Iraqi refugees in Jordan find healing, hope at medical clinic

by Mark Kelly — BP


AMMAN, Jordan — The child, Mohammed, was too small for his age. Dr. Amy* knew that the fragile-looking toddler wasn't getting enough to eat.

Mohammed, his mother and grandmother, Mama Faiza*, step cautiously into Hope Clinic, a free medical service located in the basement of an evangelical church in Amman, Jordan. The two women slowly survey the room.

Because they are Iraqi refugees in Jordan, they expect they will not be welcome.

When a nurse greets them with a warm smile, Mama Faiza becomes fearful and hesitantly asks, "Is there something wrong?"

Kindness was the last thing she expected.

"Life for Iraqi refugees in Jordan is far from easy," says Dr. Amy, who has worked at the clinic for 12 years. "After their initial three-month visa runs out, they are in the country illegally. Iraqis do not qualify for refugee status. Being in the country illegally means they cannot work. Whatever little cushion of savings they brought with them gets used up for living expenses. Not being recognized as refugees also means they have to find their own housing and often are taken advantage of, having to pay far too much for derelict apartments. Some find work illegally, but always run the risk of being rounded up by the police and deported back to Iraq."

The clinic's all-volunteer staff says that when patients discover they are going to be treated like human beings loved by God, they sometimes say, "You are the only people who have ever treated us as something more than dogs."

Subsisting on handouts

Mama Faiza is no exception. Her family had gotten along well enough in Jordan because her husband was Palestinian, but when he died, they were evicted from their rented apartment. Eventually the family of 13 wound up living in a tent that they moved from one empty field to another. They subsisted on handouts and whatever food they could scavenge.

As they enter the clinic, the staff sees they are disheveled, dirty and reeking of wood smoke. Their leathered skin tells them the family has been living in the elements for some time.

Mama Faiza tells the nurse she has a history of diabetes but stopped taking her medicines long ago because she couldn't afford them. Her wrinkled face breaks into a wide smile when she hears the clinic can provide the medicine she needs for free.

"At Hope Clinic, we treat people like these Iraqi refugees who cannot afford to go to medical services they have to pay for," Dr. Amy says. "Most of our patients have chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension or heart diseases. For many, not taking their medication means a quick deterioration of health, with death following. Having our clinic provide the necessary medicines is life-saving for many of the people we see."

Hope Clinic started in 1991 to offer medical care to Iraqis fleeing the Gulf War. In 1998, a team of medical volunteers began serving there, and the clinic slowly expanded its patient base. Today, Jordanians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Yemenis, Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians and other North Africans receive outpatient family medicine, optometry, physical therapy and prenatal care. In approximately 3,600 patient visits a year, clinic staff members help refugees and other people in need experience firsthand the love of God that brings hope for new life.

‘Hands and feet’

In a predominantly Muslim country like Jordan, evangelical believers naturally pull together to "be the hands and feet of Jesus" to people in need, says Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response.

"Many people in the world, especially refugees, struggle just to survive from one day to the next," Palmer says. "They are foreigners in strange lands. Their presence often is resented by locals who also are struggling to eke out a living for their families in the midst of harsh poverty. When Christians show these refugees the love of God that heals and transforms, it's like rain in the desert. They soak it up, and their gratitude to God — and those who gave them the help — overflows."

Staff members say Christians and Muslims alike come to the clinic just to ask for prayer. In a harsh world, a kind smile and gentle touch brings its own kind of healing.

Mama Faiza is deeply moved by her experience at the clinic that day.

Earlier that very day, a friend of the clinic had dropped off a box full of warm winter clothes, so family also received two bags full of clothing in addition to the badly needed medicines.

As Mama Faiza prepares to leave, she reaches out to the doctor, gently pulls her head toward hers, and kisses her.


*Names changed to protect identities.

Published, June 2012
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