“None of the images of a refugee will match my life. I had a good life. I traveled a lot. I didn’t suffer hunger. Nobody raped me. I never lived in a refugee camp. But they killed my dreams. They killed my hope. They raped everything from the land. Tanks were on the curbs. No green. No water. No nature. You don’t feel like you are a human being unless there is a good environment,” said Sahar Aldurobi, 45, who left her home in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2006.
As war-torn Iraq began reforming its government after the fall of Saddam, many Iraqis were also determined to rebuild their nation. But mistrust and blame still lingered among Iraqis, resulting in the targeting of people for retaliation of the Western invasion.
“We lost everything. We did nothing wrong. We wanted to rebuild,” said Aldurobi, a former Iraqi government employee who worked as an interpreter for the Minister of Defense. “I left Iraq because I lost the feeling of being secure and living in peace. They had attempted to kidnap my son.”
In 2006 Aldurobi and her husband, who worked as an electrical engineer for American companies, abandoned all hopes of reconstructing their nation and only had minutes to pack up their belongings and leave their home.
They left all their property and possessions accumulated over the past 23 years and applied for visas to leave Iraq, but only Aldurobi’s husband and eldest son were allowed to leave for Egypt.
Aldurobi and her two younger children went to Iraqi Kurdistan, a northern region of Iraq, where her employer felt she would be safer and she could continue working for the ministry.
“Although we lived in peace, inside I wasn’t in peace. I had a feeling of being nowhere,” said Aldurobi. “Everything was new in the region of Sulaimaniya.”
Aldurobi knew that her husband, a former officer in the Iraqi military, would not be welcomed in Sulaimaniya because of the history of conflict between the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Arabs. She was able to live freely in the region because her mother was Kurdish. So she waited and hoped that her family would once again be reunited in another place.
Aldurobi’s husband let her know that the United Nations had a program for resettling people overseas. She reluctantly said yes, knowing one day there would be one roof covering her family.
Her husband warned that the opportunity may be a long shot because the family was split in two, making the resettlement effort even more difficult. Aldurobi told her husband, “Let us dream.”
After this news, her days now began and ended with a purpose. To relieve stress, she would walk her neighborhood every night and sing “I Have a Dream,” an optimistic melody by international pop group ABBA about never giving up hope.
Days and months went by and then the call came. The UN resettlement program found them a home in Oklahoma City. Her husband and son departed to America in June 2009. Aldurobi and her two younger children arrived that August.
Aldurobi’s family had been separated for three years. Since they were last together, her husband’s hair had turned grey and her youngest son could barely recognize what his father looked like in person.
Seeing her family and having a secure feeling about living in a peaceful place brought Aldurobi closure. “I finally felt human again,” she said.
“My reason for being here is for my kids. I want my kids to never have to face a situation where they have leave everything they worked so hard for and start from zero,” said Aldurobi, who now works as case manager for Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City.
Through a matching-grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Aldurobi and her family were provided job placement assistance, housing, transportation, orientation, immunization and school enrollment for the children.
Aldurobi and her husband are determined to see their kids finish school, obtain higher education and get good jobs so they can make it in the United States.
More information on the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Founded on the belief that newly arriving populations have inherent capabilities when given opportunities, the Office of Refugee Resettlement provides people in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled approximately 2.6 million refugees. Today, the U.S. takes in more refugees than all other countries combined. In Fiscal Year 2010, ORR provided more than 101,000 refugees with resettlement assistance. Only less than half of one percent of the refugees in the world (around 62 million) gets resettled.