BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: We have a special report today on the refugees from Iraq. Whose responsibility are they? In Washington, the House this week (May 22) approved a bill that would grant visas to perhaps 500 Iraqi and Afghan translators who fear for their lives because they have helped the U.S. But there are, in all, nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes -- half still in Iraq, half in neighboring countries. Kate Seelye reports from Amman, Jordan on what has become the world's largest refugee crisis.
KATE SEELYE: Along Jordan's border with Iraq, customs police search incoming visitors. Iraqi families like these are fleeing their country's escalating violence. Some 50,000 people a month are leaving Iraq, according to the United Nations. Most have been escaping to neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria.
For years, Jordan kept its border with Iraq open. But then several Iraqis carried out suicide attacks in the capital, Amman. They crossed this frontier in 2005. These days, very few Iraqis are being admitted. This Jordanian taxi driver supports the move.
AHMAD KARAMEH (Taxi Driver, through translator): The Iraqis have terrorist organizations. Because of this, you don't know who to trust.
SEELYE: Still, an estimated 700,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan. They don't live in refugee camps, however. Most are in Amman, residing among Jordanians. They include Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Some are wealthy. Many belonged to Iraq's middle class. Others are poor, like these women who sell cigarettes in downtown Amman.
SEELYE: Um Kassim has been working as a street vendor for the past four months. She asked to be interviewed in her home. She didn't want to draw attention to herself. That's because Um Kassim is here illegally, like many Iraqis.
Visas are only valid for several months here. A residency permit requires a bank deposit of more than $100,000. That's more than most Iraqis have.
Um Kassim lives in one windowless room. She shares it with her son Hussein, his wife, and their four children. Hussein says his son was hit last year by shrapnel. He was injured during a battle between the U.S military and a Shiite militia. Um Kassim says the family had to leave Iraq.
UM KASSIM (through translator): There was only fear and terrorism and killing.
SEELYE: Um Kassim says the Jordanian police leave women like her alone. But they do deport Iraqi men who overstay their visas. Hussein says his uncle was recently caught and sent back to Iraq. As a result, Hussein hasn't left the house in four months.
HUSSEIN (through translator): I'm not asking Jordan to give me work. I just want it to let me be, to let me go out freely.
SEELYE: The family is barely managing. Most of their possessions were donated by Caritas, a Catholic relief organization. Caritas is one of the few charities dealing with the refugee crisis here. But it's only funded to address the needs of some 5,000 vulnerable Iraqi families.
SAMAR BANDAK (Caseworker, Caritas): They are in a very desperate state. They feel so helpless about their situation, especially that they have no guarantees here.
SEELYE: Here at this Caritas health clinic, Iraqis wait hours to see a doctor. Many were well- off professionals back in Iraq. But in Jordan, they are starting to run out of money. Most Iraqis don't have the right to work here. Their children are barred from most public schools. And as Iraqis' savings diminish, some, like this mother of five, are increasingly desperate.
RAYISA (through translator): How can I live? How can I raise my son? We've lost all our belongings. It's very hard.
SEELYE: The Christian charity World Vision is focusing on the needs of Iraqi children here. Advisor Ashley Clements fears the refugees will become more desperate with time. He says countries like Jordan and Syria must give them basic rights.
ASHLEY CLEMENTS (Emergency Response Advocacy Adviser, World Vision): We're also calling on the host governments themselves to formalize the status of these refugees, to allow the children to go to school, access health care, to allow their parents to actually earn an income, and that the borders remain open.
SEELYE: But Jordan regards Iraqis as temporary visitors. It refuses to guarantee them rights or protection. Jordanian authorities say their country has already done enough.
NASSER JUDEH (Government Spokesman): We're talking about a country of just under six million people, and somewhere in the region of 700,000 Iraqis are here. So it's more than 10 percent of the population, so it's a strain.
SEELYE: The strain is creating resentment among Jordanians. The influx of Iraqis has sent real estate and other prices soaring here. And this is not Jordan's first refugee crisis. In 1948, the country absorbed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing the Arab-Israeli war. Today Jordan says it cannot afford to assimilate any more refugees.
Mr. JUDEH: We estimate that this is costing us about $1 billion a year. We're hoping that the government of Jordan will be assisted financially.