A few months ago I befriended Sameer, a 27-year-old Iraqi who recently arrived to Philadelphia from Iraq. Sameer had worked as an Iraqi interpreter for the U.S. military in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in 2004 until 2007. He arrived last summer after the same army division he worked for helped him resettle in the United States. Sameer was threatened, kidnapped and then released after three months of torture by his captors, insurgents who considered him a spy working for the American occupation.
Upon his arrival, Sameer had no one to help him in the big metropolitan city. By himself and using the remaining of his savings, he shared a one-bedroom apartment, along with three other Iraqi translators.
I saw Sameer a few weeks ago at the International Visitors Council, an international relations organization that works in partnership with the Department of State. At that time, Sameer was desperate. He ran out of money, and he was looking for jobs. He has a degree in English Literature, but he hasn’t been lucky. It didn’t occur to him it would be that hard.
Like Sameer, there are many Iraqis who worked and risked their lives every day for the Americans in Iraq who were brought to the U.S. after being threatened, kidnapped or tortured. Prior to coming here, these Iraqis thought that the U.S. government would provide them with jobs that would help them and their families live normally. They thought they would be treated like their counterparts who worked for the Danish and British troops in Iraq. NPR’s Morning Edition featured some of the resettled Iraqis who have become disappointed with the American dream. They thought they were going to be able to find decent jobs as soon as they arrived. Instead, they were left with none. “If you don’t have enough money to survive, it will not be heaven — it will be hell,” Bahjat, a 27-year-old Iraqi interpreter, told NPR. With his engineering degree, Bahjat thought he would be able to work here in the U.S., but his dreams faded away.
Last November, Iraqi journalist Omar Fekeiki wrote an article about Iraqi refugees here for The Washington Post. He interviewed several Iraqis who were resettled in Tucson, AZ and described the problems they face when they arrive to the States and how they are trying to cope with the new environment. They complained about not having decent jobs, along with other social and language difficulties. “Before they arrived here, the refugees said they were told by U.N. representatives that they could get jobs based on their professional qualifications. But they said they have now been told that they should work as hotel housekeepers, an occupation many of them have refused because they deem it degrading,” Fekeiki wrote.
These hardships which Iraqi refugees go through in the United States led to a greater disappointment resulted in leaving the United States and thinking of going back home. “Facing a bleak outlook, many hope to return to the Middle East,” writes Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor in a detailed article that describes the difficulties of the Iraqi refugees in Lansing, Michigan.
The U.S. has a moral obligation provide these Iraqis with their first steps. After all, these same Iraqis helped Americans in their mission in Iraq. Isn’t it time for those who sacrificed themselves and families have decent lives?