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

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

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

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: Overall about 15,000 Iraqi refugees have resettled in the U.S. in the past year and a half. One of them is Alaa Naji. In the second of a two-part series, NPR's Kathy Lohr has this report on Naji's transition to America.

KATHY LOHR: At the beginning of the war, Alaa Naji's husband was killed when a car bomb exploded at the Jordanian Embassy in Iraq. She got a job to support her two small children, and because of her English degree, found work with the United Nations and the U.S. Army in Baghdad. But after a couple of months, Alaa started getting notes that threatened her family's life.

ALAA NAJI: And they said, you're gonna be, you gonna be killed, prepare yourself, you're going to be killed. And I - the colleagues, they said, Alaa, your life in very dangerous, your work is very sensitive. You work in a very dangerous place, and please think for your kids.

LOHR: Alaa escaped to Jordan, where she worked with the UN and the International Red Cross. Then she heard the U.S. was accepting Iraqi refugees, so she applied.

NAJI: I prayed alot. I think, I believe I prayed for five years till my prayer come true.

LOHR: Alaa and her two children, now 8 and 9 years old, arrived in the U.S in May. Her mother and two sisters who also fled Iraq, got here about a year ago.


LOHR: On this evening Alaa's mom cooks a dinner of salmon, soup and rice. It's a tremendous help to have family living in Atlanta.


LOHR: At first, Alaa worked as an interpreter on call. She met some Iraqis who had lived in the U.S. for more than a year - doctors, lawyers, and engineers. She says many had not found jobs. But because of Alaa's persistence, she landed a full-time position as a case manager with the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta.

NAJI: For me, I said no problem. I have to prepare myself for everything, as long as it's a decent job. The job that will able me to pay the bills, the rent, cover my cost living. I didn't dream that I am going to find a job, and that job was more than that I ever expect or dreamed of.

LOHR: Last weekend, as part of the job, Alaa visited a family of four from Myanmar. They're new arrivals and had been in the U.S. less than 24 hours.

NAJI: Did you sleep well?

Unidentified Man: Yes.

NAJI: Yes? So, welcome here to the United States.

LOHR: It was a particularly chilly morning when Alaa came to check on the couple and their two toddlers, and to offer the family their first bit of assistance, a $400 check to buy food.

NAJI: We will send someone from IRC to help you to do the shopping, but it's good for you to shop for two weeks, the rice, the food, the sugar, the oil, everything that your kids and your family needs.

LOHR: Outside the apartment complex, Alaa says she's thrilled to find a job that she knows so much about from first-hand experience.

NAJI: I can feel their - refugees when they come here, they need help. They need someone to show them the way how to start. And it means a lot for me to feel that I am - I'll be part of their life, at least the important part, because there - at the beginning, the first days when they come to the United States, they will remember, the same that happened with me.

LOHR: Alaa and her sisters are working long hours as they begin to get settled in this country. 16-year-old Noor goes to school and works at a restaurant on weekends. Maha who is 21, takes care of their mother. Maha hopes to go back to school and finish her degree one day. But Alaa and Maha say being here is a chance to start over, away from the war and the violence.

MAHA MOHAMMED: We feel more safe now. At least I can sleep...

LOHR: Yes.

MOHAMMED: I don't have to worry about there is maybe somebody in the street, or if I go outside somebody will be maybe kidnapping me, or do anything, you know. Peace is something - something very important.

LOHR: Yeah.

MOHAMMED: Even if you live in a heaven without peace, you will not feel that you live in heaven.

LOHR: Making it here is a challenge for this family but they're OK. In fact, they got some wonderful news, that Alaa's 25-year-old brother, who escaped to Syria in 2005, would join them in America this month.

Kathy Lohr. NPR News, Atlanta.

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