A Publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland  
Catholic Voice Online Edition  
Front Page In this Issue Around the Diocese Letters Bishop's Column News in Brief Calendar
Mission Statement
Contact Us
Publication Dates
Back Issues

CURRENT ISSUE:  February 5, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 3Oakland, CA

Refugees fleeing Iraq seek help
from Catholic Church in Jordan

Catholics pray for peace during Mass in Amman, Jordan, Jan. 23.

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The Catholic Church is the first point of reference for Christian Iraqi refugees when they arrive in Jordan, said the director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

“Usually the first thing they do is come to the church. It is the first contact they have with other people and with relatives,” said Ra’ed Bahou. “Then they learn about the projects we are doing.”

About 5 percent of the estimated 1 million Iraqis who have sought refuge in Jordan over the past two years are Christian, he said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service. Between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqis have crossed the border into Jordan over the past six months, he added.

The Pontifical Mission is an emergency relief agency under the direction of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a New York-based humanitarian and support group founded by Pope Pius XI.

The influx of Iraqi refugees has increased the numbers of Christians in Jordan, and now they fill the pews of the country’s churches, said Bahou.

“People know they now have to come (to church) a half-hour earlier to get a seat,” he said.

Though many refugees prefer to come to Jordan because of its comparable freedom, it is prohibitively expensive for most, he said. Some refugees have been moving to Syria or the Kurdish areas in northern Iraq around the city of Arbil, where many churches have moved and the patriarchal major seminary, Simon Peter, has relocated, he said.

Recently, new restrictions have made it more difficult for men under the age of 35 to get visas into Jordan, he said.

The situation for the refugees is “very bad,” and two or three families have been sharing single apartments east of Amman, he said. Many are especially in need of medical attention, he added.

Many of the more recent arrivals already have family members or friends living in Amman, which makes the adjustment to their home easier than for the first refugees, who started arriving about eight years ago.

The unemployment rate in Jordan is high, and the refugees -- who have no work permits -- are hard-pressed to find work, he said. While some professionals are working illegally, most end up scraping by with the salary of a day laborer, he said.

Some Iraqis were able to transfer their funds out of Iraq before they left in a variety of ways; those make up only about 5 percent of the Iraqis in Jordan. The vast majority of the refugees need financial assistance for everything ranging from medical needs, apartment rental and the education of their children, said Bahou.

Although children of Iraqi refugees are permitted to attend only private schools, most cannot afford the tuition, he said.

The Pontifical Mission and two orders of nuns have organized an unofficial school for about 100 Iraqi children to teach them English, math and religion.

Because no Jordanian governmental body exists to oversee the social and health needs of the refugees, it is largely up to nongovernmental organizations to assist them, said Bahou.

“Organizations like us can give them the basics, but we can’t support whole families. We can give them money for one or two months. It is very difficult emotionally,” he said.

The Iraqis have been accepted by the Jordanian population, he said, and are slowly becoming part of the ethnic makeup of the country.

“We are used to seeing Iraqi cars in the streets and hearing Iraqi accents. The relations between the Jordanians and the Iraqis are good; there just isn’t enough money for their needs,” he said.


Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland

El Heraldo

Movie Reviews

Mass Times

Catholic Voice



back to topup arrow


Copyright © 2005 The Catholic Voice, All Rights Reserved. Site design by Sarah Kalmon-Bauer.