Group looks to help refugees from Iraq

Only on 7
May 12, 2008 8:45:20 AM PDT
The Iraqis who worked with the U.S. military or embassy since the invasion in 2003 are now starting to arrive in the U.S.. But the Iraqis who risked their lives to help us are struggling to build a new life here. Now, a San Francisco-based non-profit is spearheading the effort to help.

Hassan knows what it's like to live in danger. For four years he worked as a translator and cultural advisor for Americans in Iraq, making friends with U.S. troops and civilian contractors. But the friendship and the jobs came at a cost.

"I've seen some of my friends kidnapped, I was so afraid," said Hassan.

Afraid that his work with the coalition made him a target to insurgents, whose violence he witnessed almost daily. We're concealing Hassan's identity because his family is still in Iraq, minus his mother, who he says was killed accidentally by American troops. Hassan left it all behind when he was granted permission to come to the U.S. seven months ago. He now lives in Solano County.

"Here I'm grateful to have life security, but I don't have any financial security," said Hassan.

Hassan has a binder full of commendations from coalition generals and the Iraqi government. He has a physics degree, graduating top 10 of his class at a Baghdad university. He speaks five Arabic dialects and fluent English. Still, he hasn't been able to land a full-time job. Target rejected him as a cashier.

"My work history was not in the U.S., so even though I was employed by a U.S. company overseas and worked closely with the U.S. military; most of the employers here they don't count that," said Hassan.

Hassan is one of the first Iraqi translators to come here under a special visa. He gets zero assistance from the federal government. Those who came after December 2007 do receive a little help with food, rent and job placement, but only for a few months.

"Most of them are unemployed and they're demoralized because in many cases they risked their lives, their families risked their lives in Iraq. They're not getting any government support here," said Anne Kirwan, local managing director of Upwardly Global.

Upwardly Global is a San Francisco based nonprofit that has started working with Hassan and about 45 other Iraqis. The staff helps the Iraqis polish up their resumes, target their job search, and teach them to market themselves in America - like taking individual credit for achievements.

"The refugees that we're working with here are professional well-educated refugees. And it's a dreadful waste of human talent for people to end up unemployed or in minimum wage jobs with no benefits when they have so much to offer," said Kirwan.

Hassan says he's quickly depleting his savings. And if he doesn't find a full-time job in a couple of months, his last resort is going back to the danger zone, Iraq, where contractors are dangling well-paying jobs.

"If I have to, I will. I will take it. What can I do?" said Hassan.

Upwardly Global is planning to hold two career summits to help the Iraqi refugees. One on the East Coast and one in San Francisco this summer. They're looking for corporations and individuals to sponsor and participate in the event.


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