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Many Iraqi Refugees in US Face Hardship


Many Iraqi refugees who come to the United States find their troubles are not over as they struggle to to make ends meet and adapt to a new culture. Groups assisting the Iraqis say the available resources do not begin to cover the real costs of resettlement. VOA's Bill Rodgers has more in this second of two reports on Iraqi refugees.

Atheer Muslim al-Tamini and his family have been in the United States for more than a year. He fled Iraq as violence and death threats increased, and friends were killed.

"I lost a lot of friends, and I'm still thinking of their families," al-Tamini said.

But once in the United States, the former computer salesman's troubles were not over.

"Before my coming to the United States, I thought I could find the money in the streets and that wasn't the truth," al-Tamini said. "The truth is when I came I faced real problems."

Finding work, any kind of work, is the main problem - especially as the US economy slows.

At the Washington Resettlement Center, helping refugees find work is just one of the challenges. The center, run by the International Rescue Committee, helps Iraqis though none there agreed to appear on camera.

Vu Dang runs the center. He says the difficulties faced by Atheer Muslim al-Tamini are common.

"We have dentists and we have doctors, architects, interpreters and translators, people who have led very successful lives in their home country," said Dang. "They've made good money, they've provided for their family, they've worked with US government officials at very high levels. And all of a sudden they are here in the US, and that's all gone."

Abu Talib, who does not want his face on camera, is such a case. A university graduate and commercial pilot, he is having a hard time here in the US.

"When I came here I found some obstacles in front of me, nobody accept me to work, nobody accept me to rent an apartment," Talib said.

Refugee aid groups have limited resources to help. The US State Department provides a one-time grant of $425 per person in a family. So Atheer Muslim al-Tamini and his family received a total of about $1,200 - not nearly enough says the IRC's Vu Dang.

"We do not have the resources to really do right by these refugees, by the Iraqi refugees, many of whom have taken on positions working with the US government, working with US forces, and have placed their lives in danger, have really sacrificed to work and to be associated with the US government," Dang said.

An estimated two million Iraqi refugees are exiles, mainly in Syria and Jordan. The State Department recently announced it will resettle 17,000 refugees next year but this is far less than some countries, like Sweden, have already admitted.

The United States should be doing more for Iraqi refugees, says Lavinia Limon who heads the private US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. She says President Gerald Ford in 1975 moved quickly to allow Vietnamese refugees into the country after the fall of Saigon.

"President Ford stood up and said, 'we will take these refugees' and in nine months we processed 130,000 Southeast Asians, mainly Vietnamese, on our shores. That was without computers. And we managed to do that because it was a national priority," said Limon.

For Abu Talib - who looks in vain for the mail to bring answers to his job queries - and Atheer Muslim al-Tamini, their plight is hardly a national priority. But they remain determined.

Talib said, "I'm here to make a new life for my family. I don't own my life, my family owns my life."

"I'm not going to surrender any time soon, al-Tamini added. "I mean I'm just the kind of person that just keeps going. And there's another reality. I have to because I have family. Who is going to feed my baby?"

It is an urgent question with no simple answer for the Iraqi families now in the United States.

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