“We are Human. We are Brothers. We are Friends”
Ali is a refugee from Iraq. He moved to Spokane, Washington thirteen months ago with his wife, two-year-old son, his mother and his brother. Living every moment in fear of death, he applied for refugee status in an act of desperation to find a safe life for his family. Over two and a half years later, his family finally made it through the vetting process to come to the United States. The screening process for refugees includes refugee status approval from the UN, two security checks, an in-person interview, medical screening, and multiple airport checks; a process that takes on average 18 months to three years.
Life in Iraq
While living in Iraq, Ali worked for an American company that provided humanitarian outreach for Iraqi citizens in need, a cause Ali strongly believes in. When asked what it is like to live every day in fear of death, he responded, “In Iraq, it’s not every day it’s every minute. Every moment you can feel the danger. You can’t talk or explain or share any ideas with anyone. You can’t write any posts on your account of Facebook or Twitter because you worry that anyone can read what you think or what you want, and then make a problem in your life. It’s very difficult.”
Ali found contentment in his job, but his ties with America put his life and his family’s lives at risk. Ali and his brother were the target of several violently aggressive attacks while still living in Iraq. The attacks continued to intensify, and in 2012 his brother was taken hostage by a sector of the militia. By what Ali describes as pure luck, his brother was rescued and his life was spared. Though now safe in the U.S., Ali’s experience in his home country left him deeply shaken, “I’m still afraid to write anything, to speak anything. I live in America, but I still have worries from Iraq that come with me,” he explained.
Religious and Intellectual Oppression
Ali faced oppression in many forms while living in Iraq. In addition to the risks posed by his job, Ali held viewpoints that made him unpopular, “I believe religion is a personal thing, it’s not to share with others. It doesn’t matter what my religion or race is. I think that doesn’t matter for anybody.” Religious freedom is not a widely supported value amongst those in power in Iraq, and his beliefs put his life even further at risk. The hope of religious and intellectual freedom is one of the many reasons Ali loves his new home, “America is not like any country in the world. I know and I believe the American people are very kind people. They are very smart people, open-minded people, and I believe that.”
Ali identifies as Sunni Muslim, but his mother is Shia Muslim. Because of his mother’s beliefs, the Sunni’s did not accept Ali. The Shia’s also rejected Ali because of his own beliefs. Increasing religious tensions and isolation created even more problems for Ali in Iraq. His wife’s family is highly educated, open-minded, religiously tolerant and still living in Iraq, forcing his wife into a constant state of worry. Her worries escalated with President Trump’s new Executive Order.
Life in America
Ali is hopeful for his new life in America. “I want to be a good citizen. I want to help other people here. I want to build myself and my family and build my new society in America.” While he still harbors worries about the refugee situation in the U.S., he stands firm in his belief in America and American citizens, “I want to tell everyone here: we are human, we are brothers, we are friends.”
Ali is especially happy to live in America for the sake of his son. With a widening smile, Ali explained how his son is teaching himself English through television shows and interacting with kids his age. He believes he is making a better life for his son, but he is facing a different kind of worry in the U.S., a worry based on his son’s name of Muhammed. The Iraqi roots of the name Muhammed cause Ali concern about whether his son will face prejudice and unfair treatment, especially in school. However, he repeatedly stated his belief in America and the American people, and refusal to lose hope.
Ali is currently employed at Walmart and working towards transferring his engineering credentials from Iraqi to American standards. He uses the library for resources to help further his certifications. “I believe refugees want to build this society and share with the American people. They want to build this country, protect this country, and live with these people in safety.”