Category Archives: Iraqi Refugees

Iraqi Refugees Struggle to Adjust to Life in U.S.

Iraqi Immigrants Struggle in U.S.

Not long after the Iraq War began in 2003, Uday al-Ghanimi was accosted by several men outside the American military base where he managed a convenience store. They accused him of abetting the Americans, and one fired a pistol at his head.

Now, after 24 operations, Mr. Ghanimi has a reconstructed face as well as political asylum in the United States. On July 4, his wife and three youngest children joined him in New York after a three-year separation.

But the euphoria of their reunion quickly dissipated as the family began to reckon with the colder realities of their new life. Mr. Ghanimi, 50, who has not been able to work because of lingering pain, is supporting his family on a monthly disability check of $761, food stamps and handouts from friends. They are crammed into one room they rent in a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a city whose small Iraqi population is scattered. And Mr. Ghanimi’s wife and children do not speak English, deepening their sense of isolation.

A report released in June by the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement organization in New York, said that many Iraqi immigrants have been unable to find jobs, are exhausting government and other benefits and are spiraling toward poverty and homelessness.

“They say, ‘Let’s go back,’ ” Mr. Ghanimi said glumly. “It’s not what they were thinking. I told them, ‘Just be patient.’ ”

For years after the American invasion of Iraq, thousands of Iraqis clamored for admission to the United States and found the door all but closed — until the government reacted to widespread criticism in 2007 by making it easier for more to enter with special visas or as refugees.

But now that Iraqis are arriving in larger numbers, many are discovering that life in the United States is much harder than they expected.

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Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra

Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra

I haven’t heard about Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra for two years now, so it’s good to get an update. Here’s more about it in a New York Times blog:

By Steven Lee Myers

BAGHDAD – It was achievement enough that the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra managed to survive the darkest days of the war, when it struggled for supplies and electricity, when its members fled for safety abroad and those who remained practiced in secret for fear of offending militants who considered music un-Islamic.

“We were fighting against the impending doom simply by functioning,” the orchestra’s charismatic director and chief conductor, Karim Wasfi, said the other day.

Now the orchestra finds itself “out of the bottleneck,” as Mr. Wasfi put it, facing challenges in a post-conflict society that are no less daunting for being less immediately life-threatening.

Photographs by Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times Tuqa Saad Al Waeli warms up prior to rehearsal.

The orchestra is fighting for its budget, only now beginning to solicit corporate sponsorship in a country where the state once controlled all (and still does, if chaotically). Mr. Wasfi is lobbying to build an opera house in a country where electricity, clean water and garbage removal remain scarce services.

Hardest of all, the orchestra is trying to recreate a shared cultural life – “the concept of Iraq,” he said – that decades of isolation, international sanctions, war and sectarianism have thoroughly shattered.

“Iraq has achieved a lot, but it’s not yet on a solid, concrete foundation,” Mr. Wasfi said. “Stability is not related just to people not killing each other.”

The New York Times’s Edward Wong wrote movingly about the orchestra nearly three years ago , a time when sectarian bloodshed seemed to threaten its very mission: to give a troubled nation succor through music.

Photographs by Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times Students and teachers practicing.

Even with today’s vastly improved security, the orchestra’s home in a former royal concert hall near the edge of the Old City still feels like an oasis of civility and cosmopolitanism – something evident from a lone trumpeter practicing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to the full orchestra rehearsing Dvorak’s “New World” symphony.

At the height of the sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007 the orchestra dwindled to just 43 members; violence and checkpoints meant as few as 17 made it to some rehearsals.

Photographs by Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times Dua’a Majid Hussien Al Azawi, a young oboe player in the orchestra, prior to rehearsal.

There are 85 members now, including 13 who recently returned from self-exile in Syria and the United Arab Emirates. (During rehearsal Mr. Wasfi chided one whose playing was off, “Are you thinking of Syria?”) The dearth of musicians also forced the orchestra to find and train aspiring young people; the youngest member is only 15. Mr. Wasfi dreams of building a full philharmonic orchestra with 120 players.

Its foundation seems firm at last. The Ministry of Culture pays the members’ salaries, the equivalent of roughly $1,000 a month. Members carry their instruments openly into the concert hall. The orchestra has 14 concerts planned in the coming year, as well as 10 chamber performances, around the country.

Photographs by Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times Nubar Bashtikian prepares for rehearsal.

The most recent was July 16 in Sulaimaniya, in the northern Kurdish region, sponsored by Asiacell, a mobile telephone company, which will cover its travel costs. The playlist included Verdi, Liszt, Strauss, Webber, Gershwin and Dvorak, as well as Iraqi classical music.

For the first time, Mr. Wasfi has even negotiated performances in the next year in the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, where conservative religious values still dominate. “There’s no indecent music,” he said, explaining his delicate negotiations with religious leaders there.

Photographs by Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra rehearses under the direction of Karim Wasfi.

Iraq remains a troubled place, but the orchestra should be a bridge to a better future, as he explained, “when we have an opera house, when attending a performance and opening a gallery is part of your normal life, when political leaders fight in the parliament and not in the streets, when they set aside their differences and attend a concert.”

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Honoring World Refugee Day

By Queen Noor of Jordan

For 35 years, my home has been one of the world’s major conflict regions, home also to over 10 million refugees and displaced inhabitants. World Refugee Day (June 20) is a time to honor and support these individuals and families who persevere through devastating tragedies.

I have lived and worked with the nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees and now nearly 5 million displaced Iraqis, many from each group now making their homes in Jordan. I have also worked with displaced people from Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, and those seeking safe haven during the first Gulf War. I have witnessed first-hand the anguish of those uprooted from their homes — people who have had their lives threatened, homes bombed, and family members kidnapped or murdered.

The global displacement crisis is both a humanitarian and a security issue. History shows that mass migrations pose a serious threat to regional stability, as we have seen in Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and West Africa. The Middle East is particularly vulnerable as ongoing tensions are further strained by such large scale displacement.

Read more on this June 20, 2009 World Refugee Day

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Guardian: Iraqi Children for Sale


And so, what happens after the storm? Here’s an article published in the Guardian newspaper:

Corruption, weak law enforcement and porous borders are compounding a growing child trafficking crisis in Iraq, according to officials and aid agencies, with scores of children abducted each year and sold internally or abroad.

Criminal gangs are profiting from the cheap cost of buying infants and the bureaucratic muddle that makes it relatively easy to move them overseas. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because there is no centralised counting procedure, but aid agencies and police say they believe numbers have increased by a third since 2005 to at least 150 children a year.

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Iraqi Surveys Start to Unveil the Mental Scars of War, Especially Among Women


An article in the New York Times on the mental health situation in Iraq…since the article came out more than 50 Iraqis have died this week…

Only when the guns fall silent does the extent of damage wrought by conflict become visible. So in Iraq, as security improves, only now are the full effects of the violence on the Iraqi people emerging. Two studies being released this weekend, one on mental health and the other on the status of women, paint a sobering portrait of the enormous difficulties that lie ahead as the country tries to recover from years of war and state-sponsored terrorism under Saddam Hussein and the more recent sectarian and ethnic strife that followed the American invasion.

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Iraqi refugees returning to danger zone to escape poverty in Utah

An article from the Salt Lake Tribune on Iraqi refugees who are leaving their life in the US due to poverty and returning to Iraq. 

As human rights organizations call for aid and resettlement for millions of Iraqi refugees, some who are exasperated by America’s refugee system are going home or attempting to return to other countries in the Middle East. They feel abandoned by federal policies that offer limited and brief financial support and leave many refugees living in poverty.

Refugees planning to leave acknowledge they may be less safe in Iraq, but believe they will be better able to afford food, pay rent and receive medical care.

Educated Iraqis eager to re-establish their middle-class lifestyle are making flaws in the U.S. resettlement system more apparent, while the troubled economy is compounding them, critics charge.

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Top Ten humanitarian crises

Read about each crises

MassivZimbabwee forced civilian displacements, violence, and unmet medical needs in the Democratic Republic of CongoSomaliaIraqSudan, andPakistan, along with neglected medical emergencies in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, are some of the worst humanitarian and medical emergencies in the world, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports in its annual list of the “Top Ten” humanitarian crises.

The report underscores major difficulties in bringing assistance to people affected by conflict. The lack of global attention to the growing prevalence of HIV-tuberculosis co-infection and the critical need for increased global efforts to prevent and treat childhood malnutrition—the underlying cause of death for up to five million children per year—are also included in the list.

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Video: Pres-Elect Obama: The Middle East Response


On this edition of Independent Sources we talk with an Iraqi and Jordanian journalist about how people in their countries are reacting to the Obama victory. We look at the challenges facing African-American newspapers, and we profile Claire Chen, an award-winning journalist for the Chinese-language daily World Journal.



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Jennifer Utz: My Journey with an Iraqi Refugee


This is a great article by Jennifer Utz on a personal story of an Iraq refugee.

Read the whole piece in the Huffington Post.

In recent months, much has been said in the media about Iraqi refugees going back to Iraq as a result of the success of “the surge.” The truth is that most of those who return are doing so because either they’ve run out of money or their visas have expired. Many of those who return find that another family has taken up residence in their home.

After receiving criticism for not having done enough to respond to the crisis, the Bush administration recently began taking in more Iraqi refugees — in 2008, more than 14,000 Iraqis were accepted into the United States. But for the country that started this war, that’s a drop in the bucket – just a third of 1 percent of the total number of those displaced. After the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians were authorized and ensured admission to the United States each year.

Today, Mohamed says that without having had me as an advocate, he could have never done this on his own. As an American and a journalist, I was able to make him stand out as more than a face in the crowd, and helped him navigate the perplexing bureaucracy of being a refugee.

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Cleansing of Neighborhoods in Iraq?

This is a claim published today by Reuters:

Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday.

The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

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