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Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 11:36 UK

An Iraqi family comes to America

By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Kentucky

Farah at home in Kentucky
Farah's parents left Iraq after her father was attacked on his way home

A storm was brewing and there was a roll of thunder. Farah - a four-year-old Iraqi girl now living in Lexington, Kentucky - urgently asked her mother, "Was that a bomb?"

Farah and her brother Bashar - who is nearly two - used to live in Baghdad with their parents Haithem and Ethar.

Ethar worked in a bank, Haithem as an interpreter - for the Iraqi army, and for American forces at a base near the capital.

One evening, Haithem was driving home with his friend when they were pursued by two cars with men shooting at them. Haithem's friend, in the passenger seat, was shot dead.

Haithem arrived home that night with his friend's blood all over his T-shirt.

Haithem and Ethar decided to leave.

Adjustments

Ethar has a British passport (she was born in London), and so have the children. But Haithem has an Iraqi passport. The British authorities refused to let them settle in the UK as a family.

Farah in Baghdad
Farah in Baghdad - a city of guns, checkpoints, death threats and fear

They applied to live in the US. It took two years, but they now have their "green cards", which means they are permanent residents with the right to work.

They are finding it hard to adjust. The US is land of cars and credit cards. They have no car, and no credit cards.

And they have found it deeply unsettling moving from a country where there is immense community support to a place where they are expected to fend entirely for themselves.

They arrived to a completely empty flat in Lexington. No beds, no seating, no kitchen equipment. Nothing. A friend lent them blankets, and they slept on the carpeted floor.

Church help

Haithem imagined he would get support from the local mosque in Lexington. They never returned his calls.

Haithem thinks he has only one realistic but appalling alternative - to go back to Baghdad

The family have now moved to a two-bedroom apartment, which is fully furnished and decorated with gifts from the local ecumenical church.

They have even provided toys and crayons and colouring books for the two children.

And they've been accepted by a local programme for refugees - which is paying their first three months' rent.

Haithem and Ethar are mystified that the US Embassy in Baghdad gave them their documents, and said, "You're good to go", but made no provision for the complexities of arriving in the US.

Nightmares

Finding appropriate work is proving hard too. Ethar wants to stay at home to look after the children until they have learned English, so Haithem has to get a job.

And $6 an hour at a burger bar isn't enough for the $600 a month rent for their apartment, which they will soon have to start paying.

So he thinks he has only one realistic but appalling alternative - to go back to Baghdad as a well-paid interpreter for a firm of US contractors. His application is being processed.

In Baghdad, Ethar used to have nightmares in which a man with a beard - looking like Osama Bin Laden - was trying to kill her husband.

In Lexington she sleeps well, with no bad dreams. But they are likely to return if Haithem goes back to the city of guns and checkpoints and razor wire and death threats and bombs.




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