It’s July in Amman and a group of beneficiaries, volunteers and a couple CRP interns are sitting in a conversation club. Although the topic is holidays and celebrations, the discussion soon turns to the resettlement process and, in particular, the Muslim Ban in the United States.
“Everyday is like a holiday for us,” says Majed, a middle-aged Iraqi refugee, “We have nothing to do. All we have to do is wait.”
“Where do you want to be resettled?” A volunteer asks.
“I was accepted by your country – the United States. But then President Trump introduced the Muslim Ban, and my application – that of my family and my own – has been pending for 2 years. The reason they gave was ‘security concerns.’ But I know that really means that I will not be accepted because I am from a banned country. Now I can’t apply for resettlement anywhere else, not until my case is granted a decision. Now me and my family are simply waiting, waiting for the ban to be lifted.”
Majed came to Amman with his wife and four children in 2014 due to the instability in Iraq – they finally decided to leave when Majed’s nephew was shot in the street. They suspect this was due to the sectarian conflict in their district.
In 2016 life took a turn for the better when the family was finally approved for resettlement in Great Britain. Mejad explains that his case was strong – having lived in Kuwait, he had never served in the Iraqi army, and so there were no security concerns regarding his background. Mejad later made a choice which he calls his ‘greatest mistake’ – he asked to change the country of resettlement to the United States, because his two brothers already live there and naturally, Mejad wanted to be close to his family. One week later the Trump Administration introduced the Muslim Ban (January 27th, 2017) and they’ve been trapped in Jordan ever since.
Prior to leaving Iraq, Mejad was studying Engineering at a Masters level at the University of Baghdad. His children were top of the class at school and engaged in a variety of creative pursuits – like their mother, they especially love painting.
In Jordan life has been difficult for them – Mejad and his wife cannot work, which is frustrating for the skilled couple, and so they can’t send their children to a good school. Majed notes his children took a while to settle in their new country, and that their youngest son would constantly draw storms and cities destroyed by disaster; he’d say that he draws them because he feels they will never escape Jordan.
“Would you ever consider going back to Iraq?”
Mejad looks pained.
“Iraq is not our home anymore… We were never fully trusted there because we had lived in Kuwait. And Kuwait wouldn’t give us nationality because we were Iraqi. We needed a new home. Somewhere not torn apart by militias and war, somewhere my children can have a real education.
They’re really smart!” he adds proudly, “They all want to be scientists.”
Mejad says that to fill his time here in Amman, CRP has been a huge help. Here he takes English classes and has progressed to the advanced level, has completed a course in gender-based violence, and takes E-learning courses. At the moment he is taking one on English teaching. But he still dreams of completing his Masters.
“The wait for resettlement is damaging my life,” Mejad says sadly, “The US depends on democracy and freedom. Before the ban, everyone was accepted there. Now, it’s very disheartening – not just for me, for all refugees who are waiting to be resettled. We can’t change our cases to another country – because of the ban, we are completely trapped. It’s very difficult.”
The truth is, the countries most affected by sectarian violence in the Middle East and Africa are those on the list; those most desperately in need of help (the banned nationalities include Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, Sudanese, Iranian and Somalian). In fact, the ban was just the beginning of a concerted campaign to limit immigration and scale back the refugee resettlement program – with annual refugee admissions having fallen from 110,000 to 22,491 in 2019, and temporary protected status being slashed for applying refugees. Although a waiver process for the Ban exists, the vague terminology and requirements within have made applications difficult for refugees.
The devastating impact of the ban has been that thousands of refugees, like Mejad’s family, no longer have the chance of finding safety in the US.
“So what will you do?”
Mejad smiles, “Keep trying. Negativity doesn’t help anyone. I really believe positivity helps us more than anger. We have to be patient, and believe in our future, keep hoping for resettlement, and for the ban to be lifted.
You know this saying, shoo ism-o: those who do not try to climb the mountain, will live in the ground forever.”