Interview: Behind the Lines

October 2, 2011 9:36 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

HA: What is your name and which organisations have you worked for?

SQ: My name is Samia Qumri. I live in the Kingdom of Jordan. I lived and studied in Beirut from 1996 to 2007. In February 2007, I gained my MA in International Affairs; 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. I have worked to highlight their socio-economic plight at various conferences in the region. I also work with the US based ‘List Project’ and the Collateral Repair Project, based in Amman, where one of the roles I undertake is to serve as a liaison between Iraqi refugees and a US based legal group which provides special support and guidance for Iraqis applying for the Special Immigrant Visas.

HA: How did you become involved in working with Iraqi refugees?

SQ: My involvement started while I was a researcher. 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 give increased support to those who have experienced atrocities back home in Iraq.

In addition, for over two years, I have also been undertaking research into the role of education in emergency situations by promoting the positive role that education can play in countries being torn apart by war. Using such approaches allows people to identify the fragile areas being affected and education can help reduce a variety of social problems such as ethnic tensions, whilst promoting greater social cohesion.

HA: Can you describe some of the situations that Iraqi refugees are fleeing from?

SQ: Quite often, when people arrive, they are feeling isolated because of the situation they are fleeing from. With Iraq having been ravaged by reoccurring violence, there is also an increased fear for the welfare of their families.

The majority of Iraqi refugees are fleeing because of the threat of kidnap as they belong to a different ethnic or religious group. Others have witnessed the torture and killing of relatives or friends at the hands of militias. Schools have also been targets of death squads and parents fear for their children’s lives. Refugees 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.

HA: What professional support is available to those with mental and physical disabilities?

SQ: 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 has at least one member suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of what they have gone through. This problem is exacerbated by the uncertainty of life as a refugee. The Kingdom of Jordan faces a challenge finding the right people capable of taking up these many challenges and finding the right treatment for these patients.

There are centres associated with the United Nations who do assist with trauma counseling. However, the deep impact of trauma can sometimes render a person incapable of seeking treatment. This setback impacts negatively, especially on those with children. The UN and other NGOs try to help by partially funding private treatment for some cases but they are often unable to cover the total costs of said treatment.

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

SQ: The Iraq refugee crisis has become known as 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 biggest refugee populations. Children in particular are directly affected and Jordan has become the hub for those fleeing.

Refugees fleeing Iraq are made up of people from diverse educational, ethnic, religious, or national backgrounds and it is not easy to address the situation as a “collective problem”. Iraqi refugees are dispersed in urban areas within Jordan and rely upon local and international assistance. There have been few opportunities for Iraqi refugees to be resettled to a third country where they can work and reside legally.

This issue needs to be given more attention. The role of the international community, international organisations and humanitarian groups, along with host governments, need to make more of an effort to implement reforms to enhance the social inclusion of Iraqi refugees.

HA: Considering the number of Iraqis who saved British and American during the conflict, do you feel there is sufficient recognition of this in either the US or the UK?

SQ: I am not familiar with the role of Iraqis working directly for the UK, although I am aware of the part some Iraqis have played in saving the lives of British nationals kidnapped in Iraq.

Critics of organisations like the List Project often view these Iraqis as traitors serving the enemy. The risks they have undertaken have not only put them in direct danger but also endangered the lives of their friends and families. Most of the Iraqis I meet who have faced threats and torture have done so because they worked for the US army as translators or have worked for US companies 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 further threat once all American forces are withdrawn. However, statistics show that both the Bush and Obama administrations have not met the targets for issuing visas to the Iraqis 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.’

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

SQ: Throughout the different episodes of recent Iraqi history and the ongoing displacement, including the UN sanctions on Iraq and during the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people faced 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 US administration, feel abandoned and betrayed by a government for whom they risked their lives. Despite the intentions of either the British or Americans, Iraq is now a torn country and corruption is rife within the ‘democratic government’. Iraq is a resource rich country which faces constant water and electricity shortages and lacks even the most basic social services. Many in Iraq reflect that before the invasion: ‘We had a normal life. Now all of our dreams are destroyed.’

Hussein Al-Alak 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 at TotallyHussein.


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This post was written by Hussein Al-alak

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