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Iraq war refugee loses mother and country, gains a home

Horror story of kidnapping and terror finally drives Iraqi family to America.

The two women quickly developed a working relationship that evolved into an enduring friendship. Through 

Marwa, Yule was introduced to Mohammad and Noor, and the family soon became central to her daily life. “We’d go out to dinner together,” said Michaela. “We had them over to our apartment for dinner — and soon they were the only people I was seeing most beside my own roommates.”

When Yule left Syria, she felt endeared and indebted to the family. She offered a letter of recommendation to UNHCR in support of the family’s resettlement effort. Yule says her letter explained that Mohammad and 

Marwa were “professional and conscientious and diligent and smart and that I highly recommended them and that if anyone needed any info on them to get in touch with me.”

As Yule was writing her recommendation on his behalf, Mohammad had found a lawyer at UNHCR whom he felt he could trust with more details about his exile. After it became clear that Mohammad’s family faced immediate danger in the region, their name was moved higher on the list of those eligible for resettlement.

The role of Yule’s letter and of Mohammad’s appeal to the UNHCR lawyer are unknown, but on Wednesday, Aug. 4, Mohammad, 

Marwa and Noor arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport where they began a temporary stay with Yule and her family in Newton until they can be properly settled in their own home. Mohammad’s father remains in Syria, where he hopes to find some trace of Mohammad’s mother while he, too, pursues resettlement.

In the interview with GlobalPost, Mohammad reflected on the dangers of a destabilized, fragmented Iraq, especially for journalists. “There are many problems and difficulties with journalism in Iraq,” Mohammad said. “We are free to write, but there are many problems. There are different militias.”

Mohammad is disillusioned with journalism in Iraq where writers are targeted by their political opponents (as his own experience testifies). These dynamics place a high price on freedom of the press in Iraq, which was only enacted after the occupation. And although Mohammed celebrates his right, he has no delusions about its success in practice.

“I always say that before 2003 we have one dictatorship, and after that we have many dictatorships,” he said. However, the risks never hampered Mohammed’s resolve to “expose the crimes in Iraq,” and even while in Syria he contributed to a New Jersey-based publication called “The Arab Voice.”

Yule said the plight of Iraqi refugees is largely unknown by the American public, and is an issue that receives inadequate attention considering its scope. “People need to hear about this," Yule said.

According to a 2008 UNHCR report, there are more than 6.7 million refugees in the Iraqi diaspora, and 1.5 million in Syria alone. That statistic excludes 1.5 million Internally Displaced Persons, who have fled their home but remain in Iraq. Yule said there is the risk that the refugee situation will remain unaddressed “as the war in Iraq fades into the background in light of everything happening in Afghanistan.”

When Mohammad, 

Marwa and Noor landed in Boston, it was their first visit to the United States. Both of them have ambitious plans for their new life — 

Marwa hopes to earn her law degree and Mohammad to continue with journalism — but the arduous process of resettlement looms on the horizon complicated by a storm of logistics: jobs, a residence, clothes, furniture, phones, a school for Noor and a dozen other items.

Each of the three family members took two suitcases on their flight from Syria. When asked about what was left behind in Iraq, Mohammad says they brought what was “important,” (including one suitcase stuffed with toys for Noor) and “hope.”

But still, their loss is immeasurable. In addition to a comfortable home with a garden, a car and a well-paying job, the three Iraqis lost their own country. Yet they remain positive. Asked if they ever wish to return home, Mohammad replied, without hesitation, “No.”

For Mohammad, 

Marwa and Noor, Baghdad is no longer “home.”

Instead, Mohammad said, “Home is where I live, and where my family can be safe.”