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Six years after Iraq invasion, Jordan still playing host to thousands of Iraqi refugees

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"An interesting trend is that there are still new arrivals from Iraq," says Rafiq Tschannen, the chief of mission in Amman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). "And contrary to the first arrivals, we see people going to live in villages instead of Amman, where the cost of living is high. These refugees have less money and they look to the cheapest villages they can find."

While the couple have stuck to Amman, they live – albeit illegally – in a quiet, working-poor neighborhood of the capital called Mahata. They are hardly able to come up with the rent of about $150 a month because neither of them is permitted to work. Mohammed, Raida's husband, sleeps by day and works by night in whatever menial labor he can find. But at least the oldest two of their four children – 10-year-old Qusay and 9-year-old Latifa – are in school. No explosions, no disappearances, no menacing notes under the door.

Jordan is first stop for refugees

The UNHCR says that 4.7 million Iraqis have left their homes since the war began, up from 3.8 million two years ago. Iraqis are the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe. And whatever their dreams – making a new life in the West or waiting out the worst until Iraq becomes livable again – Iraqi refugees generally land first on Jordan's doorstep.

It is almost impossible to estimate how many Iraqis are now living in Jordan, immigration officials say, because the vast majority of them are undocumented. FAFO, a Norwegian group, gave the estimate of a half-a-million Iraqis living in Jordan in its last study, but others say that number was has receded, due to acceptance for resettlement in other countries. The UNHCR says in its most recent report that more than 54,000 Iraqis are registered with them as refugees in Jordan, compared with more than 221,000 in neighboring Syria.

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