Iraqi refugees grateful to be far from the terror

September 29, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Farouk smiles, spreads his arms wide and thanks "everyone for letting me come here."

From a camp in Turkey, the Iraqi refugee tried for 18 months to get to "this beautiful green town."

"He's been in Turkey and thinks the green is so beautiful," said Anwar. "I've been in Saudi Arabia for 18 months. Imagine how I feel."

Farouk and Anwar are among 23 Iraqi refugees and former prisoners of war temporarily housed at the New Windsor Service Center.

"They have had nothing and lived in fear," said Mayor James C. Carlisle. "Now they probably think they are partly in heaven."

Hoping to find "safety and peace," Farouk said, the refugees fled their homes and families. Now, more than 18 months after Farouk, 29, and his 31-year-old brother, Burhin, left Kirkuk in northern Iraq, they carry a fear of their former government and won't allow their last names to be used.

Farouk said the refugees all "worry about repercussions" for families left behind. "The Iraqi authorities still ask my family questions about us," he said. The brothers are Turkman, an ethnic group persecuted by the Iraqi government.

"There are 2 1/2 million of us in Iraq and they call us traitors, spies for Turkey," Farouk said.

He and his brother were drafted into the Iraqi Army after college and sent to Kuwait.

"We stayed in the desert with no food or water, no provisions," he said.

After they deserted their units and returned to Kirkuk, they eventually took part in the Kurdish uprising. After that failed, Farouk said, he would have been executed as a deserter and traitor had he remained in Iraq.

"I escaped to Turkey with my brother and sister," he said. "My sister's husband returned to Iraq a few months later and was imprisoned."

In Turkey, where Farouk worked as a United Nations translator, the brothers connected with the National Catholic Refugee Commission. That organization helped them apply for asylum in the United States.

"He has done such a good job here as a translator for us, we tell him we want to keep him," said Donna Derr, director of refugee and disaster relief for the center.

Farouk said he hopes that's a joke.

In English a little more halting than Farouk's, Anwar tells a similar story.

"Many of us deserted," said Anwar, 30. "You were either successful or you were shot."

He and his 22-year-old brother, Riyadh, also joined the Kurds. On March 29, 1991 -- he recalls the date easily -- the brothers left their parents and 12 siblings. They drove across the desert to Saudi Arabia, where they lived in a prisoner-of-war camp.

"They didn't let us do anything. They didn't trust us," said Anwar, adding that about 9,000 Iraqis are still in Arabia. "Some returned to Iraq and were probably hanged."

The center's staff expected about 50 Iraqi Christian and Kurdish refugees, and turned the multi-purpose room into a dormitory. The refugees probably will remain here about a month -- until the center locates sponsors for them -- said information coordinator Terri Meushaw.

The center also is preparing to house about 120 refugees from Somalia within the next few weeks.

Ms. Meushaw wrote to the 802 town residents to let them know of the increased numbers of refugees.

"We feel so sorry for these people," said Councilwoman Rebecca H. Harman. "We all hope they find someplace to live and work. We just don't have the jobs or facilities here."

Ms. Derr said the program's mission is to "assist the homeless in a global sense." In the past, sponsors have not had difficulty finding employment for the Iraqi refugees, she said.

"Regardless of their education, they are generally willing to enter rTC whatever employment is available," said Ms. Derr. "They tend to take jobs unemployed Americans chose not to take."

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