BootsnAll Travel Network

Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Archive for the UNHCR Category

Iraqi Refugees Live in Limbo

July 12th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

The last time he was in Syria, Andrew Griffin found himself sitting in a blacked-out police station surrounded by men he could identify only by the lit tips of their cigarettes. In a small town on the Iraqi border only eight months after the US-led invasion of Baghdad, the Montreal resident had wandered too close to some sensitive location and raised suspicion.

Or, perhaps the men had been bored. Once the electricity was restored, so was his Canadian passport, and the men passed around tea and pictures of their families.
Five years later, Griffin, now 40, is volunteering to help Iraqi refugees who seek assistance from the Greek Orthodox Church in Damascus. Participating in an international immersion program coordinated by the American-based Middle East Fellowship (, he is living in Syria for one month this summer, taking Arabic classes and assisting the Church’s refugee relief efforts. Joining him are 20 other participants from New Zealand, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, the UK and the US.

Well more than a quarter of the 4 million internally and externally displaced Iraqis have fled to neighboring Syria, which has opened its arms to 1.2 million Iraqis, according to the United Nations. A country of 20 million people, Syria is in the throes of its own economic crises: soaring inflation estimated as high as 30%, gas prices that quadrupled literally overnight two months ago, disheartening unemployment pegged at 20%.

Iraqis walk into this economic chaos without homes or a homeland. (more…)

“We Are Crying for Help”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments 1 Comment »

“All Iraqis in Jordan today are refugees,” Fr. Raymond Moussalli shrugged his shoulders and smiled, resigned, in response to my asking how many of his 12,000 congregants are refugees. His church provides assistance for persecuted Iraqi Christians (

“Guests” are what Jordan originally called Iraqis who spilled over the border following the Gulf War and the 12 ensuing years of sanctions and Sadaam’s regime. The host country has resisted creating any temporary services that could lead to permanency, as has occurred with Palestinian refugees.

According to the UNHCR, between 450,000 and 500,000 Iraqis have taken refuge in Jordan. In this country of 6 million people, where fuel and food prices have jumped 300% during the last 3 years, where the country’s finance minister has estimated this year’s inflation rate to be the highest in 18 years, where the official unemployment rate runs 15% (the unofficial rate is a staggering 30%!), that’s proportionately comparable to increasing the United States’ population by 25 million people – another Texas. (more…)

“A Person of Concern”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

The dignified man tries to hide his desperation under congenial smiles and nods while thrusting a paper in my hand.

“I am an engineer, a civil engineer. My wife is also an engineer. She worked for the Ministry of Oil. You know, it stayed open after the Americans came.”

I remember back to my trip to Baghdad, 3 months after the US stormed the ancient city. The only government building that wasn’t bombed, burned or looted was the Ministry of Oil.

“They said you work for the Oil Ministry, and you take money from Americans, so you must be rich,” Mohammad quotes the insurgents who kidnapped him, (more…)

“All the Family is Scattered”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

The old woman starts talking before the others have finished, desperate to tell her story. In fact, her words rush too fast for the translator, who implores her to slow down.

The 75-year-old woman’s husband died during the Gulf War. Her oldest son, an engineer, dodged Sadaam’s draft by escaping to Sweden. Her daughter is a dental assistant in Amman. Her other daughter refused to become a Baathist and was forced to leave Iraq. Her youngest son committed suicide.

“I was in the supermarket and I spoke to a woman American soldier. My neighbors accused me of being a spy. One neighbor was slaughtered for being a Christian. There was no protection; I was scared. They already called me a spy, so I left.” The old woman’s words spilled out in a defiant rush.

“I was living in Baghdad alone. All the family is scattered. I brought nothing (except) the death certificates for my husband and son.”

She hopes to join her nephew in San Diego. “There is no way I can go back to Iraq. I have no house, nothing there. I have nobody. Only God can protect me now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Everything and Nothing”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

“Everything and nothing,” a resigned Wafaa says of what she left in Baghdad when her family fled a year and a half ago.

“We came to Amman after threats of being kidnapped,” her husband explains. “My cousin was kidnapped. While I was negotiating with the kidnappers, they said they’d kidnap me, too. I was concerned about my young teenage daughters, who were in school. My parents were threatened, too. They told them, ‘Either pay money or we will kill you.’ So they left their house.

“My parents were killed by a road explosion,” the 40-something gentle man says softly.

“I don’t know why I was threatened. Maybe they wanted money. But, I was (just) a construction worker,” he says with a shrug.

“We’re here now. No job, we’re not allowed to work. We have no residency; we are like illegals here, waiting for the UNHCR to help.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A Note about these Blogs

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

Between May 16 and 25, I traveled with 9 other Americas to Amman, Jordan, and Damascus, Syria, to meet with Iraqi refugees. I expected abject poverty, decrepit camps, broken people. What I encountered were proud Iraqis who had held positions of accomplishment and, sometimes, of wealth, back in Iraq. Both the Jordanian and Syrian governments, which are dealing with runaway inflation and high unemployment, are trying to avoid repeating the specter of permanent Palestinian refugee camps. Consequently, Iraqis are barred from legal employment. They are provided with temporary and sporadic food and medical assistance by the government and by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The stories you will read were told through translators. Although each of the refugees was eager to tell his or her story, and consented to being photographed and interviewed, I have decided to change their names to protect any family members still in Iraq. While each person’s story is unique, the recurring themes of fleeing threats for communicating with Americans, of wishing to join relatives in the US, of knowing that they can never return to their homes or homeland, and of longing for productive lives to provide their children with bright futures were prevalent.

The delegation was organized by the Middle East Fellowship ( under the auspices of the Middle East Council of Churches ( However, these blogs reflect solely my own experiences and opinions, not those of any organization or other individual. The Middle East Fellowship is planning future delegations, including one tentatively planned for October 24th to November 1st, which will meet with refugees in Damascus and Beirut. (The UNHCR estimates there are up to 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and 50,000 in Lebanon.) Further information may be found at Middle East Fellowship (

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Monthly Archives
Travel links
My Links