Iraqi Refugee Tells of Journey To Columbus From Bagdad

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The Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, Ohio.(Photo: Thomas Bradley, WOSU)
The Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, Ohio.(Photo: Thomas Bradley, WOSU)

It’s unknown just how many Iraqi refugees have settled in Columbus. Estimates range in the thousands. Most of them fled their homeland after American troops invaded in the spring of 2003. This is the story of one man’s journey from Bagdad to Columbus.

Two years after American bombs began raining down on Bagdad, Mazin Al-Issa and his wife decided their three children were no longer safe.

“It’s really getting bad. The danger was like closing on us. All the families that we know have some kind of crisis either been kidnapped, killed whatever. You mention it and it was there. So my wife was telling me it is coming to us. I can see it,” he said.

Al-Issa moved his wife and three children to safety across the border to Jordan. An aeronautical engineer, Al-Issa returned to Bagdad to work at the city’s airport. It was under seige at the time.

“The road to the airport used to be called the death road because so many people got killed on that road,” Al-Issa explained.

Despite the danger Al-Issa stayed for nearly three more years so he would have money to send to his family in Jordan. But years of fighting took a toll. He describes a time of no electricity, no tap water and no sewage system.

“I had to sleep outside in the garden. It was hell. So hot. I feel like I’m really like completely dehydrated. So I had to sleep outside with the bugs. And the worst part of was the slugs…the bullets that come from the sky,” he said.

After making arrangements Al-Issa joined his family in Jordan. He had a contact in Columbus, so the headed to the United States not knowing if he would ever see Iraq again.

“I left my heart over there,” he lamented.

With three degrees in engineering, Al-Issa wanted to resume his career in aeronautics and applied for the position at a private jet service here. But nothing came of it and soon with some training he parlayed his fluency in English into a job as an interpreter.

“I do lots with the new arrivals with OSU Occupation-Medicine that’s where they get their screen for health. I do lots of jobs with OhioHealth. I do lots of home visits. I do lots with schools,” Al-Issa said.

Despite all he’s given up, aid worker Nicol Ghazi says Al-Issa is one of the lucky ones. She explains Iraqi refugees are given food stamps, a small amount of cash and access to health care for less than a year when they move here. Still most of them have a hard time making a go of it.

“We have a lot of families who fall through the cracks. It’s not even a matter of financial support. It’s the moral support, the hand-holding. We have widows that come in. We have widowers that are raising children. We have families that there’s significant injuries,” Ghazi explained.

Ghazi is the administrator at Muslim Family Services of Ohio.

She says the majority of the Iraqi refugees she works with find it difficult to master the the language, the culture and the bureaucracy here. She says it’s often the most needy people who get into the system and end up with Al-Issa’s translation skills.

“At the doctor’s appointments, in the schools, dealing with a legal issue. Maybe they’ve missed a deadline where they were supposed to change a status and they were unaware of it. So those ones in significant difficulty are fortunate enough the services of professional interpreters,” Ghazi said.

Ghazi said it’s hard to know how many Iraqi refugees came to Columbus at the height of the war but she estimates they number under five-thousand. And she doubts Columbus will see another wave of Iraqi immigrants anytime soon.

  • dr.marlene

    I think it is our duty to help the refugees from Iraq, inasmuch as we killed thousands in their country in the ill-begotten war in which we were major players. By the same token, if we can provide for refugees coming in, even a little bit, and extend to them compassion and peace, why can we not do the same for our immigrants and set up a moral, ethical and compassionate policy for absorbing them and their families into our country?

  • john george

    like all moslems he needs to be sent back period! no one wants these stinky killers in our country! you say not all them? they don’t taker showers or baths, they brought the bed bug problems here and the viruses, there all born killers and they want you to think there ok! only the president, who’s a moslem, wants them here to back him up! I say ship them back or shoot them here!

  • johns dear friend

    john what about the OK bomber, he was irish catholic should we send all of them back. you are just ignorant and do yourself a favor educate yourself. often time ones like you are angry at them selves because they have failed at things in life so they take it out on other races or religions , you need to forgive yourself first in order to see the light.