Cablegate: Congresswoman Mccollum Discusses Impact of Iraqi Refugees

DE RUEHAM #4793/01 3400710
P 060710Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified; please protect accordingly. Not for
distribution outside the USG.

Refs: A) Amman 4773; B) Amman 4738; C) Amman 4693

1. (SBU) Summary: During the November 24-27 visit to Jordan of
Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), Government of Jordan (GOJ)
officials described the strain that approximately 500,000 Iraqis
have been placing on the Jordanian infrastructure. All stressed
that while Jordan has opened up public services to Iraqis living in
Jordan, the GOJ does not want to create a separate, parallel system
for fear of deterring eventual resettlement. McCollum also met with
UN agencies and international NGOs, visited the home of an Iraqi
family, and visited a public secondary school with 100 Iraqi
school-girls. End Summary.

GOJ Claims Iraqis Putting Pressure on Infrastructure
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (U) In a November 25 meeting, Congresswoman McCollum and
Ambassador Hale congratulated the new Education Minister Tayseer
al-Nueimi, who had just been sworn into office hours earlier by King
Abdullah (Ref C). Nueimi opened the meeting by thanking the U.S.
for support of Jordan's educational reform program. He gave an
overview of upcoming educational priorities, including creation of a
productive learning environment, simplification of testing
procedures, construction of new schools, integration of Information
Communication Technology (ICT), and deepening the qualitative impact
of reform.

3. (SBU) Addressing McCollum's interest in how Jordan's education
system responded to the Iraqi refugee situation, Nueimi said that
24,000 students had been enrolled in Jordanian schools to date.
Despite assistance from USAID, UNICEF, and UNHCR, he claimed the
Iraqi students were putting additional pressure on the Jordanian
educational system, requiring more teachers, labs, and
infrastructure. He stressed that Jordan did not want to create any
parallel system for these students. Nueimi also noted that Jordan
had made available non-formal education programs, including evening
classes and home study opportunities. He welcomed any opportunities
for additional assistance and expanding educational exchange
programs, particularly for higher education.

4. (SBU) During a November 26 meeting, Minister of Planning and
International Cooperation Suhair al-Ali, who was reappointed to this
ministry in the new government, elaborated on the pressures that
Iraqi refugees have been placing on Jordan. Ali referred to the
recent study by the Norwegian research institute Fafo in cooperation
with the GOJ Department of Statistics that concluded the number of
Iraqis in Jordan was between 450,000 - 500,000, but added that the
reluctance of some Iraqis to reveal their presence might mean the
number is understated (Ref A).

5. (SBU) Ali said that the GOJ has shown Jordanian hospitality to
Iraqis and offered all services to them, who now comprise
approximately nine percent of Jordan's population. She elaborated
that this has not been easy for a country with a poverty rate of
over 13 percent, unemployment of 14 percent, scarce water resources,
a budget deficit, and current account deficit of over 15 percent of
GDP, even after elimination of subsidies. Highlighting figures in
the Fafo report, she noted that 22 percent of the Iraqi adults in
Jordan are working - mostly in construction, painting or services -
thereby taking away jobs from Jordanians. Of particular concern,
she said, was that a significant percentage of those Iraqis surveyed
did not want to leave Jordan. NOTE: The Fafo report concluded 95
percent of those interviewed did not want to leave Jordan before the
security situation in Iraq allowed for their return. END NOTE.

6. (SBU) McCollum commended Jordan's efforts in assisting Iraqis,
particularly in allowing children to enter public schools. She
noted that Congress would be exploring the possibility of a
supplemental to help with the Iraqi refugee situation, and
encouraged the GOJ to provide additional input on needs through the
Embassy. She also said she respected Jordan's decision to call the
Iraqi refugees "guests," but then asked under what laws such
individuals were provided protection, given they would not qualify
under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Ali did not have an answer, but
said she would raise it with the Prime Minister. Ambassador Hale
also urged the GOJ to give the Iraqis legal residency, as many still
harbor unfounded fears of being deported on the basis of illegal
alien status even though the GOJ policy is to deport only on
security grounds (Ref B).

7. (SBU) Nawaf Eltal, Director of the Negotiations Coordination
Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed similar views
during a November 25 meeting with McCollum that the influx of Iraqis
has overstretched Jordan's infrastructure. He suggested that any
programs to address the issue of Iraqis in Jordan should be

AMMAN 00004793 002 OF 002

temporary, in order to encourage resettlement in Iraq.
Eltal noted that in some cases Iraqis get better treatment than
Jordanian citizens. For example, he said a Jordanian child going to
a public school must pay $115/year for books and other materials,
but an Iraqi child pays nothing. NOTE: UNICEF has provided a $1.3
million grant to the GOJ to help cover the school fees and costs of
materials for Iraqi children in Jordan. END NOTE.

8. (SBU) Eltal acknowledged, however, that it is in Jordan's
interest to have the Iraqi children in school, as the Jordanian
vaccination system is linked to the educational system, which helps
control disease. He said that tuberculosis had reemerged in Jordan,
which he attributed to the new Iraqi population. The UNHCR
Representative in Jordan, Imran Riza, also mentioned in a separate
meeting that UNHCR has seen high rates of cancer, diabetes, and
heart disease in Iraqi refugees in Jordan, and was working with
Jordanian institutions, such as the King Hussein Cancer Foundation,
to see what sort of health care can be provided and on what terms.

UN and International NGOs

9. (U) McCollum also met with representatives from UNAMI, UNICEF,
Jordan's Red Crescent Society, International Catholic Migration
Commission (ICMC), Caritas, International Organization for Migration
(IOM), Save the Children, Mercy Corps, Care, and International
Medical Corps. The agencies each described their efforts to
register, resettle, and address the educational, health, and
physical needs of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

10. (SBU) One striking theme across meetings was that the exact
number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan remains elusive. Most opined
that the truth probably rested between Fafo's original estimate of
161,000 and the final 500,000 figure. In particular, the fact that
only 24,000 Iraqi students - rather than the 50,000 expected -
registered in Jordanian schools this past year continued to cast
doubt on the higher estimates. Explanations included students not
being registered for fear of deportation, kids working to help
support their families, or some children not qualifying for entry
after having been out of the school system for 2-3 years, which has
led to home schooling projects. At least one international worker
speculated that Jordan preferred the higher estimates as
justification for requesting more money.

11. (SBU) All acknowledged the efforts of the GOJ to deal with the
impact of the refugees in Jordan, given the strain on the Jordanian
economy and the political sensitivity of accepting another refugee
population. UNHCR Representative Riza said that the response of the
international community was late, but efforts have now escalated.
He noted that UNHCR's budget for Jordan was under $3 million in
2006, but increased to $40 million in 2007. As of November 25,
UNHCR Jordan has registered over 50,000 Iraqis, and referred 7,500
for resettlement, with the U.S. being the largest resettlement

Home and School Visits

12. (SBU) In addition to visiting the small, rundown home of an
Iraqi refugee family in the Hashimiyah area of Amman, McCollum
toured the public Bint Adi Secondary School for Girls in Amman,
where 100 Iraqi students had registered this past year. She
observed firsthand the overcrowded classrooms of 50 girls or more,
the integration of ICT in the schools' computer labs, and areas of
new construction being supported by the USG with FY07 supplemental
assistance. She was also introduced discretely to a handful of the
Iraqi students, who spoke positively about their learning
experiences in the Jordanian school.

13. (U) Congresswoman McCollum cleared this message.

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