Yesterday, I attended a briefing by the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs which included special guests Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri. Jonathan Finer worked as a journalist covering the conflict in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2005, in addition to covering the refugee crisis in Syria and Jordan. Naseer Nouri, the briefing's most prominent speaker, worked as an Iraqi journalist and interpreter for the Washington Post from 2003 to 2008.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma (USA) graduate, former pilot and aircraft engineer fell into a job with the Washington Post after a chance encounter with Anthony Shadid, the Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent who was covering the looting in Baghdad following the fall of the regime. After a number of meetings with Shadid, either at Nouri's house, where Shadid was welcomed by his family, or at the hotel where Shadid was staying, he introduced Nouri to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief, and then Nouri started working with him, which brought about his interest in journalism. The looters had broken into Nouri's travel agency and were hauling off anything of value. Shadid couldn't help but notice Nouri yelling at the looters, and they agreed to meet later to discuss the experience. When Shadid discovered Nouri's near-fluency in English, he offered Nouri a job as a translator for the Post's Baghdad bureau.
Nouri explains: "Until then, I had mostly used newspapers to clean windows. After a number of meetings with Shadid, either at my house, where he was welcomed by my family, or at the hotel where he was staying, I became very interested about journalism. With time, I moved from translation to writing."
Proud of his new career, in which he could ensure that the history of Iraq was written correctly, news of Nouri's career move spread throughout his neighborhood. Then, in the span of 15 days, events occurred that changed Nouri and his family's life forever. Twice, a group of men narrowly missed abducting his youngest daughter, while Al Qaeda succeeded in kidnapping his 15 year old nephew. In a separate incident, his nephue escaped his captors by claiming to use the restroom. Other family members were also targeted. His brother in-law was killed by men in police uniform when he was on his way to Baghdad from Kirkuk, at the north east of Baghdad. He came to bring Nouri's family some money so they could obtain passports and be able to travel to Amman.
Nouri took his family to Amman, Jordan to keep them safe. Facing numerous obstacles to a better life there, he knew he had to try to get his family to America. Applying to the UNHCR in February 2007, Nouri wasn't accepted until the 21rst of May 2008. In America, Nouri and his family still face tremendous challenges not unlike the other "lucky" refugees who make it to America, in a system not fully prepared to resettle families. Our Iraqi allies who make it to the United States have considerable talents, which if utilized contribute to society. Instead, many refugees are forced to take low paying jobs that don't match their professional skill sets and educational experience. According to Mr. Nouri, the best thing we can do is to set up a system that fully integrates Iraqi refugees into society, from getting them here to making sure that parents have proper jobs and their children are properly educated. Think about how frustrating it must be for an Iraqi teenager to have to start school many grade levels below their peers once they get to America.
Nouri and Finer agreed that, even if the U.S. meets its goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees for this fiscal year, in addition to admitting another 5,000 Iraqis through the Special Immigrant Visa program, the U.S. effort is a drop in the bucket considering both the scale of the crisis, over 2 million refugees and over 2.7 million internally displaced, and the U.S.'s moral obligation to its Iraqi allies. No matter you feel about the war, we can all agree that the U.S. must do more to raise its admittance goals and take care of vulnerable Iraqis, even once they make it to the United States. Vulnerable Iraqis should not be forced to choose between a life of poverty and mortal danger.
Photo Caption: A recent photograph of Nasser Nouri