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For some Iraqi war refugees, business is booming

Better security and infrastructure have created new opportunities for some of the 250,000 war refugees still living in Jordan.

By Nicholas SeeleyContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / June 11, 2008

Escapist: After fleeing Iraq in 2005 for Jordan, Ali Hussein al-Hassona (r.) invested about $70,000 to open a movie and sports hobby shop.

Nicholas Seeley

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Amman, Jordan

When Ali Hussein al-Hassona found out his father had been shot, he decided he'd had enough of Baghdad. Like thousands of Iraqis in 2005, he moved his family – including his father, who survived – to Amman.

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Oxford-educated and a former basketball player, Mr. Hassona took advantage of the move to turn an old enthusiasm into a job. He sank 50,000 Jordanian dinars of personal investment (about $70,000) into opening Jordan's first film and sports collectibles shop, Unnecessary Necessity.

Now giant busts of Sauron, from The Lord of the Rings, and statuettes from X-Men and The Matrix glower from his display cases at shoppers in the gleaming white corridors of one of Amman's most upscale malls. Hassona's business is booming – he has partnered with a Jordanian investor to open another, larger, store and his store now offers wireless Internet and online shopping assistance.

Though the media has focused on the plight of the poorest displaced Iraqis, they are only part of the story. For others, Jordan's security, infrastructure, and open investment climate have created an opportunity.

The only large-scale quantitative survey of Iraqis in Jordan, done in mid-2007 by the Norwegian nongovernmental organization Fafo in collaboration with Jordan's government, found that Jordan wasn't hosting as many Iraqis as once thought – probably less than 250,000.

More than half the Iraqis surveyed by Fafo said they had valid residence permits, meaning they can legally stay in Jordan, which makes it easier to find work, and 21.5 percent said they were employed – compared with 35 percent among Jordanians, according to official figures.

In an increasingly tough economic climate, Iraqi cash, labor, and investment are playing one small part in keeping Jordan's economy strong amid a global economic slowdown.

"The Jordanian economy is doing well, especially in light of the global situation," says Aasim Husain, assistant director of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Middle East and Central Asia department.

A major reason for this has been the cushioning effect of foreign cash and investment, economists say. Foreign investment in Jordan has grown from less than $100 million in mid-2002 to more than $3 billion in 2006, according to (IMF) figures. This, along with foreign investment in the stock market, has been a key factor in financing Jordan's large deficits and building up its currency reserves.

While most of this investment comes from Arab Gulf states, Iraqi refugees – who fled Iraq with as much of their life savings as they could – play a role, too, says Mr. Husain.

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