Iraqis in asylum limbo in Jordan fashion their future


In a church in Jordan, Sarah Nael sewed a shirt for a project that gave skills to earn a living for scores of women fleeing violence in neighboring Iraq.

Many of the women fled the extreme violence perpetrated by the Islamic State group’s self-declared “caliphate” across Iraq and Syria, before eventually ending up in Jordan — where they were work.

“Life here is very difficult — if we don’t work, we can’t survive,” said Nael, a 25-year-old Christian from the town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, who joined the “Rafedin” sewing project. two years ago.

It is based at the Catholic church of St. Joseph in the capital city of Amman, Jordan.

Italian priest Mario Cornioli started the project in 2016, together with Italian designers and tailors.

The products, including dresses, jackets, belts and ties, are sold in Amman and Italy to raise money.

For refugees, who do not have to look for regular work, the project offers them a way to supplement leaflets from the United Nations.

“It’s a safe place,” said Nael, who is taught how to create clothes from cloth and leather, while her brother helps in the church’s kitchen. “We are Iraqis. We are forbidden to work anywhere.”

– Insecurity of asylum –

Since the project began, more than 120 women have benefited from it.

“We try to help them with dignity,” said Cornioli, who runs the Habibi Valtiberina Association, an Italian charity in Jordan.

“Many are the only ones working in their families.”

On the tables in the rooms of the church building, there are colorful rolls of cloth ready to be cut.

Cornioli hopes the fashion label “Rafedin” — which means “two rivers”, the historical term for Iraq between the Euphrates and Tigris — will be widely recognizable.

For the pastor, the aim is to make the project “self-sustainable” to provide more training to women in need.

Although a US-led coalition forced IS extremists out of their territory in Iraq in late 2017, many of the refugees in Jordan are still too afraid to go back to their war-torn home.

Many of them are still waiting for their asylum applications to be processed which is very slow for other countries.

“This project gave them an opportunity to do something and live in this period,” said Cornioli. “They are just waiting to leave.”

– ‘An opportunity to learn’ –

Nael and her family returned home after IS was defeated in 2017, but left again after being subjected to anonymous threats, eventually seeking safety in Amman.

Their application for asylum in Australia was rejected.

“My father is old, and my mother has cancer,” she said, but she said that going back to Iraq was out of the question. “We have nothing left there to return to.”

Diana Nabil, 29, worked as an accountant in Iraq before fleeing to Jordan in 2017 with her parents and aunt, hoping to join her sister in Australia.

During her stay, she studied how to sew fabric and leather.

“Some of our relatives help us financially, and sometimes the United Nations helps us a little,” said Nabil. “With my work here, we are managing.”

Cornioli said the project offers “an opportunity to learn something”, referring to the “success stories” of some of the women who have since left Jordan and are now working in Australia, Canada and the United States.

Wael Suleiman, head of the Catholic aid agency Caritas in Jordan, estimated that there are up to 13,000 Christian refugees from Iraq in the country.

“They hope to find asylum and a holiday in a third country, but in light of what is happening in the world now, it seems that the doors are closed to them,” said Suleiman.

“They are afraid of the future, and no one can blame them for that.”

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