Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Portrait #27: Two happy refugees

In the past two days two people have crossed my path that I want to portrait. Both are Iraqi refugees, and both were very happy when I met them.

Yesterday, I was introduced to a man who has been living in Dam. for over 4 years. He came here with his wife and three teenage sons, and he pretty much knew he'd never be able to go back to Iraq: because of his ethnicity/religion, and because of where he is from. He is now likely to be relocated to the U.S. later this year.

During most of his four years here, he was unable to register officially as a refugee, which meant he was receiving no assistance (food, medical, nothing). Nor was he able to work. His three sons had dropped out of school when they fled Iraq, and the older two were unable to continue any studies here at all.

Then he was introduced by a friend to a representative of a relief organisation. That person didn't have a lot of connections or influence to help this man, but was able to give him an informal job, so at least he and his family wouldn't starve. Then through that connection, the man was finally able to get his official registration and start receiving assistance. Once he was formally registered, he was able to start petitioning for relocation, since he is one of those people who will most likely not be able to go home even if/when things are stabilised. Once again his new connections were able to help him get an interview with someone who could help him join his sisters in the U.S., one of whom has lived there several years and the other one of whom is moving there right now.

Finally, things are looking up for this man. His sons are studying English at a refugee services community centre in anticipation of being able to finish their schooling in the U.S. The man has a job and can provide for his family, and the extended family will soon be reunited. After almost 4 years of despair, he said that that one encounter was the beginning of all doors opening for him.

Then, today, I got onto a service (minibus) to go home, and a woman got on after me. She was simply dressed but looked nice, and there were two things that really jumped out at me about her. First, she was toting a huge cardboard box. Second, she was very happy-looking, almost schoolgirl giggly happy. She smiled at all the other passengers and energetically helped people get change for their fares from the driver.

Sitting behind her, I studied her box. It said in Arabic, "Rome Orthodox Patriarchate..." and there were some initials in English. I wondered if she worked for some organisation, but then wondered what organisation's office might be on the same bus route as the place I'm staying. So when she looked back and smiled at me partway through the ride, I asked her what the initials on the box stood for.

She said she didn't know what the initials were, but she had just been at the Cathedral and had been given this box. She isn't sure what exactly is in it, but she knows there is some household stuff like cleaning supplies, and there are some basic foodstuffs as well. She told me, with such perk in her voice, that she's Iraqi and this is the first time anyone has given her anything.

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