More than 1,600 refugees from Iraq have arrived in Idaho in the past decade.
Many had already fled to other countries, like Syria or Turkey or Jordan, when they learned they could legally come to the U.S. as refugees.
And when they left, they left family members and fiances behind — with plans to reunite in Idaho after everyone made it through a three-year vetting process.
The events of the past week have thrown their plans into question. The executive order by President Donald Trump put a hold on refugees from any country, but focused most stringently on seven countries including Iraq. A judge halted the order, but local Iraqi refugees fear that it will still be carried out, or that similar actions will follow.
“They’re just heartbroken,” said Andrew Lobner, a social worker at InRoads, a company in Meridian that helps predominantly Middle Eastern people with mental health and assimilation. Clients include people with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma from war — in some cases multiple wars.
Six people who arrived in Boise from Iraq several years ago accompanied Lobner on a visit to the Statesman on Monday. They spoke through a translator about their lives and their fear that politics will keep them from seeing their families or bringing them safely to Idaho.
Mohammad Al Doghman, 23
Mohammad Al Doghman arrived in 2014.
His family left Iraq in 2006, when he was a teenager. They moved to Syria. When civil war broke out in Syria, his family fled to Turkey.
As refugees, his family members were not allowed to work or attend school. But Al Doghman could speak Turkish so he flew under the radar and found jobs. Employers knew he was working illegally and offered him one-third the usual wage.
“It’s hard to live there,” he said.
He came to Boise in 2014 as a refugee. But his sisters — one with her own family of six — are still in Turkey. They applied for refugee status and were in the process when the executive order was announced.
Muslims are peaceful. ... That’s why I’m living here. I want peace.
Mohammad Al Doghman, refugee from Iraq
His fiancée is there too. He was planning to travel back to Turkey this spring to get a marriage certificate so she could join him in Boise. He worries that even though he is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., he won’t be allowed back.
Al Doghman also is busy working two jobs — in construction and at the Westside Drive-In in Southeast Boise — and sends almost all his income back to his family and fiancée. He hasn’t seen them since 2014.
“It’s, like, stopped my life,” he said. “Like broken my heart. I’ve been waiting for my fiancée. For one and a half years I’ve been engaged.”
Omar Aljanbi, 26
Like Mohammad, Omar Aljanbi was trying to bring his fiancée and family to Boise but lost hope this week.
Aljanbi’s family moved from Iraq to Jordan about six years ago. His father was the first to come to the U.S. as a refugee, arriving in Boise in 2012. Omar followed in 2013.
His five siblings and mother are still in Jordan. His fiancée lives in Turkey now and was in the process of seeking refugee status to join him in Boise.
Despite a judicial stay on the executive order, Aljanbi said a friend in Turkey was supposed to leave for the U.S. on Feb. 2 but got a call saying the departure was on hold. Other friends who still live in Iraq were supposed to arrive in the U.S. last week but were turned away at the airport, he said.
Although he has a chronic illness, Aljanbi works in the laundry department at the Grove Hotel in Downtown Boise. His father is too sick to work.
“My goal in my home [country] before I came here was to continue my education, but my situation now is different because I need to support my family,” he said.
He hopes to get a degree in accounting someday.
“Any country that supports and provides for you, that is your home, your country, and you need to be grateful for this,” he said.
Khaleel Jasim, 57, and Amenah Jasim, 21
The Jasim family lived in Mosul, where Khaleel owned a grocery store. But when that city became too violent, they fled to Syria “to find a safe place.” A couple of years later, Syria was no longer safe, so they moved to Turkey.
Khaleel Jasim brought his wife and three children, including Amenah, to Boise in 2014. He liked it immediately. It was quiet and safe. People were nice. The children could attend good schools.
But part of his heart is in Egypt. That’s where his eldest daughter, who lived in Anbar Province, fled with her own family. Not long after they arrived in Egypt, Khaleel’s 6-year-old granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer. They all had been working to get the family to Boise as refugees, but now they question whether that’s possible. Canada might be a safer bet.
“This order scares everyone,” he said. “The family is in a bad situation right now. ... It’s hard to [get cancer] treatment there, and it’s too expensive.”
Khaleel takes English classes twice a week at the College of Western Idaho. He’s slowly making progress and hopes to find work eventually.
Amenah just finished high school and is looking for a job.
Ahmad Salih, 45
After working as a translator for the U.S. military in Basra, Ahmad Salih was afraid he would be killed. He had friends who were killed because they were seen as traitors. But he got a phone call in 2009, saying his service to the military allowed him to apply for a visa to the U.S.
Three interviews and a few months later, he got a travel date to leave Iraq: Aug. 21, 2010. He arrived in Boise three days later with his wife and three children.
“I’m safe right now, I have a family, I have two more kids here, and I am a citizen,” he said.
His sister has been living in Turkey for almost three years and was in the process of coming to Boise as a refugee. He talked to her after the executive order was issued. “She feels frustrated, and they said, ‘There is no hope,’” he said.
He also has more than 20 friends who aided the U.S. military but are still in Iraq waiting to be granted admission to the U.S., he said.
Saad Salman, 52
Saad Salman also came to Boise partly because of his service to the U.S. military. He worked with the U.S. Marines in Baghdad in 2005 as a journeyman — and still proudly carries his ID badges.
Salman was kidnapped by gangs in Baghdad because of his work with the military, but he was rescued by the Marines, he said.
He arrived in Boise in 2013 and began receiving medical and mental health care. He also got help from the U.S. government. He cannot work due to disabilities and lives on $735 a month from Supplemental Security Income.
His wife and four young daughters had to stay behind in the Middle East. They applied in 2013 for refugee status and were approved in December, pending a medical exam, he said.
Salman said he loves the U.S., is grateful for the assistance he has received from the government and is “so happy here.” Recently, though, he is depressed and feels hopeless.
“This position by the president destroy my life,” he said. “This order has destroyed the dreams for refugees everywhere in the world.”