Monday, February 23, 2009

Iraqi Family En Route to U.S.

This morning at 2 a.m. Amal and her three young children departed from Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan. They will stop off  in Paris and then fly to Newark, New Jersey. The family's sponsors will meet them at the airport in Newark and then drive them to a town in upstate New York where they will begin a new life.

Amal and her children fled Baghdad in 2005 after militias threatened her with death. Getting in to Jordan proved to be almost as difficult as getting out of Baghdad. With so many Iraqis seeking asylum in neighboring countries because of increasing violence in their homeland,  Jordan began sealing its border with Iraq. To enter Amman, Amal had to take her children first to Syria and then, with the help of a Jordanian national, into Jordan. Thankfully, she and her family escaped the fate of countless other Iraqi families that fell victim to criminal gangs, sectarian militias, extremist thugs, and the violence of U.S. occupying forces. 

The Iraq Family Relief Fund covered the family's basic expenses throughout their time in Amman. After three long and difficult years trying to survive as displaced Iraqis, the family was finally granted refugee status and allowed to re-settle in the U.S. 

I spoke with Amal last night as she was getting her children ready for the journey. She shared with me her many misgivings about coming to the U.S. One of her greatest fears is that she will be unable to provide a decent life for her children and will be forced to go elsewhere. She is aware of the hard times people are facing here and worries that, as a foreigner, she won't find suitable work. 

But having known Amal for over ten years and seen how resourceful and resilient she is, I am hopeful that with the support of her American friends, she will find a way to get by. Among her many gifts is an irrepressible creativity. As an artist, she has turned out hundreds of canvases depicting an idealized view of Baghdad, the city where she was born and raised. 

Over the years, I have tried to sell Amal's art work as a way for her to earn money for her family. Once she is settled in her new home, I have no doubt she will start painting again and perhaps showing her work in local galleries.  

[Original painting by Amal; oil on canvas]

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