Arizona Republic
February 16, 2007

Author: Michael Clancy, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3-
Abdul Amil al-Asadi pleads his case at the Phoenix offices of the International Rescue Committee, the largest of four organizations working with refugees in the area.

"Please, please, please, please, please help me with this one," he begs. "It would make me so happy."

Al-Asadi, a Muslim, wants to bring his family to the United States to join him. He has not seen his mother, his wife and three children, one of whom was born after he fled, since 1990. They are in Syria, among the estimated 2 million refugees who fled Iraq since the start of the war in 2003.

The 45-year-old taxi driver has new hope now. Hundreds more Iraqi refugees, including those with family here, could come to Arizona under an agreement announced this week that would bring up to 7,000 new Iraqi refugees into the country.

Only 202 Iraqis were allowed into the country last year and only 600 since the war began. Just 64 have ended up in Arizona in that time and only 27 in 2006.

Robin Dunn Marcos, regional director of the rescue center, said Arizona could get 3 to 4 percent of the 7,000 by September.

The IRC and other refugee-settlement agencies provide support that includes language lessons and help finding housing and jobs. The center also helps them file the paperwork necessary to cement their legal status and bring family members here.

Priority is given to people with families here, those who worked for the Americans, and people persecuted for their religious beliefs, she said.

The United Nations wants to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees this year. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called the U.S. pledge "a relevant contribution."

'Drop in the bucket'

Dunn Marcos called the number "a drop in the bucket compared to the need."

More than 2,700 Iraqis have resettled in Arizona, she said. The greatest number entered during a 10-year period that started in 1991, at the end of the Persian Gulf War, and concluded in 2001, the year of the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Most Iraqis left during the Gulf War, living in refugee camps until they could be approved to come to the United States.

The status of many of the Iraqis remains unsettled, Marcos said, because of caution following the attacks of Sept. 11.

Many, including al-Asadi, have left family behind.

Waiting for family

A man who wished to be known only by his first name, Amir, said he was tortured by Saddam Hussein's secret police for opposing the government. He left Iraq in 2000 and arrived in the United States last June. He left behind his parents, brothers and sisters.

Another man, Mohammed al-Majdi, has been in the United States since 1997. He fled Iraq, rather than be pressed into service in Saddam's army in 1990, and spent seven years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia before coming here. His mother, brothers and sisters remained behind.

"I am safe here," he said. "Nobody can take me back to Iraq."

He said he would like to get his family out, too. His mother is ill, and it is difficult for her to get medications.

Al-Majdi is one of the lucky ones. His wife got out, too, and his three children were born in this country. Dunn Marcos said refugees such as al-Majdi "are amazing."

They work hard, and many begin to earn a living and buy homes and cars soon after they arrive, she said. Al-Majdi owns his home, two cars, and both he and his wife have jobs.

But many of them are homesick for what they left behind.

Al-Asadi, the man who has not seen his family in 17 years, said being apart from them is making him physically ill.

"I am going crazy," he said.

When told that his family may be able to come soon, he had but one question:

"Insha'allah," came the answer from Dunn Marcos. "God willing."

Iraqi refugees

Refugees from Iraq began trickling into Arizona in 1986. Just six years later, the floodgates opened after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the American response, Operation Desert Storm. The numbers dropped again after Sept. 11.

1986: 3

1987: 0

1988: 1

1989: 0

1990: 0

1991: 28

1992: 263

1993: 153

1994: 198

1995: 301

1996: 210

1997: 528

1998: 144

1999: 146

2000: 269

2001: 281

2002: 55

2003: 83

2004: 8

2005: 24

2006: 27

2007: 5

Total: 2,727

International Rescue Committee
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Front
Page: A1

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Record Number: pho163930056