More than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees have sought refuge in neighboring countries, particularly in Syria and Jordan, and Jesuit Refugee Service has opened projects in these countries to accompany and serve this population and their many needs.
Many of the Iraqi refugees are highly skilled workers — 40% of Iraq’s professionals have fled the country since 2003 — but typically refugees have no legal right to work in the surrounding countries to which they have fled. They thus attempt to rely on previous savings, humanitarian assistance, or under-the-table income in jobs that do not allow them to use their professional skills. It is common for engineers and medical doctors to work as janitors and cooks, for example.
The impact on families is significant. Previous breadwinners may have died in Iraq, and parents experience great frustration in not being able to provide for their families. Many Iraqi children have left school in order to assist their families through jobs in manual labor that are frequently not available for adults over the age of 40.
Some of these displaced Iraqis have been able to settle in a third country like the United States, though difficulties frequently continue. Not only must they adjust to an unfamiliar culture and frequently a new language, but even with official refugee status and a legal right to work, finding jobs, particularly in their former white-collar professions, is often extremely difficult.