Iraqi refugees living in Jordan are required to register with the United Nations, and may be jailed if they fail to do so. Once registered, they may avail themselves of U.N.-sponsored social services, and their children may attend Jordanian schools. However, the refugees, like other non-Jordanian residents, may not work or even acquire work permits. This has resulted in the exploitation of illegal day laborers and people working under-the-table, menial jobs. Many Iraqi refugees living in Jordan have been resettled into Western nations, including the United States, but thousands still await resettlement.
For unmarried or otherwise single women, life is more difficult and complex. Due to social stigmas, women without husbands require other male family members to serve as protectors (from the male dominated society). If they are past marriageable age, these vulnerable women can be approached by any man, and are often mistaken for prostitutes.
N., and S., (who do not want their faces or names published), are two Sunni Muslim unmarried sisters who fled to Amman in 1997 with their brother and parents. The family faced persecution from the then-ruling Baath Party. In addition, N. has multiple serious and chronic illnesses, and, due to U.S. sanctions on Iraq, was forced to seek medical care outside of the country. The sisters can recall the Iran-Iraq war from the time they were children: bullets pummeling their school, the windows blacked out.
The parents of the two women died in 1999 and 2005, and in 2003, their brother returned to their home in Basra. As registered refugees, together they receive 100 Jordanian dinars (about $140) per month. Their rent, in a poor Jordanian neighborhood, is 50 JD per month. They have lived in their one-bedroom apartment for 11 years. At one time they were able to visit with friends in the evenings, but now most of their friends have been resettled elsewhere.
"We keep to ourselves," says S. "It’s not normal here [in Jordan] to live on our own [without husbands]." The sisters do not travel much even within Jordan without male accompaniment, and, as a result, they rarely leave their one-bedroom apartment where they spend their days mostly watching television. They express feeling far more stress and tension in their lives than almost a decade ago, when their brother was able to accompany them in public.
N. is cared for in a free clinic for her illnesses, which include Type 1 diabetes and pancreatic duct malfunction from a botched surgical operation in Iraq. She also has severe arthritis and eye problems, among other issues. She is treated at the clinic four days out of seven. Her medical records were destroyed during the war. She needs, as her official medical status puts it, "regular follow-up and special care" for her chronic illnesses.
N. has already been turned down for resettlement by the United States. Despite the difficulties they face, the sisters are optimistic, and continue to hold out hope that a different Western country will accept them so they can resume, or rather begin a normal life.