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Linda Nader (red coat) and Marian Abrow play during recess at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan. MCC supports the church with grants for the informal school. Many of the children are Iraqi Christians whose families fled Iraq due to war. Melissa Engle

Linda Nader (red coat) and Marian Abrow play during recess at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan. MCC supports the church with grants for the informal school. Many of the children are Iraqi Christians whose families fled Iraq due to war. Melissa Engle

Young Iraqi dreams of giving refugees like her a voice

Gladys Terichow
February 21, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan—Merna Chamoun wants to pursue a career as a journalist so that she can share the stories of people like her who have fled their homes in Iraq because of the ongoing violence.

Chamoun, 15, left Baghdad two years ago after her two brothers were kidnapped. She was taken in by her sister who lives in Jordan. Since then her parents, brothers and one sister-in-law have also fled Baghdad and now live with her sister in Jordan.

“After all I saw in Baghdad I don’t want to go back,” said Chamoun, adding her family would like to rebuild their lives in either Germany or the U.S. where they have relatives.

The Chamoun family is among half a million Iraqis who have found refuge in Jordan —a country that considers Iraqis temporary residents as they wait in limbo for the situation to stabilize in Iraq or resettle in another country.

The family finds support and solace through their involvement in a local Christian congregation started in 2002 by the Chaldean Catholic Church of Baghdad in response to the needs of the Iraqi refugee community in Jordan. Chaldeans are descendents of the first Christian communities in Iraq.

Supported by MCC and other partner organizations, the church provides a variety of services and programs, including youth programs, Sunday School classes, after-school and other education programs for children and youth, training programs for adults, health services and humanitarian aid.

Chamoun’s mother and one of her brothers worked in Iraq for a French-based company and one brother worked for a U.S.-based company. Her brothers, she said, were kidnapped by militant gangs who considered them “traitors” because they were working for foreign-based companies.

The militant groups released her brothers but they continued to send threatening letters. The brothers were kidnapped in two separate incidents. One brother was released when a $30,000 ransom was paid and the other brother was released without ransom.

On her last day of school, a bomb exploded in the school five minutes after the students were dismissed. Students ran away in fear as the glass shattered from the explosion. The church she attended in Baghdad was bombed twice and she could not go to church.

When Chamoun fled to Jordan in 2005, Iraqi children did not have access to Jordanian schools. In 2007 new legislation was passed in Jordan that gives all Iraqi children in Jordan access to Jordanian schools. Chamoun is now in Grade 9 in a public school. She is also a volunteer in church-run educational programs for children.

Her family’s story, she said, is similar to many stories of families who have fled Iraq since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. “When I am a journalist I can help them by bringing their voice to other people,” she said.

About 25,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Jordan, said Father Raymond Moussalli, who was assigned by the Chaldean Catholic Church as Patriarchal Vicar of the Amman church.

“Where is the plan for peace in Iraq?” he asked. “Christians want to live in Iraq but without peace we can’t go back.”

The lack of peaceful options to deal with conflicts in Iraq has resulted in a vicious and continuing cycle of violence that has uprooted and displaced about 4.4 million people. About 2.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes for safer areas within Iraq while an additional two million have fled to neighbouring countries, particularly Syria and Jordan. It is estimated one in every six Iraqis has fled to seek safety.