Iraqi Refugees Trickle in to the United States

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 31, 2008 1 min read
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When I interviewed Iraqi refugee students and parents in Jordan in February, it seemed unlikely that any Iraqis I met would end up in the United States. At that point, the United States had admitted only 3,040 Iraqi refugees from the war.

But one man, Adel Meshaal, whom I interviewed along with his 13-year-old son, telephoned me this month to say that this past July, he and his family were resettled in Oak Park, Mich. I had talked with him and his son at an informal school in Jordan. I remember that Mr. Meshaal told me he’d been in Jordan for four years. He mentioned he had a Ph.D. in computer science and he hoped to be resettled to another country. His spoken English was pretty good. His 13-year-old son, who had left Iraq in 4th grade, was attending a private school in Jordan, with his school fees paid for by Save the Children.

During the interview, Mr. Meshaal spoke mostly about his disappointment that his two oldest sons, in their 20s, had been forced to leave Baghdad University because of the violence there. He’d also worried about the safety of his youngest son in Baghdad, after weapons were found on the sports field of his school.

I’ve been corresponding by e-mail with Mr. Meshaal, and he has posed three questions for me. I told him I’m not really qualified to answer the questions, but that maybe some of you may want to give it a try. If so, write your responses in the comment section for this blog entry, or send an e-mail to me and I’ll pass them along to Mr. Meshaal.

Here are his questions, which I think are the same questions on the minds of many refugees and immigrants who come to this country.

How can I acculturate as American? How can I improve my English language? How can I have a job for me or any of my family because our income since we came to U.S.A. is zero?

Mr. Meshaal is now volunteering to tutor Iraqi children in math at an after-school program in his community. He writes about Iraqi refugee children: “The children transfer from strong discipline at home to the country of full freedom.”

Let me add that in the federal government’s fiscal year 2008, the United States exceeded its goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees. It admitted 13,823. But given that nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees are living outside of their home country, mostly in Jordan and Syria, and another 2 million are displaced within Iraq, some refugee advocacy groups consider this to be a small number.

Meanwhile, UNESCO is holding a conference this week to take a closer look at the state of schooling for Iraqi children inside Iraq.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.