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The Refugee Project

Tale of Two Camps

Krystal Mizzi, Tara Smith and Edwina Toohey

Palestinian refugee Nehady Yousif. Photograph by Edwina Toohey

Palestinian refugee Nehady Yousif. Photograph by Edwina Toohey

Jordan provides asylum for people from several countries including Iraq, Syria and Palestine.

Following the 1948 war with Israel, many Palestinians escaped to Jordanian refugees camps, which have now transformed into makeshift towns. Although many have ambitions to live elsewhere, some are content with their lives in the camp. 

When ISIS invaded parts of Iraq in June 2013, tens of thousands of people fled to Jordan. 

This report looks at the experiences of the two groups – Palestinians living in a camp on the edge of the city of Irbid in northern Jordan and some Iraqis living in a Catholic missionary near Amman. First, Krystal Mizzi and Tara Smith compare the two camps.   

Life in the Irbid refugee camp is hard as Tara Smith reports.

Christian Iraqi Refugees in Amman

Salah Beshara is a reluctant refugee.

The 54-year old was the only member of his family to stay in Iraq when ISIS took over in June 2013.

“My father, my mother, all my family are in Europe and have left since the ’90s, I’m the only one that remains,” Beshara says.

However, he fled to a Christian village in Erbil, east of Mosul, when it became too dangerous. He finally left the region after the North-Eastern Iraqi city of Mosul fell.

He has been in a Catholic missionary in the hills, 12 kilometres outside Amman in Jordan, for the last seven months.

Iraqi refugee Salah Beshara. Photograpgh by Andrew Dodd

Iraqi refugee Salah Beshara. Photograpgh by Andrew Dodd

“I’ve lost everything. Lost our houses, we have palaces in Iraq,” he says. “We have no salary. ISIS came and took everything.”

Salah is angry about the way he and thousands of fellow Christians were treated. 

“My neighbours are the ones who took my house,” he says. They are “the ones I lived with in good times and bad times.”

Last month Beshara had surgery on his stomach and is now recovering at the Our Lady of Peace Center, where many other Iraqi refugees are living.

He says, “The most difficult thing is emotional stress, no work, no job. We are here relying on the Jordanian churches that have housed us and the organisation Caritas that has helped us with food supplies.”

Many of the refugees at the mission are housed in portable cabins. They are unable to work and homesick. But they have no intention of going back home while Mosul is still occupied by ISIS.

Salwan Muktar, another Iraqi refugee sitting with Beshara, asks, “Who will give me back my dignity? Our churches have been confiscated. Our money has been taken. Our shops have been taken. They have let us leave just without clothes.”

Muktar knew it was time to leave when ISIS rebels spray-painted the words “property of the Islamic State” on the front of his house.  Underneath was the letter ‘N’, labelling him as a Christian to his community.

Muktar showed us a photo of his house. It had two-storeys, high decorative fences and a curved balcony and awning.

Salwan Muktar's home with ISIS sign “Property of the Islamic State”. Photograph supplied by Salwan Muktar

Salwan Muktar's home with ISIS sign “Property of the Islamic State”. Photograph supplied by Salwan Muktar

He had only lived in his house for 10 days before he had to flee.  

He was becoming emotional as he said the photo “brings back memories of my home, of my life.” 

Pointing at Muktar, Beshara said, “His story represents the stories of all the Iraqis.  This is the story of one. There are 35,000 Iraqis that have been dislocated in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

We are feeling that our future is not clear in Iraq we don’t know what to do, and here, we don’t know what’s happening in this life.”

Beshara has applied to the United Nations for resettlement. He hopes to be accepted by a country in Europe to be with his family, which is spread across the continent.

He says, I have a member of my family “in Holland, one in Germany, one in Denmark, one in Sweden and one in Cyprus.”

But he is still waiting for reply from the UN, “I had an interview on the 13th of May and they delayed it and I don’t know what’s going to happen. So my future is unknown.”