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19 May, 2010 05:46

Fleeing torture, Iraqi refugees struggle for survival

Many refugees left Iraq in search of safety in Syria or Jordan after being persecuted under Saddam Hussein or as a result of the US invasion. Some find themselves in danger again.

Fares Atya has a bounty on his head.

Nine years ago he fled Iraq after he was kidnapped and tortured for three days by members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Ba’ath Party. He says if he goes back, he will be killed.

So home for now is a two-roomed apartment in the Jordanian city of Sahab.

The water leaks and there are cockroaches on the floor. But even this accommodation, however Spartan, is a luxury Fares cannot afford.

For 13 months he has received not one penny from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees ­ the very organization set up to help people in his situation.

“I suffer in Jordan. The Jordanians don’t treat me properly because I am a Shia. I barely survive. Each month I go to the UN HCR offices, but they keep saying ‘You need to wait, you need to be patient.’ I’m supposed to get help from them, but they give me nothing,” Atya says.

Like other Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Fares survives on illegal jobs which come his way sporadically – no more than two or three days a month.

There are at least 250,000 other young men like him ­ most of whom are also survivors of torture.

Once a week ­ for two hours ­ they meet on a football pitch. It does not help them get work, but it is an escape from lives they are desperate to leave behind.

It is the brainchild of Fusayo Irikura, who contacts wealthy Iraqis and asks them to donate the funds that the United Nations agency does not. She also gets help from an American woman who fundraises in the States.

“American government did something wrong to the Iraq country [and] because of that she feels responsible to compensate the Iraqi people. Of course UN HCR are helping with the cash assistance, but the amount is limited. The organization has its regulations, criteria – sometimes it¹s very difficult to help urgent cases, so what we are doing for Iraqis, is helping urgent cases,” Irikura says.

And those urgent cases are on the increase as more and more countries close their borders to people fleeing Iraq. Pledges to resettle thousands of them have not materialized. And in the last year, the UN HCR’s budget to has been slashed in half.

“We’ve had to essentially reduce levels of service and assistance. At the moment, yes, I would say it is a crisis,” Jordanian UN HCR Representative Imran Riza says.

And Jordan is already frustrated ­ its economy is struggling and it has its own Palestinian refugee problem.

Unlike a football game, in which you can plan your next move, these refugees are rooted to the spot ­ no country in the world wants them.

Some of these players have been here for nine years already and are as uncertain of their future as when they left Iraq.

They were forced to flee because of threats to their lives and most of them are here alone. They spend their days doing nothing, losing their dreams and ambition.

And soon there will be even more like them. Fleeing from Iraq where politicians have so far been unable to form a government and tensions are climbing ahead of the planned American withdrawal in August.