Refugees of war settle in Bay Area

March 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Not only must the next president face the political situation in Iraq, he or she must deal with the refugee crisis that's resulted from five years of turmoil there.

Hussien Almousawy is an Iraqi refugee living in San Jose. He's safe from the militia that killed his brother-in-law, but he hasn't seen his wife and two little girls in a year and a half. They fled to Syria and are trapped in a paperwork nightmare.

"Now, I feel guilty because I come here and it takes a long time," says Hussien.

The violence in Iraq has displaced an estimated five million people. Nearly half of them are living in Syria and Jordan.

That's where Ellen Dumesnil traveled last month. She was part of a four person delegation for Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. The goal was to see what can be done to reunite families like Hussien's.

"There are few answers for them, so Hussien's family and countless other women and children at risk, are living in limbo," says Dumesnil.

Last year, the United States vowed to help 7,000 Iraqi refugees. It managed to relocate 1,600. The government has pointed to post 9/11 security concerns as one explanation for the slow progress.

This year, the United States pledged to re-settle 12,000 Iraqi refugees. Santa Clara County is one of many organizations now pressuring the U.S. to live up to its promise.

"What we saw are really decent people in very desperate situations and we have a responsibility. This is a humanitarian crisis," says Dumesnil.

Ellen was able to meet with Hussien's family in Syria. There's 11 people living in a two-room apartment, including two little girls growing up without their father.

"I want to tell my family I love them and I miss them too much," says Hussien.

For now, despite best efforts, there's no timetable for a reunion and no end to Hussien's heartache.