Meet Agnan, a Refugee in Jordan Dreaming of America


Dreaming of an elusive place of peace and promise called California

To read some of the headlines and scan comments in social media, you might think that most of the refugees fleeing the Middle East are young Muslim men from Syria.

The picture is a lot more complicated. In fact, a lot of the refugees are people like Agnan Adnidihad. I met him last spring. Now, I’d like you to meet him too.

Not so long ago he was a 62-year-old repairman working in Mosul, Iraq, a Syriac Orthodox Christian quietly tending his business and saying his prayers.

Then along came ISIS. They took everything he had and left him to fend for himself in the desert. Somehow he made his way to Jordan.

When I met him, Agnan was a new refugee, living in a corner of Amman, Jordan, where all he could do is survey the remnants of a life that has been ransacked and left in ruins. I met him at the Italian Hospital in Amman, where he is being treated for heart ailments and stress. He agreed to a short interview; the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Khalid Shammas, served as our translator. You can watch the video below.

While Agnan hopes and prays he can be reunited with his daughter in California, the reality is more sobering. The process could take years. And it’s unclear if his health would even allow for a trip like that.

Dr. Shammas told us the needs of people like Agnan are great; many who pass through the hospital’s doors suffer from posttraumatic stress and depression. And their numbers are growing in Jordan. The country is being flooded with tens of thousands of people from Iraq and Syria who are literally running for their lives. In Jordan, they are finding their way to the Italian Hospital.

Deacon Greg Kandra

In the Spring 2015 edition of ONE magazine, writer Dale Gavlak offered this snapshot of the hospital:

The Italian Hospital is Amman’s oldest medical facility, dating to 1926. The 100-bed hospital maintains a longstanding charitable tradition, providing some of the best care at low prices—in some cases for free.

The hospital offers checkups, intensive care, pediatric and maternity care and a variety of other services, making referrals only in the case of the most serious procedures, such as cardiac surgery.

“For many years, refugees have been coming to our hospital, starting with the Palestinians,” says Nassim Samawi, administrative director. Now, as many as 130 Iraqi Christians daily seek medical assistance at the white limestone facility in Amman’s bustling downtown. Refugees driven from neighboring countries and continents alike come for help, including people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia and even Iraqis still displaced from the 2003 war.

“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the facility.

“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.

“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.

“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries—heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”

When our group of newswriters and bloggers visited, the waiting rooms were crowded with mothers with small children and the elderly in wheelchairs. Young nurses shuttled from room to room tracking patients, collecting samples and filing paperwork. The overwhelming majority of patients and staff were Muslim; the women’s heads were covered in the traditional cloth hijab. Many spoke little or no English. (In fact, Jordan is predominantly Muslim—more than percent of the citizens embrace Islam, and the call to prayer resounds at regular intervals throughout the country.)

But Muslims and Christians live peacefully side by side, as they have for centuries. And the Italian Hospital in Amman remains distinctly Catholic. Every room has a crucifix on the wall. In the neonatal unit, images of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus watch over slumbering newborns. Two sisters from India, Sister Elizabeth and Sister Vinitha, from the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, supervise the staff.

The hospital is, for many, a refuge for those who need it, and a lot of the patients arrive there at the most desperate moments of their lives, after they have literally lost everything.

When we talk about refugees from the Middle East, we need to remember that we are talking about a demographic that is diverse and often misunderstood. They are young and old, widows and children, Muslims and Christians. Many are running, terrified and alone, from neighbors they once trusted.

It is a group that includes men like Agnan Adnidihad, who live with memories of an Iraq that was and that may never again be, and who can only dream of an elusive place of promise called California.


Article and images are updated from a piece first printed at CNEWA’s One to One blog. To learn more about CNEWA’s work in the Middle East, visit their website.

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