Jordan: Guests, brothers -- not refugees

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center
Amman, Jordan

Since arriving here earlier this week, I've heard several estimates of the number of Iraqis living in Jordan.

At the Iraqi Embassy today, I was told the population is no larger than 200,000. The number used by the Jordanian government, which is based on a survey completed last year by the FAFO Institute for Applied International Studies of Norway, is between 450,000 and 500,000.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Salaheddin Al-Bashir told me today that an internal government exercise indicated the number is closer to 600,000. The population of Jordan is 6 million.

"It's like having 30 million in the United States," Bashir said.

However many they number, Jordan considers the Iraqis guests, not refugees. This small, water-poor country already is home to 2 million Palestinians, and the government has been reluctant to accept another refugee population.

"Having our Iraqi brothers in Jordan puts a significant challenge to our infrastructure and our public services," Bashir said. "We have done our best to make sure that we provide services to our Iraqi brothers in education and health through the general infrastructure and general services that serve our children. The schools and hospitals. But also that puts a burden on us."