After months of trying to get back into the No Man’s Land area between the Iraq and Jordan border, also known as the Al Karama border, I finally received permission to return from the Jordanian government. I went this time with a different objective than my previous visits during which my main work was to try to alert the media and the US government to the problem of these 194 Iranian Kurdish refugees and to try to resettle them in the US. After many failed attempts at resettling them, not only from the US government, but also from American Kurdish organizations, and after speaking with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees), I began to understand that the possibility of living in Arbil, in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) would be the best durable solution for them. It is in Arbil, in Kawa refugee camp, where they would have access to 24 hours of electricity, water, food, schools, hospitals, and jobs. I thought that if I could go there and talk to them about this option, they might be willing to listen to me. But their friends and family in Kawa, and a recent program on Kawa camp that aired on Kurdish television, have made this an option that they do not wish to consider.
For them Sweden seems to be the only option they are willing to consider. But resettlement to a third country is not an option for them from their current location. Governments and the UNHCR can only work on resettlement files from a country, not from a stateless space such as No Man’s Land. I had not expected the levels of resistance, including from the children like Iman (in the photograph with me) who have now memorized their group’s statement about their stituation and their desired goals. This seven year old, who speaks no English, can recite their statement verbatim now in English, though she has no idea what she is saying. Though I have a deep affection for her and others in the camp, the reliance upon a collective statement as the only form of communication made it difficult for me to have any real discussion about life in No Man’s Land or in Kawa camp. Even when I pressed to get Iman to tell me her feelings in an appropriate seven-year-old way of expressing herself, it seemed like she (as well as her uncle who translated from Sorani, a Kurdish dialect) was still only speaking the party line as it were.
But what broke my heart the most this weekend was the story of Kumar, a one and a half year old child, who is currently in the International Red Crescent Hospital in Amman. I am haunted by this joyful, bright, beautiful boy’s spirit. He has a disease called symptomatic hydrocephalus, which has clogged his brain with water and it must be drained. The problem is that to do so would mean a year’s recovery in a sterile environment, something that cannot happen from a refugee camp in any place. He cannot walk because of this and if he is not treated soon he will suffer from all sorts of complications such as mental retardation. Complicating this are other diagnoses of kwashiorkor and avitaminosis because he is severely malnourished (as is everyone in the camp given that they have little access to any vitamins or protein) and anemia.
I do not know what will happen, but I understand that the hospital he is currently in cannot help him any further, but he needs this surgery and I don’t know how this can or will happen. If he is taken to Sweden for a medical resettlement it has implications for the rest of the camp and their resolve to fight this out until the end will be all the much stronger. And yet this child, this beautiful, sweet child must get medical attention as soon as possible.
While I was in Amman I watched a terrific report on Al Jazeera English on the situation of refugees from Iraq who are in Jordan, including a brief bit on No Man’s Land. The program is below. If only such reports were widely circulated in the US and elsewhere.