Iraqi Refugees in Syracuse Bring Painful Reminders of WAR
by Donna Mühs-McCarten

Photo: International Rescue Committee/Iraq

SPC regularly decries the horrificconsequences of war on individuals and communities. Recently, we have been privileged to welcome an Iraqi refugee family into our community. The family (which wishes to remain anonymous) consists of a father, mother and fivechildrenwhohavemadeSyracuse their home since March 2008.

Living close to the previous SPC officeonBurnetAvenue,dadandmomfindit difficultadjustingtotheweather.Theyhave finallymanagedtocovertheirfloorswith multiple pieces of carpet to cope with the cold winters compared to the climate in Iraq. Here the mother, wearing the traditional abaya, goes to a nearby laundromat to do the family’s wash while the father leaves to attend English language classes many hours of the day. In Iraq the father worked as a carpenter and cab driver. Their youngest child is four with mischievous eyes and a “you’re not my boss” attitude. She’s light as a feather and eyes everyone with caution, building her confidenceasshe goes. These are the wounds of war. Her older brother is helpful taking on much more responsibility for his sisters than most 14 year olds. His older sister, 17, is compromised with major health issues, some exacerbated by poor health care in Iraq. She is now improving.

Members of SPC have been fortunate to take the family to the zoo and to accompany the children to the library weekly, which they enjoy. It was also fun donating bicycles to the children and teaching them how to ride them. A few weeks later, amid many scrapes and bruises, the children sailed down the driveway to everyone’s delight. Other activities have included a summer picnic at Green Lakes. Other Iraqi families and individuals have also moved into the area, joining this family, allowing a sense of growing community to develop.

A positive outcome of the growing community is the joining of the Iraqi families who are helping with the adjustment and who possess a working knowledge of English. Such get-togethers have also given our local community time to relate to and learn from these families displaced by the war. Along with us on one of our outings was a young family with a two-year-old who were here only three days before death threats caused the father, a translator in Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” to fleefor his life. Selling his computer and his wife’s precious wedding ring, he made it safely to Syracuse. Another individual was a young Iraqi doctor who unfortunately cannot practice medicine here in Syracuse until he successfully completes a series of difficultmedicalexams in English, taking years.

You Can Help

Much help is needed since the family is no longer being assisted by the refugee resettlement program. Finding a job for dad is a high priority. The children need boots and help is needed to winterize their apartment.

Additionally, InterFaith Works' Center for New Americans needs computers to help families communicate with loved ones back home, whom they sadly miss and worry about constantly. Flooded with new families, the Center needs warm hats, scarves, coats, jackets, gloves and boots, and people to help with rides and other tasks.

Support from the community makes a huge difference, giving families a chance to meet each other beyond their tireless case workers. As the Center writes: "All too often refugees have had their dignity assaulted by situations beyond their control, such as war, genocide and global violence. The process of resettling these refugees and assisting them in rebuilding their lives in our country and community reaffirms their rightful dignity as our friends and neighbors."

To help, please call Deb Virgo at 474-1261, ext. 208 at InterFaith Works.

With our family’s father out of work now, his firstjobherebeingfairlyshort-lived,times are rough for our new neighbors. They survive with visits to the food pantry and help from Social Services and InterFaith Works. The family is strong and believes that things are still better here, with the war taking its toll in horrible ways back home. The father’s brother was killed recently by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Sadly, the brother left a large family with no income, forcing his children to go to work, seeking some way to support themselves and their widowed mother.

To many of us, the war in Iraq is far away and is a political reality we oppose. But it is more than that. It is on the streets of Syracuse, NY. It is the displacement of good people, trying hard to make it here in wintry central New York. Continual trips to the doctor for respiratory problems and the fluarecommon.Justrecently,the 14 year old came home from school with his arm in a sling following a fightwith another student who bullied him at school. With no work here, with a 1996 Dodge van with a broken transmission and no money to repair it, with language difficulties coupled with discrimination, this one family among others here, embodies the pain of this war. Its effect is on our streets and in local apartments, forcing us to recognize our connection and the truth of the consequence of war. Rebuilding a life here is very difficult. While we live in relative comfort, US policies have created thousands of refugees like the Iraqi families here. Pain and poverty, displacement and despair - it can be seen right here in Syracuse. Supporting these families gives us an opportunity to assist some of those directly affected by this cruel war. Doing so only reinforces our commitment to ending this war and preventing the next one.

Donna, a retired teacher, serves on the PNL editorial committee and is working to support the Iraqi refugee family described above