Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Abu Ra'ad and family

Abu Ra’ads luck was changing. After two and a half years his families bags were packed, his furniture sold, his lease broken. He was scheduled for a September 9th flight to Salt Lake City where his cousin had rented him a home, enrolled his children in school and found him a job translating for other Iraqis resettled in the city. Quietly he was saying goodbye to friends and family. On September 4th he received a phone call. It was from the IOM (International Organization for Migration). The caller did not identify themselves. He informed Abu Ra’ad that their departure was cancelled. They gave no explanation or time frame for rescheduling and abruptly hung up.

Abu Ra’ad nearly had a heart attack. He called the IOM back and finally was told the cancellation was due to the fact his security clearance had expired. Again, the person on the phone didn’t identify himself. He didn't tell him how long the clearance would take; he told him they would call back. Um Ra’ad, Abu Ra’ads wife, became ill. His daughter was taken to the hospital for anxiety, the stress too much to bear for the young woman.

Abu Ra’ad was working as a translator for the UN and a subcontractor with the coalition forces when he was kidnapped at gunpoint from a street in Baghdad. He was asked if he was the "UN Man". His captors beat him viciously, they degraded and humiliated him. They taunted him, saying, "You are a Christian, you don't need anymore children." He was being held for $50,000 and a list of all the people he worked with at the UN and with the coalition forces.

Abu Ra’ad negotiated with his captors, explaining that his wife would not be able to get all of the money and he needed to access his computer to get the list of names. His wife sold family jewelry and other precious items and $10,000 was delivered to the kidnappers. After 4 days Abu Ra’ad was released and told to get the rest of the money. Two days later gunmen arrived at his home. He stalled and the gunmen said if they returned and he could not pay, they would execute his son 8 year old son in front of him and his wife. Early the next morning Abu Ra’ad, his wife and three children packed and fled to his sister-in-laws home near the airport. They escaped to Jordan in February 2006.

Once in Jordan he immediately applied to the UNHCR seeking refugee status. He seemed a likely candidate for quick approval. He had worked for the coalition forces and the UN. He had been kidnapped, tortured, and his son's life was threatened. After one year, the UNHCR recognized him and his family as refugees and transferred his file to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) in May of 2007. He and his family attended all meetings and interviews and the medical testing was completed. Yet when he received the reply to his application in October of 2007, the decision was marked "Deferred". He understood that the sticking point was the ransom that his family paid for his release. And on that point he seemed luckier than most. In his last interview his inquisitor had questioned why a ransom was paid. Why had the family supported terrorism? This is a standard question asked of anyone who had paid a ransom to have a loved one released. Many Iraqis are denied their applications for "Credibility Issues" due to the answer given to these 2 questions. Why did you pay a ransom? Why? Why did you support terrorism? Why? Can you imagine? Kafka at his best couldn't come up with this scenario. Abu Ra’ad laughs when he sees the astonishment on my face. His wife cries. "It's true!" he exclaims, and I laugh too.

It is guessed that his application was not denied outright because of his many years of service to the UN, the very organization who deferred his application. It is a guess because no one at the agency will tell give him an explanation.

Finally, in July 2008 the IOM notified him that his family was granted refugee status in the U.S.A. and his file was reactivated with IOM where additional interviews and meetings were necessary. He was told in August of 2008 that a new medical clearance was necessary as the old clearance expired. He asked about the security clearance and was assured it was in order. As Abu Ra’ad and his family completed the final meetings with IOM their excitement was building. For the first time in years they allowed their imaginations to take flight. Finally, they could get on with there lives. Finally, he could return to work and provide for his family. Finally an opportunity was only weeks away.

As Abu Ra’ad retold his story we sat on the furniture he had to buy back at a premium. He negotiated a new lease with the landlord, paying an additional $50.00 per month once he convinced the landlord to allow him to stay. The stress and frustration are palpable. He says, "Everything has returned to the zero point, I have no hope." He can no longer obtain his blood pressure medication. A new highly touted program claims Iraqi refugees can get the same health coverage as any uninsured Jordanian. The only glitch is the clinic insists you go to the local police station to receive a stamp that proves you live in the neighborhood. Few Iraqis will do this because most have overstayed their visas and they "will be dumped at the border" if they go to the police station. So now he rations his remaining medicines.

The last time he called IOM asking for additional information, Abu Ra’ad was told not to call anymore. He was told to just shut up and wait. So he waits. He says, "This is not for me. I am fifty. I only want to get back to work to provide a chance for my children. Who will give me back these last two years?"