IRAP recently concluded its annual student trip to our field office in Amman, Jordan, during which students gain hands-on experience working face to face with clients. The students then report back about their experience in their own words. Featured today is a piece written by CUNY Law School student, Myriah J. Heddens, in which she reflects on her experience of meeting, interviewing, and working with a client in person. All views are her own.
In January, I joined IRAP for the law student service trip to the Amman, Jordan field office. I returned with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement for the skills I had developed and the Iraqi, Sudanese, and Syrian refugee families our small team had the honor to serve.
In just a few weeks after my return, my country became something completely foreign to me. Under the new administration, the United States has undergone a disturbing transformation of values and policies, and in the process abandoned a bleeding world.
Over the course of the week in Amman, I met with several Iraqi families, both Muslim and Christian. Despite their differences in class, religion, age, and geographical origins, their stories were more similar than different. Their fears and struggles are a piece of a larger refugee narrative that amazingly still peaked at a place of hope.
I think that a primary reason that hope was still so alive for the families we met—families who have survived, sacrificed, and compromised more than most of us can ever imagine—is because the United States has made a promise. We promised an opportunity for a new, safe, and more stable life. It was never a promise free of struggle or hard work, but it was a promise for a future that would otherwise not exist.
As I write this with perhaps the deepest sadness I have ever carried in my heart, I am thinking about a young Muslim Iraqi man and his family that I talked with for several hours during an intake interview.
A few weeks ago, that man (I will refer to him as M), who is about my age, was cleared through the International Organization of Migration and the Department of State for resettlement in the United States. M, being young and college educated, seemed sure to find his footing if given the opportunity. And that opportunity was literally right around the corner. After rounds of interviews and endless security checks, the United States was but a visa away.
M’s application had been processed separately from his parents’ and younger sibling, who were stalled in their own resettlement process. They were meeting with us to see if we, IRAP, could help flag their case to UNHCR for resettlement review so that one day they might reunite with M, if and when he traveled.
M’s mother and father were patient, yet desperate as I explained to them through an Arabic interpreter what IRAP could and could not help them with. I told them, apologetically, that I would need them to share with me their stories and all that they had been through in escaping Iraq, acknowledging the trauma it can cause to relive the horrors from the past.
Though I was but a stranger to this family, they eagerly opened up, sharing with me their tears and amazingly, their laughter, too. They shared with me because they believed that my country could ultimately do more for them than their own.
Their story is jarring and sadly far from unique. M and his family fled Iraq several times to seek what they were hoping would be at least temporary safety. Before leaving their homeland, M and his brother had been kidnapped by a local militia group and brutally tortured. Miraculously, they escaped when their detention compound was invaded by the United States military. Not long after returning to their family, their home was bombed. M and his family had no choice but to leave Iraq indefinitely. They fled to Jordan. There, they registered with the UNHCR in the hope of one day being resettled to the United States.
Jordan is a country of just under seven million citizens. For a country of its size and resource scarcity, it is more than shouldering a significant amount of weight of the global refugee crisis. And, for a number of complicated geo-political and economic reasons, it has been since the Hashemite Kingdom was forged in 1946.
M and his family have been eking out an existence in Jordan, along with millions of other refugees, surviving on the modest assistance the UNHCR provides. And they have been surviving off the slim hope of being within the one percent of the world’s refugee population that would eventually be resettled.
I fear now that hope—M’s hope and his family’s hope—will be lost, and that the faith, trust, and loyalty that people from all over the world place in our country will be shattered. I am heartbroken for those families who continue to exist in limbo. I am saddened by my country.
The administration’s short-sighted decision to ban refugees and target domestic immigrant communities is an insult to our international allies, an abandonment of our global humanitarian obligations, and a death sentence for too many of the nearly sixty-five million displaced persons world-wide.
Today, as I reflect on my brief trip to Amman, my mind is flooded by the stories that families told me and the enthusiasm that my colleagues and I shared in helping move their resettlement cases but one step forward.
In this dark and unsure moment, I feel strength in knowing that my IRAP colleagues (and our allies)—spread throughout the United States, Amman, Jordan, and Beirut, Lebanon—are fighting stronger than ever to honor the families who have put their trust in us.
Myriah J. Heddens, at CUNY Law School