By Michael Rossmann, S.J.
More than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees have sought refuge in neighboring countries, particularly in Syria and Jordan, and Jesuit Refugee Service has opened projects in these countries to accompany and serve this population and their many needs.
Many of the Iraqi refugees are highly skilled workers — 40% of Iraq’s professionals have fled the country since 2003 — but typically refugees have no legal right to work in the surrounding countries to which they have fled. They thus attempt to rely on previous savings, humanitarian assistance, or under-the-table income in jobs that do not allow them to use their professional skills. It is common for engineers and medical doctors to work as janitors and cooks, for example.
The impact on families is significant. Previous breadwinners may have died in Iraq, and parents experience great frustration in not being able to provide for their families. Many Iraqi children have left school in order to assist their families through jobs in manual labor that are frequently not available for adults over the age of 40.
Some of these displaced Iraqis have been able to settle in a third country like the United States, though difficulties frequently continue. Not only must they adjust to an unfamiliar culture and frequently a new language, but even with official refugee status and a legal right to work, finding jobs, particularly in their former white-collar professions, is often extremely difficult.
Farrah, a single mother who left Baghdad with her son after he was kidnapped but then managed to escape, was living in Jordan for four years. Her experience represents the struggles that many Iraqi refugees face.
Though she earned a law degree in Iraq, she was unable to work in Jordan and relied on savings and the assistance of family, friends, and NGOs. Her son was able to attend school but, like many Iraqi children living in neighboring countries, had great difficulties fitting in and adjusting to life as an outsider in Jordan.
While Farrah had many family and friends in Jordan and was more comfortable living in a similar cultural situation, she left with her son yet again, this time for the United States, in order that he might eventually be able to attain a good job.
"There is nothing for me here," she said. "I have no friends in the United States, but I came so that my son could succeed and have a new life."
Farrah demonstrates the tremendous sacrifices that many refugees who have already endured great hardships make for their loved ones.
Farrah's son, now 16, has received a scholarship to attend a Catholic high school and has made many friends in his new home. While their family has received government assistance and though she speaks English quite well, similar to her frustration in Jordan she struggles to find any work, let alone a job related to her legal background.
The love of refugee parents for their children amidst tremendous insecurity and the longing to provide for their loved ones can model the love of God for all of God's people. Refugee parents’ desire to sacrifice everything for their children can represent in some way the example of Jesus who offered himself so that all may have life.
Join Us in Reflection:
"And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?"