TLP in the News: An Iraqi Ally Adapts to Life in the US

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This week a Houston Chronicle news article outlined the daunting process that Iraqi refugees must undertake just for the chance to gain US residency:

• Refugees outside of Iraq must register with the United Nations refugee agency.

• Refugees are given medical examinations by the U.N.

• Refugees are interviewed by U.N. workers to determine whether they have well-founded fears of persecution or if they committed war crimes.

• U.N. workers, after lengthy investigations, recommend refugees for resettlement in the U.S. About 14,000 have been referred so far.

• Refugees are directed to go to a U.S. Embassy for more interviews.

• Refugees are screened by U.S. personnel and by the International Organization for Migration. FBI agents and CIA officers review the reports.

• A Homeland Security Department worker interviews the Iraqis who have passed the FBI and CIA checks. About 5,600 interviews have been completed, U.S. officials say.

• Refugees selected for resettlement are fingerprinted, photographed and allowed to travel to the U.S.

• Refugees are re-interviewed by federal security personnel upon their arrival in the U.S.

While this blog has highlighted many of the challenges facing four million displaced Iraqis, the Chronicle article offers a glimpse into a rarely mentioned topic: struggles faced by the few Iraqi refugees who have made it to the United States. Ms. Media Al-Sewaili, whose name was included on one of the earliest lists that TLP founder Kirk Johnson presented to the State Department, escaped her war-torn country with her two children. The former UNICEF employee overcame bureaucratic red tape to come the US, but now faces new challenges:

Little things that Americans take for granted, like getting a driver’s license, take huge swaths of al Sewaili’s time, especially since she doesn’t have a car and doesn’t really know her way around the city.

She tried to enroll her 22-year-old son and her 20-year-old daughter into a college so they could continue their dentistry studies, but bureaucratic delays mean the two can’t start until at least September. Both have found work as dental assistants. She is hunting for a job as an educational planner.

“We are losing time, we want to do things and catch up,” said al Sewaili. “I want the children to continue their studies. They were both outstanding students in Iraq.”

Al-Sewaili and other new arrivals are assisted by refugee organizations who strive to ensure they land on their feet. Still, these efforts are funded by State Department grants that expire after only 90 days. Congressional legislation that could increase assistance to Iraqi refugee arrivals is currently pending.


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