Option Of Last Resort. Iraqi Refugees In The United States

Interview by Gabriela Bulisova

Three generations of Iraqi women--a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter--were violently separated and forced to flee to three different countries. Now, after three years apart, they are finally living together as new American residents. Yet, even in the United States, they live in hidden exile, unable to reveal their identities for fear of being discovered by their male relatives and Iraqi anti-American forces. The mother, a former Coalition Provisional Authority employee, was labeled a “collaborator” and was targeted for assassination. They rely on their strong Christian faith to remain hopeful about their future in the United States.



I am an Iraqi person who came to the United States as a refugee. I am originally from the south of Iraq. I escaped death several times. I was working with the U.S. Army in Iraq in different positions for several years. I basically became marked for death because a lot of information got into the terrorists’ hands. They sent me a text message saying: “We will cut you into a hundred pieces and will throw you in front of your door.” I knew it was not a joke. My friend, they slaughtered him. They put his head in front of the door. Another friend, they kidnapped her, and I understood from her that they raped her. And another friend of mine, she was shot along with her driver. When they shot my friend, I understood that they knew many things about me. I knew I would be the next one. And because my sister and I both worked for the U.S. Army, I knew they would kill us both, if not our entire family. I had to take action, not just to protect myself, but to protect my family.


When you start losing the people who are closest to you, when you start seeing your loved ones suffer and fall—this is the day when you cannot continue. This is the day when you realize you have become a threat to those you love because you are now a target of the terrorists and the people who don’t want life to continue. I lost many, many people, but the biggest loss was my girlfriend. That was when I came undone. It happened in 2006, in January. It was a big explosion, a bomb at the University of Baghdad. I was lucky that day because she did not die. I went to the hospital and spent four days with her…and then she died.


I am Republican. I am a new resident. I am eligible for a green card and will apply for citizenship. I am not an Iraqi and I am not an American: I have no roots anywhere.


I believe in colors. For me, my entire past life was a mix of black and white. You could say it was a gray life; there were no colors. I feel the same right now as I wait for asylum. I feel there are no more colors. If I am granted asylum, I will have new colors in my life. But now, I am filled with loneliness, with pain, and I want to feel like a human being. I am away from the one I love; I am away from myself. I cannot live life in such a scattered, fragmented way. It’s really scary and it really hurts. Sometimes I feel dumb, stupid; and I can’t socialize and experience life here.


I found most of the Iraqi refugees here are struggling to survive; they do not really receive real assistance to address their situation. The agencies that are supposed to be helping are making life more and more difficult for us. They are very uncooperative, very unhelpful, and have done nothing for us. I have told this to them directly.


The threat came in early 2006. Like many Iraqis, I got the white envelope with a bullet in it and with a very short message: “Leave your house, leave your town, or death is coming to you.” They gave me just 24 hours to leave…and I left. I received the threat because I was working with the United States Army, with the United States Marine Corps, with the MPs—the military police in my city.


I hope that one day people will listen—just to understand our situation. We are not waiting for any help. We are waiting for people to understand why the Iraqi people became refugees. Sometime, I feel we are lucky because the war happened and the United States kicked out Saddam and his army, but what is the result?


When this man and his family of six resettled to the United States, they had great hopes for a life of privilege and a warm welcome. They looked forward to starting their lives anew in a country that had promised to take care of them, a country where they would not have to fear death and violence. They soon encountered a reality, however, that was far from what they expected. Isolation and a lack of financial support and employment opportunities have shaped their experience in the United States.. These difficulties have taken an emotional toll on the family as they try to manage the stress, despair, and disillusionment that has come with living a life in exile.


The bonds of war are not like others: you sleep together, you eat together, you do missions together, and sometimes you are injured together. Working as a translator for the U.S. Army, I witnessed the deaths of some of the soldiers in our unit. I used to come to Arlington cemetery to visit fallen friends. They sacrificed themselves for this country, and I admired their heroism, their ultimate sacrifice. We all die sometime, but what matters is how you die: will people remember you?