Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rada and her friends

Rada arrived in Amman along with two sisters, and her brother and his wife shortly after the regime fell. Her mother was killed from shrapnel from a bomb during the invasion. She left behind her father, a second brother and her eldest sister. Though they continue to be threatened they refuse to leave Baghdad. Since her arrival in Amman her two sisters have been resettled to the United States and her brother has returned to Iraq with his wife. She remains alone in Jordan.

Single woman are a particularly vulnerable population in the refugee community here. Rada left Amman and rented an apartment in a small village in the south where she felt safer in a quiet, less hectic neighborhood. She met Wafa and her daughter Eiman shortly afterwards. Wafa’s husband had returned to Mosul because of family members left behind, including his mother and two daughters from a prior marriage. They had fled Mosul four years ago. The family felt more and more threatened as various factions raided their home and fighting in the streets intensified. Their home had been bombed when Islamic militias attacked a liquor store in the neighborhood. Wafa said she could never return as long as the threat of violence remained. She couldn’t bear to see any more death and she couldn’t risk harm coming to her daughter.

One and a half years ago Rada began the process for resettlement. She has been approved for resettlement to the United States, though she has not received word regarding her security clearance. She yearns to be reunited with her sisters. Wafa has discontinued the resettlement process until she is reunited with her husband. He promised to return to Jordan, though it remains to be seen whether he can get back in.

The women are not receiving any aid. Because they are not in Amman it is very difficult to visit the UNHCR to find out what has happened to their assistance. They had been meeting with a representative near where they are living, but every time he sees them, he promises payment but nothing ever happens. Calls to the UNHCR go unanswered. The women have exhausted their savings and are uncertain how they will continue. Currently they help support themselves with a little sewing business they created. Recognizing they are alone, the community has also looked out for them by providing some food staples such as rice and sugar. They have done work to make the apartment livable and now the landlord comes by saying he would like to have it back. They are certain the rent will be increasing shortly. As winter approaches they do not know how they can afford oil for the small space heater they share.

“Our lives have stopped.” Rada explains, “Since the invasion, everything has just stopped. I was twenty-five then. Now i am thirty and alone. Everything stopped, even love between a man and a woman, because nothing is certain. Since then we eat and sleep and survive that is all.” “You don’t understand. Iraq is finished. Baghdad is dead. My home is finished. Even if i go back one day, it is not to what I knew. Baghdad can never be the same. “I can’t believe it still”, says Wafa. “I remember the minister of information, Mohammad Said Sahaf was on TV saying we have repelled the Americans, Baghdad is secure- even as the American tanks were arriving in the streets behind him. Now he lives in luxury somewhere, and what about us?”