Together at Last: Iraqi Refugee Reunites with Family
At around 10 o’clock on a morning much like any other, thirtysomething Basma walked out the door of her Baghdad apartment and hopped in her car. In a rush to run a few quick errands, she decided to take the side roads, hoping to avoid the usual traffic congestion along the main street. What seemed like a good idea at first, turned into a nightmare.
From a distance she could barely make out what appeared to be a group of men blocking the road she was driving on. As she came closer, she saw that the men were armed, their guns pointing right at her and signaling her to stop. One of the armed men came up to the driver’s window and instructed Basma to get out of her vehicle. The men then took her car and drove off, leaving her stranded in the middle of the road.
Frightened, Basma walked straight to the police station to file a report. “I didn’t know what they were going to do with my car,” she said, recalling the event. “They could use my car for bombing. I didn’t want anything to do with that.” But the policemen were unable, or as Basma suspected, unwilling to help. She never saw her car again.
That incident was just one example of the constant struggle and obstacles Iraqis have to endure just to make it through the day. “We were suffocating on a daily basis,” she said. “Everything you do is a big hassle.” Just going to work and coming home becomes an ordeal.
At the time, Basma was working for the Baghdad office of a U.S. financial institution headquartered in Washington, D.C. Her parents and youngest sister had already left for the United States. Basma and another sister had to stay behind in Baghdad, unable to join their parents in Southfield, Mich., because they were over 21. Both feared for their lives. “We were afraid of anyone looking at us,” said Basma. “There is no protection [in Iraq]. Only God protects us. We didn’t want to live like this forever.”
Eventually, her sister escaped from Baghdad and crossed the border into Jordan, where Basma was supposed to join her soon. Basma resigned from her job and headed to Amman, as planned. She had crossed the border into Jordan numerous times before and did not anticipate any difficulties this time. But as luck would have it, the border guards decided on a whim not to let her in. It would be another nine months of living alone and in fear before Basma was able to leave Iraq and join her family in Southfield.
On the day of her long-anticipated arrival in Michigan, Basma’s family met her at the airport and together they drove to their new home. As she quickly learned, life in the United States is not without challenges, one of which is finding a job in her field, statistics. But Basma is not one to give up easily. She happily accepted a position as an administrative assistant and is planning to pursue a degree in accounting. All that matters to her is that her family is together again.
“We hear all the time in movies that the United States is a land of opportunities,” said Basma. “I didn’t really realize that I can do anything I want to until I came here.” But even though there is no limitation to one’s success, nothing comes easy. Fortunately for Basma, she does not mind putting in the hard work. “I love challenges in my life,” she said. “They make me feel alive."
What she loves most about living in America is being able to go for a walk or to the movies and not be bothered or questioned by anyone. She loves that when people pass her on the street they smile and say ‘Hi, how are you?’ even if they do not know her. When she asks strangers for directions, they take the time to offer a helpful explanation and chat with her.
Most importantly, she does not take things for granted anymore—especially the little things in life. “When I drive my car, nobody looks at me weird. Nobody stops me or asks me where I'm going,” she said. “I feel my freedom and I love it.”
Help USCRI assist refugees like Basma as they build a new life in the United States. Make a financial contribution or volunteer at a USCRI field office or partner agency near you >>
From Taliban rule to Career and Motherhood in the United States >>
Former Vietnamese Refugee Dedicates Life to Helping Others >>
Make Art, Not War: An Iraqi/American Mural Project Fosters a Culture of Peace through Artwork >>