The Option of Last Resort: Iraqi Refugees in the United States

The Option of Last Resort: Iraqi Refugees in the United States

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OPTION OF LAST RESORT: Iraqi Refugees in the United States.

“Yesterday, I was shouting during my sleep. I woke up suddenly, my dream was really scary, it was about Iraq. If you live as a refugee or anyone who was suffering inside Iraq, you would feel this pain living inside you, making you really suffering; struggling for survival.”

One of the least reported stories of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is the dispersal of close to 5 million Iraqis displaced either internally or forced to flee across the country’s borders. This exile is one of the greatest refugee crises in modern history. These masses of people displaced by the war in Iraq have become invisible and insignificant, overshadowed by other war-related events. Many of the displaced were the brains, the talent, the pride, the future of Iraq. Many of them, stigmatized by unforgettable violence, will never return to their homes.

Amongst the displaced is a group of Iraqis who were forced from their homes because they had helped the United States. They signed up to serve as translators working for the U.S. military or as experts with other U.S. government agencies, NGOs, or American companies in Iraq. They saved lives; they built cultural and linguistic bridges; they sacrificed their own safety and the safety of their families to help participate in what they thought would be the creation of a better Iraq. They quickly became one of the most hunted groups in the country. They bore a lethal stigma as “collaborators” or “traitors” that transcended sect or tribe, and they were targeted in assassination campaigns that drove many of them either into hiding or out of the country.

“The threat came in 2006. I got the envelope with a bullet in it and a message: “Leave your house, leave your town, or death is coming to you.” They gave me just 24 hours to leave…and I left. I received the threat because I was working with the United States Marine Corps.”

For people who fear for their life and seek refugee in the U.S., the government offers resettlement as the “option of last resort”. I photographed Iraqis who have been resettled and are living in Washington, D.C. Once here, these refugees often feel abandoned by the country they risked their lives for; many are unemployed and facing dire financial crises; many wish they could return home. Still fearful for their own safety and the safety of family members in Iraq, many asked that I not reveal their faces or names.

As the U.S. cuts back its military presence in Iraq, the plight of Iraqis who helped the United States is uncertain and deeply troubling. Currently, there is no scenario for aiding or airlifting all those Iraqis and their families, thus putting them at great risk of being targeted as soon as the U.S. Army withdraws.