are now stuck in a host country while hoping for resettlement.

With the US military leaving, many of those who survived, or those who still work for the Americans, feel abandoned and betrayed by a government who they risked their lives for. Despite the intentions of either the British or American’s, Iraq is now a torn country and corruption is rife among the “democratic government”. Iraq is a resource rich country which faces constant water and electricity shortages and lacks even the most basic social services. As many reflect, before the invasion; “We had a normal life. Now all of our dreams are destroyed.”

This interview was conducted by Hussein Al-Alak, who is a British based journalist and is chairman of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign UK. Hussein is also a member of the Royal British Legion and a mental health advocate for Combat Stress. You can follow him on Twitter @Husseinalalak

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