Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Profile: Refugee on Arrival -Lessons from the Afterlife

Mohammad Al-Karkhi spent nearly all his savings during his time in Syria. A local producer for NBC in Baghdad, Al-Karkhi had already sent his wife and three children to live in Damascus. He escaped from his hometown himself last year after a neighbor, who'd been kidnapped and released by the Sadr Brigade, ,warned that they were after Al-Karkhi too.

He finally made it to New York City with his family this June. He lives now in a sparse Bronx apartment in a squalid graffitied building with steep stairs and peeling paint. So far, the IRC is paying for his apartment, food stamps, a phone and electricity, and sending a monthly check for $520. He has four weeks left to find a job and become self-sufficient before that support stops.

That's part of the "self-help" philosophy among American refugee organizations. Al-Karkhi would eventually like to return to school and then practice journalism. Today, he's meeting with his caseworker at the IRC. She scrolls through Craigslist looking for jobs. "Ah, I think I found something!" She scans the computer screen quickly.

"No," her voice flattens. "It's the Army. I don't think you wanna talk to the Army."

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