NPR Iraq Staff Among Those Seeking Refuge In U.S.

A law passed in the U.S. earlier this year allows Iraqis working for American companies to apply for refugee status if they've been attacked or threatened.

Many Iraqi staffers at NPR's Baghdad bureau are applying — and some are now very close to heading to the U.S. for the first time. The recent bombing of an NPR car in the Iraqi capital has made that process more urgent for some, like Mohanad Mahdi.

A few days ago Mahdi, a driver for NPR, presided over a family meeting.

"So my wife, my parents and the rest of the family met and I told them that we could be leaving for the U.S. as refugees soon," he says. "I asked for their thoughts. Most of them said they wanted us to leave because they are worried about my safety here."

Last month, a so-called sticky bomb blew up one of the NPR cars in Baghdad. The car was not occupied at the time and no one was hurt. Mahdi was one of the drivers who was there when the attack happened.

He says uprooting his family to become a refugee in the U.S. is one of the biggest decisions he will ever make.

"After I explained the problems with the American economy and the lack of job opportunities there, they now say we need to think about it more."

Like many NPR Baghdad staffers, Mahdi is now on the last leg of a lengthy process. But as his departure becomes imminent, he is wondering whether he is doing the right thing.

Producer Kais Al-Jaleili, on the other hand, wants to leave as soon as he can, despite what he has heard from other Iraqis who have already resettled in the U.S.

"Everyone is telling us don't go, very bad there, but you know, anything there better than here. Hard work, it's better. I can save my life," he says.

In 2005 Jaleili was pulled out of a car, beaten and almost killed. Then a few months ago on his birthday he woke up to terrible news about his neighbor and best friend.

"In the morning, I was [sleeping], I heard his mother screaming, like crazy, I thought it a dream or something," he says. "And then my father told me Said [was] dead ... 10 bullets in his head, the other in his heart. No one know the reason. The mother now is completely crazy."

Jaleili says she sits outside her house everyday underneath the banner announcing his death — and rocks and cries.

The bombing of the NPR car only added to Jaleili's resolve. He hopes to end up in Chicago, where his uncle lives. He says he is not afraid of the possible economic hardship he might face when he is in so much danger here.

And for Ali Hamdani, the waiting is over. Hamdani is a translator who also was there on the day of the car bombing. He has decided to leave Iraq immediately.

"I felt like I was chained to this place and that bomb, rather than, like, you know, cutting my body into pieces, it just managed to cut all these chains and set me free from this country," he says.

He is going to Syria, where he will wait for a decision on his American refugee application.

Hamdani has earned his living in Iraq as a translator for NPR, The New York Times and the Times of London for the five years since the U.S.-led invasion.

But by training he is a medical doctor.

"Going to the States is a dream for everyone, but for an Iraqi person who's been through all this I think it's not just a dream ... it's just life," he says. "It's a chance to have a proper life, a real life."

He hopes to get his medical specialization after he arrives in America. He also wants to get married, have children.

"If I have a son ... I want to tell him ... I just want to tell him Iraq's story with a smile on my face," Hamdani says. He wants to tell him from the safety of America.

There are a few hurried goodbyes as Hamdani leaves to catch his final plane out of Iraq.

His car pulls away — and then Hamdani is gone.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: