June 18, 2011

Burmese FlagOur first family is a young Burmese couple, their 13-month old daughter and the wife’s father. The mother and father met in a refugee camp in Thailand. The wife and her family were in the refugee camp in Thailand for 12 years. The wife’s brother came to Phoenix first and lives in the apartment next to them. They also have family in another apartment complex including the husband’s father. They feel fortunate to have family here and feel very safe now. The mother’s father was a farmer in Burma. His wife died several years ago. The 13-month old daughter captured our hearts! She is adorable, outgoing and very curious. This is a gentle family who show great respect to visitors. Special requests are a rice cooker, bicycle pump, diapers size 2 and educational toys such as alphabet cards.

Iraqi FlagOur second family is a single, young man from Iraq. In Iraq, he lived with his family, which included his parents, a sister and a married brother. In 2006 when there was civil war there he and his sister were kidnapped. He was released. However, his sister has never been found. He and his family moved north near Kandahar where they faced the same kind of discrimination as before. They then moved to Turkey in 2009. He has been here four months. His family is being placed in Canada. He will have a roommate on June 1 which will greatly help with expenses. The two are friends, having met in the refugee camp. This young man’s apartment was empty except for his bed and a few other items. He is very grateful for any help and was very pleasant and accepting of our visit. Special request is for a vacuum cleaner as the entire apartment is carpeted.

Iraqi FlagOur third visit was to two single men from Iraq. They have been paired in the same apartment to help with expenses. They did not know each other. Their stories are heart breaking. One of the men, who is in his early 50s, saw his wife burned to death in front of him. He showed us the reports on the incident. He does not have children. He has some health issues that have resulted in his losing much of the eyesight in his right eye. He was having surgery today on his left eye so that he can retain eyesight in that eye. The caseworker who accompanied us knew this man in Iraq. He told us that this man was a master in lathe work. The man showed us a photo of himself as a younger man working on the lathe.

The other man in this apartment is also in his 50s. Although he is married and has children his wife is in Germany with the children. Her brother lives there and she was in need of surgery. He communicates with his family by phone when he can afford it. In 2006 he was kidnapped by Al-Qaida for 35 days. He was rescued by the U.S. military. He moved north near the border of Kandahar to escape prejudice but could not find a job. He then moved to Lebanon for one and a half years. He worked briefly in a book factory. When his residency permit expired he was sent to jail. Although the judge ordered him held for20 days and pay a fine he was held for nine months along with 265 other people. This man explained that, unlike other countries that have an agreement with the United Nations to give refugees a white card to stay, when their residency expires, Lebanon charges a fee for residency permits. If that cannot be paid the refugee goes to jail. Eventually, he was forced out of Lebanon and sent back to Iraq.

Both men said that even if we came back to visit and brought nothing, they would welcome us. They said it was an honor to meet us and are very grateful that they feel safe now and that there are people like the volunteers from Welcome To America who care about refugees. Special requests: bicycles (as they live far from any shopping area) bus passes, phone cards.

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