Note: it was written for a UK-based publisher, hence the English spellings and usage. Also remember that it was written in March; there have been developments since. I will soon post an update about Andy and Alice.
Where Can They Turn?
Iraqis are targets in their own homes. But no countries—including those that brought this upon them—seem willing to offer them asylum.
“The debate over civil war has shifted from when and if to how bad and how long,” wrote a friend working in
When I received Marie’s e-mail I was visiting
I have heard similar remarks from numerous US Americans of different means, ages, political leanings, and geographical locations, as well as from people from
People in the
In their defence, most US Americans don’t ever hear the real stories of Iraqi people. Instead they are spoon-fed via the corporate-controlled media just what the Bush administration wants them to hear, and that certainly doesn’t include acknowledgment that millions of ordinary Iraqis have had their lives turned into nightmares because of the ineptitude, ignorance, and arrogance of the Bush administration, which, phenomenally, become more pronounced daily.
Glimpses into their lives are all we can share these days, as it is too dangerous for most
I have a friend I’ll call Andy, who lives in a city some distance from
In a conversation last July he reported, as all my friends had been reporting without fail for more than two years, that there was still hardly any electricity, and the water was still polluted. “And now,” Andy said, “we have to worry about the militias. There is one which belongs to the Shi’a leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakeem [head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose military arm is known as the Badr Brigade]. I am a Sunni, and for sure they hate us. But you know, my Mom is a Shi’a, and I don’t think there is a difference because all of us are Muslim people. But there are crazy people from both sides. They just want to kill each other. I am afraid. I mean, I am a Sunni guy, and if they knew I worked with the U.S. Army maybe one of those crazy people will shoot me. That is what I am scared of.”
Andy begged me to help him and his family get out of the country. “There must be ways to help people get rid of this bad life,” he said. “Surely you Americans can help.”
My heart sank, as it had so many times over the past few years, listening to Iraqi friends’ terrible fears, yet knowing how nearly impossible it is to help them. “So many people are in dangerous situations like you,” I told him. “There are so many it is impossible to find places for all of them.”
“I know,” he replied. “But I am ready to work as a teacher or a cleaner or whatever. Just please, I want to go outside of
That was ten months ago. In the interim, I have had no luck finding them a way out, despite numerous attempts with different countries’ immigration offices and consulates. I even learned from the European Council on Exiles and Refugees’ Guidelines on the Treatment of Iraqi Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Europe that last year
So Andy is still stuck in
Six weeks ago he got in touch after nearly three months of silence, during which I had been quite worried. First he told me the good news: He and his wife are expecting a new baby, due in May. But then he confirmed some of my worst fears: “Our house was bombed,” he said, “and my father and brother were killed. My wife and I were not at home. Now we are chased by the militia, those terrorists. I am planning to flee the country to
Again, despite the urgency of Andy’s family’s situation, I was stymied in my attempts to help them find a way out. Neighbouring
My initial inquiries at the U.S. State Department, even going through my Congressional representatives’ offices, were met by the same cold response: “Contacting UNHCR is the first step to obtaining refugee status. Many Iraqis have traveled to
A couple of weeks later, on April 5, I received word that the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1815, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, and it was signed by George W. Bush. It contained a provision, in Section 1059, authorizing special immigrant status for a maximum of 50 Iraqi translators per year. These translators must have “worked directly with United States Armed Forces as a translator for a period of at least 12 months”; and “obtained a favorable written recommendation from a general or flag officer in the chain of command of the United States Armed Forces unit that was supported by the alien”; and “before filing the petition . . . cleared a background check and screening, as determined by a general or flag officer in the chain of command of the United States Armed Forces unit that was supported by the alien.”
There are thousand of Iraqis who worked as translators for the
I shared this good news with Andy, and explained that he would need to provide a considerable amount of paperwork. He was frightened that he would have to return to his bombed-out home secretly to sift through the rubble for some of the important papers he needed to file the petition, and warned me that it might take up to a month.
Two weeks later he surprised me by sending all the necessary papers electronically. He had risked his life several times, but he had managed to retrieve his and his wife’s and son’s birth certificates; his marriage certificate; his university degree; several letters of commendation and appreciation from U.S. Army officers; his official coalition translator ID cards; several photographs of Andy with his U.S. soldier friends; photos of his family, and of their bombed-out house and car; and, horrifyingly, a short video clip of a fellow translator’s assassination.
Now the challenge is, how does one submit a petition for asylum for an Iraqi translator with all the correct paperwork to be admitted to the
This is essentially a death sentence for this family. Just traveling to
As I scramble to find anyone who can help me find an alternative way for them to get asylum in the
Andy is just one of many kind, decent, good, hardworking, loving, generous Iraqi people who are stuck in a never-ending nightmare in their country, which has descended into chaos thanks to the blundering of not only the
“Sometimes when I look back at the hope and optimism that I once had,” my friend Marie says, “I feel betrayed for daring to believe. A part of me feels angry — like I was tricked into buying into a plan others knew was doomed for failure. . . . If [it had been] left to the Iraqis, they would have indeed risen above it. The countless international interventions — from neighbouring countries to the coalition forces — destabilized
I know she is right, although it is unimaginable that things can get even worse. We — that is, not only the
I say that if we cannot help the Iraqi people find peace and security within their devastated country, we absolutely owe them a way out.