Rights group welcomes progress for Iraqis in Jordan

But Human Rights Watch points out that the 750,000 displaced persons are still being denied refugee status.

iraq bomb victim 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
iraq bomb victim 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
A New York-based human rights group Wednesday welcomed Jordan's pledge to grant some 750,000 displaced Iraqis educational and health rights but pointed out that they are still being denied refugee status. Earlier this month, Jordan's Ministry of Education announced that for the first time it would open up public schools to Iraqi children, regardless of whether they possess a residency permit or not. "It is commendable that Jordanian officials are recognizing the rights of all children to education and the rights of all people, regardless of legal status, to basic health care," said Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch in a statement. "But Jordan is blocking the entry of most Iraqis attempting to flee the violence in their country and is unwilling to recognize that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis living in Jordan are, in fact, refugees," he added. In the past, Iraqi children could only attend government schools if their parents had a residency permit or paid private school fees - a serious strain on the finances of the largely unemployed Iraqis. Some 50,000 Iraqi students are expected to attend Jordanian public schools which open Sunday, according to education ministry official Mohammed Okour. In their statement, Human Rights watch estimated that there were some 200,000 school-age Iraqi children in the country, of which only 10 percent attended classes last year. Jordan and Syria host the largest proportion of the more than 2 million displaced Iraqis and complain of the increasing burden on their health and education infrastructure. Smaller numbers of Iraqis are sheltering in Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. Jordan is trying to determine the exact number, composition and economic cost of the displaced Iraqis with assistance from the Norwegian-based Fafo Foundation. A small desert country, Jordan officially already hosts some 1.7 million Palestinians displaced not only in the Arab-Israeli wars, but also from Kuwait following the 1990 Gulf War. Human Rights Watch accused Jordan of "virtually closing its borders and, with few exceptions, not allowing Iraqis to enter the country." Traffic at the once-busy Karama crossing between the two countries has practically disappeared in recent months, according to witnesses. The rights organization added that Jordan routinely turned back most Iraqis at the borders or airport without interviewing them to determine whether they are fleeing persecution. Jordanian officials could not be reached for comment. But Jordan has recently admitted to tightening entry to Iraqis after al-Qaida in Iraq militants killed 60 people in a triple hotel blast in Amman on November 2005.