AMMAN - Due to the fragile security situation in Iraq, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is not encouraging Iraqis in Jordan to return to their homeland, but it is ready to help those who are determined to do so, according to Imran Riza, UNHCR representative in Jordan.
"We still need to make a thorough evaluation of the situation before we can say it is safe [for them] to return. We are not in a position to encourage Iraqis to leave Jordan, but we are ready to help those who desire to do so," said Riza, who noted that the number of Iraqis returning to their country from Jordan is very small, in contrast to Syria where thousands of Iraqi asylum seekers are returning every day.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, more than two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries, with Jordan (500,000-750,000) and Syria (1.2-1.4 million) hosting the greatest numbers.
Recent figures issued by UNHCR in Syria show that more Iraqis are leaving (1,500 a day) than entering (500 a day) the country.
As far as the Iraqi government is concerned, the return from Syria can be attributed to an improved security situation in Baghdad and other cities, but aid agencies say strict immigration rules and difficult financial conditions abroad were the catalysts propelling this movement.
Iraqis in Jordan better off
In contrast, the majority of Iraqis in Jordan are well off with established businesses in Amman and other main cities. The Jordanian government allows Iraqis to own property and invest in the stock market.
The fact that most Iraqi asylum seekers in Jordan are Sunnis makes it difficult for them to return, according to members of the Iraqi community.
"Sectarian violence remains the biggest threat for us because relatives in Baghdad say the Shia militias have not stopped random killings of Sunnis," said a Sunni Iraqi businessman from Rabia in Amman, who wished to be identified only by his first name, Samer.
In busy downtown Amman, where the majority of middle class Iraqis live, travel agents who organise land trips between Amman and Baghdad say it is business as usual.
Empty cabs to Baghdad
"We have not noticed any change in the pattern of travellers from Amman to Baghdad. More people come with us to Amman than those who leave," said Ali Salem, a 42-year-old taxi driver who has been travelling between the two capitals on a 700km desert road for nearly 10 years.
Salem said most taxi and bus drivers head to the Iraqi capital with few passengers if any, but hoping to profit on the return trip from the war-torn country.
Saad Hayani, Iraqi ambassador to Amman, told IRIN that there are no signs of mass departure of Iraqis from Jordan.
"Our government is working on stabilising the situation [in Iraq], but for the time being we have not noticed unusual movement of people from Amman to Iraq," said Hayani, adding that most of those who go to Iraq are businessmen making frequent round trips between the countries. He said the Iraqi embassy would help any family wanting to return to Baghdad by providing them with free tickets and other facilities.