The refugees from Iraq are mainly from urban centres, particularly Baghdad. Iraqi refugees in Jordan have not only witnessed the worst of the sectarian fighting that afflicts their country, but also carry the loss and sorrow of knowing that their formerly diverse communities have been irrevocably changed, so that in many ways, no actual "return" is possible.
Nabil, a young Iraqi refugee who attends the Jesuit Refugee Service informal education project in Amman, tells us "It wasn't just the violence. The neighbourhood changed. The people living there are all different now, my friends are gone. I couldn't go back there now because there's nothing to go back to. All the people here (at the JRS school) wouldn't be together in Baghdad now."
In Jordan, Iraqi refugees face the daunting legacy of the violence that has permanently altered their original homes. They also face the challenge of creating a renewed sense of community in an urban environment marked by limited public spaces, weak public transit systems and fragmented social services. These circumstances increase their sense of isolation and loss of community.
"We left everything that took years for us to build, our homes and our work. Knowledge is all we had when we left, and it's all we have now and for the future. That’s why I come here," says Muna, when asked why she attends the English classes.
She reflects on what she's said for a moment longer and adds, "But I also like coming here because I get to see people and talk to them. It feels like we have a place here, and for some time each day, I can feel a little bit at home."
Nabil and Muna’s experiences are common for many Iraqi refugees, some of whom have been facing nearly ten years of protracted displacement in Jordan, unable to return to Iraq, still awaiting resettlement. In many ways they are caught physically and psychologically between flight and arrival.
For them, the JRS school has become a shared point of reference in a city often defined by transience. The school is an anchor around which the diversity that was a defining feature of Iraq has been able to crystallise and coexist. Run largely by and for Iraqi refugees, the school has become a community of sorts, and provides Iraqis — renown in the region for their high levels of education — the rare chance to continue learning and, more importantly, aspire to and hope for a better future for themselves, their families and their country.
As renewed violence grips Iraq, and as Jordan sees an increasing influx of refugees from Syria, we pray that the spirit of inclusion, tolerance and learning that defines JRS projects will persevere, so that all refugees can live in peace and dignity wherever they may be.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.
When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God...