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Archbishop: Jordan needs to let Iraqi refugees work

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VATICAN CITY -- Jordan needs to enact legal reforms that would allow Iraqi refugees to work and establish some kind of economic security, said the president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

Iraqi refugees in Jordan "are considered to be temporary visitors who do not have a clear legal status," said Archbishop Antonio Veglio.

As a result, it is increasingly difficult for them to renew their visas and to find work legally, he said in a written speech released to journalists March 17. The archbishop was to deliver the speech during a meeting in Amman March 18 with Catholic organizations working in Jordan.

The legal limbo that Iraqi refugees find themselves in means their economic situation is "precarious" as they struggle to pay rent, buy food and procure medical treatment, he said in his address.

"Many of them find themselves in poverty," and it's heartbreaking to see families who are still traumatized by the violence they escaped in Iraq to then be "dehumanized" by their treatment in a new country, he wrote.

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By having few legal means for seeking employment, children and adults risk being exploited, including falling into prostitution or being forced to return to Iraq, the archbishop wrote.

"It would be an improvement if a temporary legal framework for the protection of refugees could be established so that the possibility exists that work can be done without fear of arrest or forced return," he wrote in English.

Jordan, whose population numbers 6.5 million people, hosts about 500,000 Iraqi refugees.

Archbishop Veglio told the Catholic organizations, including Jesuit Refugee Service and Caritas, which work with migrants and refugees, that they can be "a precious instrument in affording migrants not only material and spiritual support," but also giving newcomers a chance to share and become active participants in realizing their full human potential.

"However, Catholic charitable organizations in serving have frequently become dependent on certain non-Catholic resources for their funding," he wrote.

"There is a risk for the charitable organizations to become 'donor driven' and not 'mission driven'" when they start listening only to the voices of the donors and adjust their policies as a result, he wrote.

The competition for available funds also adds to the danger that Catholic organizations could try to appease donors and "can put their identity into question," he added.

Catholic associations must try to address all the needs of refugees and migrants, including their spiritual needs, he wrote.

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