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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Iraqi refugees under secret police threat
Amman skyline
Iraqi secret agents operate in Amman, Jordan's capital

While Western countries are debating war to topple Saddam Hussein, are they doing enough to protect the Iraqi refugees who have fled from persecution? File On 4's Julian O'Halloran reports from Jordan.

Jebel Hussein - a busy, bustling shopping and residential area in Jordan's capital, Amman - is strongly identified with a huge Iraqi population.

Iraqis have been crossing the border into Jordan since the Gulf War, 11 years ago. Last year, 1,900 were granted official refugee status.

It is a community widely believed to be riddled with secret agents from Saddam Hussein's regime so most Iraqis will not talk about the reasons why they left their country.


There is a journalist we all know - they kidnapped him from Amman, covered him, took him to the border and executed him.

Iraqi refugee
But at a small apartment building I met Abbas, a merchant who paid hundreds of dollars for a new identity to get himself and his wife and children out of Iraq.

He said two of his friends had been executed for alleged political activity and that the Mukhabarat or secret police ordered him to murder a third man.

"The secret service had asked me to kill a certain person and when I refused life became very difficult.

"They threatened to jail me and I finally had to find a way out.

Invisible spies

"We really fear the Iraqi Mukhabarat a lot here because there are so many of them. They have the ability to kidnap or even to kill."

Each day, small groups of Iraqis gather outside the Amman offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

One woman aged about 40, too frightened to give her name, told us she had been granted refugee status more than a year ago by the UNHCR.

Although her papers had been passed on to Canada, she was still awaiting a decision and living in fear of Iraqi spies in Jordan.

Jordan map
She said: "From the day the Canadian delegation took my papers I haven't been told what's happening to me. I have three kids.

"Once when I was downtown the Iraqi intelligence tried to catch me. I am scared for my life and my kids' lives.

"I have asked for protection. This is an issue of security - I am threatened."

A man next to her in the queue outside the UN offices had been accepted by the USA but said he had been living in fear and uncertainty for months.

"It's been a year and a half and I have not met the Americans yet," he said.

"The problem is with the delegation. The UN did everything they could but the delegation did not come to meet us.

Long delays

"I am very threatened. I don't go downtown.

He claimed the penalty for any political activist was execution.

"There is a journalist we all know - they kidnapped him from Amman, covered him, took him to the border and executed him."

Peter Kessler of the UNHCR says one problem is that very few countries offer resettlement to refugees who are in danger.

Those who are accepted now face extended delays after the terrorist attacks on America last year.

"Unfortunately, ever since 11 September last year, people who were approved for resettlement over a year ago are stuck in limbo, waiting for their security clearances to go through so they can travel.

"For those people it's a very painful, slow wait."

Listen to this edition of File On 4 on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 BST on Tuesday 15 October


Click here to visit the File on 4 website
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Middle East
11 Feb 02 | Middle East
18 Sep 00 | Middle East
17 Feb 00 | Middle East
28 Feb 02 | Middle East
28 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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