Immigrant Education

Fleeing ISIS: refugees who reach U.S. struggle to reclaim lives

The growing human wave fleeing Islamic State barbarism in the Middle East and North Africa -- carrying with it little more than hope -- is stirring heated debate in Europe and the U.S. over the question: Where do they go?

And for the few refugees who've arrived on U.S. shores, it's been a struggle to reclaim shattered lives -- as the communities where they've settled grapple with providing assistance.

“It was not safe. I didn’t have dreams," Abdullah Albaldawi told Fox News. He arrived 10 months ago in the U.S., after fleeing ISIS terror in Iraq. "Now I am learning English, I have dream, future. Day after day I feel better.”

Albaldawiis studying at CENTER, a new tutoring hubfor refugees in Tucson, Ariz., while learning to speak English, earn his GED and trying to get a decent job.

CENTER director Julie Kasper -- who also teaches GED classes -- says the most pressing issue for new refugee arrivals is to get a job so they can pay their bills. Many, however, have much loftier long-term goals.

“Many want to be doctors and engineers," Kasper said. "Without education, our refugee families will be stuck in what we call 'dead end' jobs. They’ll be in the service sector and they won’tbe able to move up."

Outside the classroom, organizations such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Tucson Chapter assist between 800-900 refugees annually by providing furnished apartments, English language classes and legal counsel to help refugees on the path to permanent citizenship. The IRC also has an on-site clinical therapist to help refugees who have survived torture in their homelands.

Ghassan Al Ibadi was a program coordinator for the chemistry department at a university in Iraq before resettling with his family a month ago in Tucson. The IRC is assisting his search to find similar employment at an Arizona school, while also helping the father of two get his young daughters ready to enter the public school system.

“I have two brothers. Both of them worked as translators for the U.S. Army in Iraq, Al Ibadi said. "Both of them were killed. Both of them were younger than me. I was also attacked in my home by grenades.”

Al Ibadi helps translate job-preparedness classes at the IRC for other refugees still learning English.

“We try to support the refugee from the day of entry to the day they become citizens of the U.S.,” said IRC Tucson director Jeffrey Cornish.

While Secretary of State John Kerry announced the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. for the next fiscal year will increase to 85,000, from 70,000, as the situation in Syria and the European refugee crisis worsens, the Obama administration ispledging to makesure that 10,000refugees are included in that quota.

So far, around 1,500 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S. since 2011.

According to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, Arizona receivesmore than 68 refugees per 100,000 residents.

Many of the refugees being helped in Arizona have left behind spouses, siblings, and parents in their homelands. With an average seven-year approval process in the resettlement program, the wait for family reunification is long.

“Right now I’m trying to get my wife over here, but it’s not an easy process,"said Omer Adim of Sudan. "My goal is to get my family together and live in Tucson where there’s peace. There’s freedom.”

Activists say community support is crucial in the refugees’ success.

“We’ve built a refugee community here. It allows new refugees to be mentored. It allows them to find some security with people who have already successfully established themselves here,” said the IRC's Jeffrey Cornish.

Sarsawati Chhetri considers herself “successfully established” in Tucson. Born in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal, Chhetri knew nothing of the U.S. until she moved to the Tucson at age 13.Language was a huge obstacle in her new life in the U.S. But she overcame it to become a student at the University of Arizona. She now spends her time volunteering with other young refugees, hoping to return a little of the support she received as a teen.

“They know that someone who went through the same situation they’re going through now was able to come over with all these struggles, and they can know it’s possible to be successful at the end,” Chhetri said.

 

Aalia Shaheed is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Get more information on the program here and follow them on Twitter: @FNCJrReporters