Thursday, November 08, 2007

Safe, But Feeling Isolated

In a recent entry, "Success Stories and the Road Ahead", I commended Congress for beginning to address the Iraqi refugee crisis. I also argued, because many Iraqi refugees are terribly short on money and often must spend their life savings just to make it to the United States, that the U.S. must go a step further by accomodating such refugees when they do finally arrive.

When an individual is resettled in the United States via standard protocol, they are given refugee status. They are put in contact with a social service agency that provides them with food stamps and three months’ rent. Alternately, when someone enters the U.S. with a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), they are not afforded refugee status and therefore do not receive what few benefits a social service agency provides.

In fiscal year 07, 820 Iraqis entered the United States with SIV’s. That means over half of the 1,608 Iraqis who came into the U.S. last year are not receiving the benefits afforded with refugee status.

The Washington Post ran an article today on the discomfort, isolation and utter lack of resources Iraqis face when they arrive in the States. Most of the refugees interviewed were resettled via standard procedures. But three months' rent does little in the way of financial help and does nothing in the way of adjusting Iraqis to American culture.

Hakee Ismael was helping U.S. troops in Baghdad when they were ambushed. The attack left him blind. He came to the States with his wife, Zainab, and their three-year-old son, Sodiq. Nadhum Ali al-Hasnawi was a Shiite upholsterer in the predominantly Sunni city of Taji, north of Baghdad. It wasn't long before a death threat came to his family's home in the form of a hail of gunfire. These Iraqis are part of a small group of 38 who were resettled in the Tucson area. They have each other for company and support, but little else.

Iraqis are often left traumatized by their conflict at home, and here in the U.S. they feel disoriented and alone. According to the Washington Post, the social service agencies designated to help refugees are often unable to do so. The U.S. must act responsibly by taking care of the most vulnerable Iraqis not only by resettling them in the United States, but also by appropriating funds to help them through the adjustment period. Sen. Cardin (D-MD) has introduced legislation (currently a provision in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill) that would provide Iraqis who come to the U.S. with SIV's the same benefits that come with refugee status. It's a start, and we must see it through.

At this point, the U.S. is doing only what I've described above, but there are some Americans who are stepping up where the administration is falling short. I've previously written about American servicemen and women helping Iraqis who helped us. Erin Simpson and Christy Voelkel are two Tucson residents who organized a community collection effort to help locally resettled Iraqis. They have raised money with their community and have personally delivered kitchen equipment, clothes, pillows and children's toys to Iraqis.

We can show our true colors as Americans by stepping up and taking the initiative to help our Iraqi friends. EPIC is in the process of compiling a list of resettlement agencies across the country so that you may get involved. If you live in the Arizona region and want to help right now, you can contact Erin Simpson.

Caption: Fawzi al-Khazraji, 42, in his new Tucson home; David Sanders for the Washington Post 11/2007

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