Right on schedule, Amal and her children landed at Newark International Airport on Tuesday, February 24 after three years of living as refugees in Amman, Jordan. Their host family welcomed them at the airport and drove them to their new home in upstate New York. I spoke with Amal a few days after her arrival. She is already looking for an affordable apartment and has enrolled her children in local schools. Thankfully, Amal is fluent in English. With the help of her sponsoring group, she is trying to locate the resources she'll need to create a life for herself and her children. It won't be easy for her since she has few technical skills and has arrived in the U.S. during a severe recession. But having lived through sanctions, war, and the brutal occupation of her country, Amal is truly a survivor and will do everything in her power to give her children a decent and dignified life.
The challenges Amal faces are enormous. Some Iraqi families, coming to the U.S. as refugees, have experienced few of the benefits they expected to find. Federal agencies in states where the families have re-settled can't always provide adequate assistance. Rather than endure degrading poverty, they have chosen to return to Iraq.
Before leaving Amman, Amal required immediate assistance to pay the last month's rent on her apartment, obtain transcripts of her children's grades, get the required vaccinations, and take care of other expenses. As the trustee of the Iraq Family Relief Fund, I sent out an appeal to past donors to raise enough money to cover Amal's needs while the family prepared to leave Jordan. The response from donors has been wonderfully generous. I was able to send Amal the assistance she needed and set aside the remaining donations for other needs that are sure to arise in the weeks and months ahead.
[Original drawing by Amal's daughter; colored pencil on paper]