Family reunited after years of struggle
They’ve waited nearly five years for this moment.
The nerves swelling in anticipation made it difficult to sit still. Hussein Ali paced around the airport lobby, making phone calls, as he and his family waited for the plane to land. The plane was carrying precious cargo, he said. Two of Hussein’s five children were inside.
And it’s been seven years since he last saw them, since before he left Baghdad, Iraq, in search of a peaceful life for him and his family.
“Pretty exciting,” said Hussein’s youngest son, Ali. “And my mom was crying. I was just really happy.”
Ali is 8 years old. And for the first time in his life he will meet his half-brother and sister. He’s only seen them in pictures and on Skype.
Hussein was 25 years old when American militiamen started rolling through the neighborhood where he and his father owned two antique stores.
“Everybody, they like American Army,” he said. “They give them some gifts, the people, they like it.”
He explained that the divide between the two Muslim sects, the Sunni and Shia, caused a conflict so dangerous it led to the slaughtering of many who continued their religious practices openly in front of the political party who opposed their beliefs.
“It was dangerous over there. Maybe I would have died if I didn’t leave, I don’t have life. They kill everybody, they don’t care.”
Hussein left Iraq in 2007, leaving behind his two children, Abdullah and Qabas, who were ages 9 and 4. They lived with their grandmother while he went in search for a new home.
“I couldn’t take them with me to Lebanon because I was scared about Lebanon,” Hussein explained. “And I said, ‘Let me go first.’ Because I can’t stay, I need something. I want to go outside Iraq. I want to go out, you know, just anything. I went to Syria and then after that I go to Lebanon.”
At the age of 30 Hussein went to Lebanon where he met his wife, Khadije. He began working at a gas station, making little income, he said. Because he was a foreigner he didn’t have the same rights as those who were citizens of Lebanon.
“They gave me hard time in the gas station because I am not from Lebanon,” he said. “When I want to go to the hospital, I can’t cover the medicine or anything because they tell me I’m not from Lebanon. They give only to the Lebanon people medical coverage. So in Lebanon I can’t stay. They don’t give anyone citizenship. Only the rich people. You need $500,000 dollars to pay for citizenship. It’s a hard law.”
And it wasn’t long before he realized that Lebanon wasn’t much safer than Baghdad. In the streets people fought daily, he said, shooting and killing each other for political reasons. After two years of trying to make it in Lebanon, he saved his money and asked the United Nations for help. It was his only option, he said, and a difficult one to take. As thousands flock to the UN in hopes of being relocated to a safer place, the backlog of applications makes it a long and strenuous process. But after two interviews, months of filling out paperwork and telling his story to the UN, Hussein was approved to move to the US with his family within a year. By that time, he and his wife had two children, Ali, 3, and Nour al Huda, 2.
The family packed up and made their way to the US, all the while Abdullah and Qabas stayed in his mind.
“In Lebanon, it was very hard. I tell you, I can’t hardly cover my wife and my kids, I can’t pay anything. I say that when I go to another state I will make paperwork for my family.”
The family’s plane landed at the Piedmont Triad Airport where a woman from World Relief in High Point, a nonprofit that provides assistance to refugees as they adjust to new lives in America, waited with a sign with their name on it.
“I was very happy when I come,” Hussein said. “I said, ‘Thank God.’”
The UN contacted to organization after approving their application, he said, and made them aware of their arrival. World Relief put the family in a hotel and gave them food for the night. The next day Hussein would begin another struggle, an adjustment to a country far different from Iraq and Lebanon while trying to care for his family.
“I think the big thing was, I was scared about this big country. I don’t know about anything, I don’t know how to go shopping or where to go, or what to do, or how can I find a job. I was thinking about that,” he said.
The organization helped Hussein and his family find an apartment.
“When I stay in the apartment, you know I don’t have a car,” he said. “And my family they need something to eat, for the next three or four days or one week.”
The Walmart was nearly four miles away and Hussein had little money. He found a friend to lend him a bike. That was how he made his way around for the next year.
With the help of the organization and very shortly after, Hussein began working at Roma Pizza in High Point as a cook. Having just come from a war-torn country and barely speaking English, he was challenged to learn the restaurant’s menu within 10 days. He took the menu home and worked diligently towards his goal and he memorized the menu within three days.
“I bring the menu to my house and I read, and after that, I remember I do everything. I was perfect, I do everything by myself,” he said.
While struggling to adjust, the war in Iraq raged on, all the while he was fighting a different kind of battle.
For four years, Hussein worked to reunite with his two children who were still stuck in Iraq. Hussein made frequent trips to the US Embassy, filling out paperwork. He soon realized he needed a lawyer.
“I give to the lawyer, they give him permission to work and I go to Washington D.C. and send the paperwork over there and the lawyer he tell me that the judge, he didn’t have the right paper work, they give him a hard time.”
This became a regular response officials gave in his multiple attempts to bring home his children.
The embassy in Iraq required a judge to approve the children’s paperwork that would allow them to make the move.
Soon after Hussein divorced his wife, she remarried, he said, and that was the last he saw of her. The judge mandated that her approval must be given before the children could leave for the US.
In attempts to find her, Hussein put an ad in the newspaper in Iraq. When that didn’t work he filed a police report.
“They didn’t find her, nobody knew where she was.”
Hussein and his mother, who cared for the children in Iraq, pleaded with the judge.
Officials in the embassy in Iraq stopped answering his emails. Desperate, he contacted Kay Hagan, the US Senator for North Carolina, and told her his story.
It wasn’t long before he received a response.
“With Kay Hagan it was faster. Why they didn’t answer me, but with Kay Hagan they answer,” he said. “They contacted the embassy and they ask them, ‘what's the reason, why they don’t let the children see the judge, what’s the problem?’”
Then new solution was offered. Hagan told Hussein to fill out an application for a specific document that would allow the children to enter the country along with his story explaining in as much detail as possible.
“Everything was smooth from there,” he said. “I give it to the embassy and they give me appointment for the kids.”
The children had a physical exam to show they weren’t carrying any sickness into the country after their interview and within four months they were approved.
On June 26 the plane carrying his children finally arrived.
“We were like all laughing and hugging, it was like a big crowd,” Ali said.
Abdullah is now 16 and almost as tall as his dad, he said, and his sister Qabas is 11.
“It was very happy, I was very excited. I didn’t see my kids 7 years. I talk with my son and my daughter while they were over there always, but when they come, I’m very excited. When they come, I see my son, and he was short, now he’s so tall. I said, ‘oh, now I’m old,’” Hussein laughed.
Neither Abdullah or Qabas speaks English, but they will learn, their father said.
“They’re going to come to the Newcomers School where they will learn English first. After that, they’ll put them in the right level after they make a test for English.”
The family said they are relieved to finally be able to begin a new life as a family. Hussein has big dreams for the future and said he is happy that his children are safe.
“In this country, they have a better opportunity. My kids now are good, and are in a different situation in different life. Like 100 percent different and they need time. In a couple of months when they go to school, when they get used to the people over here and they talk, after that they’re going to be just like my little son and know everything,” he said.
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