Beyond Borders: Bloggers Face Off Over Jordanian Treatment Of Iraqi Travellers

August 15, 2007

By Mohamed Nanabhay via Global Voices

The treatment of Iraqis at the Jordan’s Queen Alia Airport has triggered a storm in the Middle Eastern blogosphere. What at first seemed to be a straight forward story of refugees being ill-treated by their neighbour’s security guards has spawned into a Pan-Arab spat (the type of which is normally reserved for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict).

It all started with a post by Mohammed, a 25-year-old Iraqi dentist on his blog “Last of Iraqis“. More of a short story than a blog post, Mohammed describes a story of love, war, deception, agony, humiliation and hope.

He braved Sadr City and lied his way into getting “sick note” from a doctor, then lied to his boss so he could take his wife on a vacation to Amman, Jordan. And that’s where our story begins:

“…In the Jordanian airport we waited in hall to meet the intelligence officer, who will decide whether we can enter Jordan or not, I wasn’t afraid and didn’t worry because I used to go to Amman every summer, and so did my wife.”

After being question by Intelligence and a long wait he was told that he couldn’t enter Jordan

“..then an officer came to us and told us that we aren’t going to enter Amman in the most humiliating way of speaking , and walked away I tried to talk to him but he closed the door in my face…..I was so angry of the way he treated us , we are locked in a small room now , and my wife is scared of closed places , she was so scared and she began to cry hysterically I felt that she will die if she staid like this and again there was nothing I can do , this really makes me hate my self when I can do nothing , I knocked on the door many times but no one answered , it’s like a prison , I shouted : don’t let us in , just let us out , get us back to Iraq , I don’t want to be humiliated like this…… there was no answer , they just ignored us again.

…all of us were so scared from the idea that we will sleep in a jail for the first time in our lives for no crime we did , just because we are Iraqis , why does everyone treat Iraqis like this , we are humans , we aren’t aliens , we are not animals to be put in jail for no crime”

… all the men had red eyes , they struggled to keep the tears in their eyes , and I was one of them , I don’t know why they were so sad may be some of them for the price of the ticket 644$ which was lost , maybe for the business and opportunity they have lost , but for me it’s for the humiliation and disrespect I have seen , for the way Jordanians treat Iraqis , for the lost chance of seeing our parents

Mohammed was “jailed” with a mother who was not allowed to get new diapers to change her crying baby, a man who had been kidnapped and ransomed and was trying to flee Iraq, a student trying to visit the US Embassy in order to take up a University scholarship in the US and wealthy Iraqis trying to get their money out of Jordanian banks.

To make matters worse, he recalls times when Iraq had allowed Jordanians to come into the country and prosper:

…Now I remember at Saddam’s times when the Jordanian students come to Iraq and study for free and the government gives them flats and pocket money as to encourage the so called “Arab Unity” what a comedy! They have the priority in applying for the universities in Baghdad, Saddam gave Jordan oil and electricity for free, now I was so mad, but I didn’t on whom should I be mad; of Saddam or of Jordanians? Saddam wanted good relations with them so he did that, and that’s the way the treat us, I wish the time could go back, I wish.

Eventually he gets deported back to Iraq and makes his way to Syria where he is enjoying his vacation. I’m not sure if he realises what a storm he has started…

Soon other bloggers started pointing out similar stories that had previously been posted elsewhere. Iraq the Model had a similar experience visiting Amman where he had need to go to the American Embassy to get his visa in order to take up a scholarship in the States:

“An hour passed before I could absorb what happened to me; locked up in a crowded room and just been denied the rare opportunity I had been working on for a year, for no other crime than being Iraqi. There were about forty or fifty of us there at any point and the number went up and down as new arriving flights brought in more unfortunate Iraqis, or departing flights took some of us back home.

It wasn’t the typical scene of impoverished and suffering refugees, but in it’s own way it was painful to watch educated and professional people, doctors, businessmen and even diplomats with their red passports being treated this way; sleeping on the floor and asking for permission from a guard to go to the restroom.”

Zeyad from Healing Iraq learnt that his sister and brother-in-law were also denied entry to Jordan while his father is soon going to attempt the same trip. While Mohammed was denied a vacation and Iraq the Model higher education, Zeyad says that it would cause the breakup of his family:

If he is denied entry then the breakup of my family would be complete, stranded between four countries, and there would be no hope for resettlement in a third country.

In response to a video of Iraqis in the prison he blogged:

This is what has become of Iraqis: beggars on the gates of nations that used to live on our scraps.

Fyrouz recalled her own ordeal where she was travelling with her siblings and young nephew. After being interogated for three hours they were denied access to Amman and then forced to spend approximately 48 hours in the custody centre where the lights were on 24 hours a day. She called claims that the experience had “tortured us mentally” and wondered:

Isn’t it a violation of human rights to keep us in custody for no reason? Is it humanely proper to keep a child in custody for two days without reason? I just wonder.

These stories from Iraqis prompted Silly Bahraini Girl to write a scathing piece on how the Iraqis were treated under the headline “Shame on your Jordan!” saying

This is a story of how one Arab eats the flesh of another Arab.

…And please remember this story every time you see a Jordanian mercenary member of our esteemed police, special guard or defense forces.. for very soon we will be treated with such contempt in our own country…if it isn’t already happening that is.

From the bottom of my heart – shame on you Jordan. Thanks for showing your true face!

Commentators on her blog responded saying that it is unfair that she is blaming the whole of Jordan for these incidents and that she shouldn’t generalise and “insult a whole country“.

That post kicked off a storm and caused Jordanians to pile in with reactions ranging from embarrassment to Xenophobia (coupled with the type of blind nationalism that makes smart people dumb).

Konfused Kid, an Iraqi living in Jordan, nicely sums up the drama in historical terms [spoiler alert!]:

Jordanian: If you don’t like it, get out. This happens everywhere…
Iraqis: We’re giving you oil for (10, 20, 100) years and this is how you repay us? We built you.
Jordanian: Who killed Saddam Hussein? You bastards! (few Pan-Arab tears shed here)
Iraqi: You traitors! We are all Arab (national pan-Arab anthem plays here, but the happy commercial does not end on good terms…)
Jordanian: Shut up, ya balad al-Shiqaq wa Nifaq (Land of Discord & Hypocrisy, the favorite Arab slander of Iraqis, thank you Mr. Hajaj)
Iraqi: Shut up, Qawm Lot (the infamous anicent butt-sex freaks people of the Prophet Lot, unfortunately situated near the Dead Sea.)

When the story started taking off (and in response to Silly Bahraini Girl’s post) Black Iris felt he needed to give a “Jordanian perspective” and pointed out that the incidents were not

…a public policy, nor is it a social element. It’s like the difference between hating Americans and hating American foreign policy. So “shame on Jordan” entails a whole social aspect to it that is as valid as saying “Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist”; he was just a terrorist.

I also want to point out that for those who may be shocked by the “photographic evidence”, that what some have lovingly dubbed a “prison”, well, that’s actually our airport. It’s pretty bad; we know. We have to sit on those same chairs, and don’t even get me started on passport control. If Iraqis were put in a real Jordanian jail, they would have a whole other story to tell.
… I’m sorry that when Iraqis come to Jordan there isn’t a red carpet waiting for them and a palace hall with a golden buffet of exotic fruits. And to expect thousands of people coming in from a war torn country to be given the exact same treatment as that of a tourist, then you must be out of your frikin mind.

He goes on to write that the Iraqis are putting a strain on Jordan’s economy:

This is a country of about 5.6 million people that has extremely limited resources. We are in the top 10 list of countries in the world with the least water resources.In 4 years we’ve had just about 1 million Iraqis come into the country. One million.

They don’t live in refugee camps they live in urban areas, predominantly the capital Amman, which is home to about 2.3 million Jordanians. In other words, nearly one third of the city is Iraqi.

Most Jordanians make about 150JDs ($211) per month. With Iraqis in the country (and their high level of consumption) inflation is at a record high for Jordan, with purchasing power virtually eroding that 150JDs to dust. Most Jordanians are poorer than they were 5 years ago before the war started.

Food prices have gone up. The most common staple, tomatoes, have gone from 30piasters to 70piasters in only 2-3 years. Petrol has increased, as has electricity and water (for those who still manage to get it pumped to their home once a week). Natural gas, which pretty much keep Jordanians alive by either heating their bodies or their food, has gone from roughly 2JDs to about 4.25JDs. Universities classrooms are growing larger and larger, as will our public schools this year (which are already ailing), now that Iraqi children will be allowed to enter, regardless of their parent’s residency status.

Not to mention the burden on other infrastructure that includes sewage, waste disposal, health, education, roads, government services and yes, our security apparatus.

Made in Jordan interprets the influx of Iraqi’s differently and is “ashamed at their behaviour“:

Shortly after the war, Jordan received an influx of Iraqis, that were estimated at around 750,000 in 2005. These Iraqis have helped revitalize the economy, by bringing in more cash, brains and brawls to the country. More real estate development projects popped up, more jobs were created thanks to the hotels, landscape development projects, design firms and publishing houses that were set up by the Iraqis. But these investments came from a small portion of Iraqis. The Iraqis that you don’t read about in the papers, or see in the news, are definitely not happy campers in Jordan. In fact, some of them believe that the Jordanian police really is an extension of Saddam’s brutal regime.

Acknowledging the opportunities and support that Iraq gave to Jordan previously, he writes:

And we really can’t blame them. And honestly, I am ashamed of myself being a Jordanian at this moment. For years, we have been receiving subsidized oil from Iraq, in turn for providing logistical means for Iraq. Try to go way back, in the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel. The Iraqi air force and army stood tall to support Jordan. Even during Saddam’s regime, I personally know many Jordanians who finished their Master’s Degree in Iraq, free of charge. Iraq has long been the symbol of strength, vigor and pride for us as Jordanians and Arabs. Yet, this is how we repay the favor. We publicly warn of a Shiite threat. We start an inquisition roller coaster to hunt down Iraqi Shiites and kick them off to the borders. We do not provide displaced Iraqis with at least a full-refugee status, nor do we embrace them to become Jordanians. We leave Iraqis stranded at the airport for hours, and interrogate them as if they’re scum. While in fact, we are the scum. I still do not get it, but am I seeing a pattern here in the way Arabs treat each other?

…Because, when Iraq was good to us, we were good to them. But when Iraq became weak, we just kicked them while they’re still on the floor. That, is the most purest form of capitalism you could ever get.

Meanwhile, Moey picks up from where Black Iris left off and provides a classic and time tested schoolboy response to a disagreement “If you don’t like it, LEAVE!”. He sends this message to those sympathising with the treatment of the Iraqis in Jordan:

A Message to Iraqis and their fans (sorry, It might be harsh a bit): If you don’t like the way Jordan treats you then get the hell out of it! Yes, you can… there’s Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and many other countries that you can consider home. Help youself!

We are not guilty, we are not disgusting, you need to get a life! and I will never be ashamed to be a Jordanian. God bless jordan, and god bless our security forces, Jordan still has men who will give up their life for our security.

and the question goes to you Silly Bahraini Girl (quoting Batir Wardam), What would happen if we direct 750,000 Iraqis to Bahrain instead of Jordan…

Jordan, I will be back is more tempered and thinks that it is hypocritical for other Arabs to attack the Jordanian security apparatus when they are treated just as badly in their own countries:

It is just amazing to me how we Jordanians always try to be the only ones who are politically correct! I bet that this journalist was strip searched in Iraq, I bet that before he enters the “green zone” his family will be strip searched, but NO, if Jordanians ask him a couple of questions and put them in a room they are low level people (Jordanians)”

Most disturbing was the Facebook group discovered by Konfused Kid which is called I hate Iraqis (152 members so far!) which has a running discussion on “how to kick Iraqi’s out of Jordan” with suggestions such as “any iraqi u c in the street kick thier ass so they can maybe hve a lil respect”.

Of course, other Jordanians were not happy with the way the Iraqis were treated at the border or by the responses from bloggers. Qwaider was one of them and wrote:

I’m really shocked by so many of the responses I’m seeing on this matter. From both sides of the isle. On one side, people are bashing Jordan and Jordanians beyond hell. On the other, Jordanians are being so juvenile and uncivilized in the way they treat the whole matter. Some are in scattered in the middle but those are really a minority.

…If anything, people claiming to talk about Human rights, and Freedom of speech should be ashamed of their positions on what appears to be a very basic violation of human rights.

…That’s where I stand. I’m saying, what happened is sad, and I call for a fact finding committee to conduct a full and open investigation. (And I assure you, my sources tell me that it will happen). We should probably apologize for it, and make it better. Make sure it’s not going to happen again.

…Another extremely outrageous argument is the “Do you expect to be received on a Red carpet or with Rose petals?” and the obvious answer to that is NO, we don’t expect to do that to Iraqis, what they’re asking for is simply to maintain their dignity. And to be treated like human beings. Nothing more, nothing less!

…There you have it! I’m a Jordanian, and I apologize for the Iraqi people for what happened. I hope I represent a segment of the society that has it’s value and not only represent my self.

SugarCubes symapathises on a personal level that the Iraqis had to go through the ordeal at the airport but does not believe Jordan was at fault.

For Natasha Tynes the reactions are an indication of the “tension between these two Arab nations on an individual level seems to be on the rise” and thinks that the international community needs to help Jordan find a way to deal with the influx of refugees. Khalaf from What’s Up in Jordan is also embarrassed at how the issue was dealt with and notes that a polite system for dealing with people who you don’t want already exists – “Consulates and Visas” but

“If it is impossible to establish an embassy or consulate in Iraq, then this situation can not be avoided. Given the problems in Iraq, no responsible government in the world will allow people in without thorough security screening. It is sad, but not as sad as the reality in Iraq.”

Catholic Sunni Shia also provided a blow-by-blow coverage and commentary of the saga.

It seems appropriate to end with the view of an Iraqi who is living in Jordan who tells his own story of moving to Jordan

I was warned by many friends that Jordanians ‘hate our guts’, judging from personal experience, my homeland (and all Arabs, as I found out) exaggerate in terms of racism, so while I tried hard to shrug this off, I nevertheless embraced Jordan with a huge feeling of self-consciousness, eventually I found out that you basically can get your way around here pretty much okay in terms of day-to-day interaction if you respect people and be pleasant with them. It’s hard to exactly describe the love-hate relationship between Arabs of different countries, but it’s best summarized by the Bedouin saying: ‘Me and my brother on my cousin, me and my cousin on the enemy.’

He even blogs a story of respectful Jordanian security:

…the last time I entered Jordan was September 2006 with my grandparents, for the first time I was nervous because of the many rejection stories I have heard, amazingly, it wasn’t me who was the problem but my 84-year old grandfather, who had a FAKE passport, my grandfather’s passport was done in Iraq through a connection, who brought it to him with somebody else’s fingerprints on it, being a stalwart man of principle, Grandpa insisted that he get a clean passport so he can put his own print on it, sure enough, the passport comes a week later, what we didn’t know is that the man who did it (either the connection or the passport officer) had simply ripped the page and replaced it with a new one. Anyway, after being held by intelligence officers for about 15 minutes, they gave him a two-weeks admission notice based on his old age, another thing which might have helped was his serving in the Palestine 1948 war, anyway, my grandfather said that the Jordanian officials were ‘very respectful’…

Finally, putting the whole thing into a pan-Arab perspective he says

…in the larger world, we are all insignificant if we continue to squabble like this. I hope there would be one improbable day when Iraqis, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Palestinians and all realize that those phony classifications are drawn by a map based on a British-French treaty held in 1916.

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