Veterans Helping Iraqi Refugees

August 12, 2008

As a result of the war in Iraq, many citizens of that country fled their homes, often going to different countries, to escape the threats of violence from insurgents, who demanded their cooperation, or would threaten they and their families if they thought they were cooperating with coalition forces. Many, who’ve chosen to immigrate to the United States, have found difficulties with the process, which is often very lengthy. One such refugee, Ali Salah fled with his family to Jordan.

Several months after the invasion of Iraq, by coalition forces, Salah volunteered to work with US Troops as an interpreter. By doing so, he put his life and that of his family in danger. Some Iraqis, especially those siding with the insurgency, branded him a traitor who was collaborating with his enemy.

“I felt I wasn’t safe, and that meant that my family wasn’t safe,” said Salah, who worked with the Americans at the Al Waleed border crossing, which sits at the point where Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet.1

Once he arrived in Jordan, he should have been fast-tracked for visas to enter the United States, under the policies in place that are supposed to make the process easier for those working with US Troops. Instead, he was met with difficulties with the officials he spoke with, being told by some that he had never worked for US Troops, because he no longer had the ID badge, due to his haste in fleeing the country. The officials he spoke with felt the ID Badge would prove what he was saying.

“When I arrived here, I went to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and talked to them about my case, but I had no proof that I had worked with the U.S. Army,” Salah, using an assumed name for security reasons, told AFP.

“A year later, I lost the hope to start over. Things weren’t moving, and I wondered what I could do,” he said.2

Salah and his family lived off of their savings while they were in Jordan, waiting for officials to wind they’re way through the process, that would allow them to relocate to the United States. As he waited, he felt more and more despair, as the wheels slowly turned. On a whim, he decided to get on the internet and check for the name of the US Commander he had worked with.

“I put the name of the American commanding officer I worked with at Al Waleed in Google and I couldn’t believe it when I found him and saw his picture. I screamed to my brother: ‘Look! It’s Luis,’” Salah said.3

Salah contacted the commander, former US Army Captain Luis Montalvan, who retired last year. Montalvan had recently set up an association to help Iraqi refugees with another raq veteran, former Marine Capt. Tyler Boudreau. This week Salah and Montalvan reunited in Jordan.

“If it weren’t for you, many of my Soldiers would have died,” Montalvan said to Salah as the two men embraced, four years after they last saw each other in Iraq.4

Montalvan and Boudreau were in Jordan on a mission for their organization, Iraq Veterans’ Refugee Aid Association. They met with Jordanian government officials, Iraqi and American diplomats UN representatives and other non-government officials. At the meeting, officials told them, that based on the documentation they were able to provide, Salah and his family qualified for the Special Immigration Visa, which would speed up the process in which Salah and his family would obtain their visas, that would allow them to immigrate to the United States.

“Now in the streets of Jordan, I walk like this,” Salah said, hoisting up his elbows and swaggering in his seat.

“But sometimes I’m still afraid I will be sent back to Iraq. I always think about this. Always.”5

This is a a wounderful project that Montalvan and Boudreau have undertaken. Hopefully, they’ll be able to help many more refugees like the Salah family, to realize their dreams of immigrating to the United States and a promising new life. Please visit their website to learn more about the program and if you wish, to make a donation.

Iraq Veteran’s Refugee Association Website

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One Response to “Veterans Helping Iraqi Refugees”

  1. David M on August 12th, 2008 12:46 pm

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 08/12/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

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