IARP response to Executive Order on Immigrants and Refugees

Written on February 3, 2017, by

January 28th, 2017

Dear friends,

We are deeply troubled regarding the Executive Order targeting our refugee, immigrant, and Muslim communities. It flies in the face of the American values we hold dear. Religious freedom is a key tenet in our constitution, and the persecution of one faith threatens the protection of all faiths. The United States Constitution expressly protects individuals from persecution perpetrated by their own government. This includes bigotry based on faith, on nation of origin, and skin color.

This announcement is especially heart wrenching for our Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, Libyan, Somali, Sudanese and Yemeni community members who are waiting to be reunited with a sister, brother, parent or child. These refugees are our coworkers, neighbors, friends, business owners, community leaders, and fellow American citizens and voters.

As an organization whose mission is to promote reconciliation between the people of the US and the people of Iraq in response to the devastation of the US invasion and occupation that has affected Iraqi families, society, and culture, we find this news horrifying. This announcement would bar many Iraqis who are eligible for the Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and who face persecution due to their work alongside U.S. troops. The US government must not abandon the little responsibility it has taken regarding the consequences of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

We recommend that you take a look at the steps the Arab American Institute has outlined to stand against the ban here. We also recommend reaching out to CAIR with any legal questions at 612-206-3360 or email them at info@mn.cair.com. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at IARP with any questions or concerns.

In the upcoming weeks, please reach out to your immigrant, refugee, Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Latin American neighbors, and let them know you care and stand with them in solidarity.

Sincerely,
Your IARP Team

 

What we know about the Executive Order:

 

  • A ban on entry for 90 days of all immigrants and non-immigrants, for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This seems to be affecting US permanent residents (green card holders) as well.
  • Stops most refugee admissions for at least four months: 120-day pause in refugee admissions to the U.S. with exceptions permitted for those fleeing religious persecution if their religion is a minority in their country of nationality.
  • Blocks refugees from war-torn Syria from entering the U.S. indefinitely.
  • Caps total refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017 at 50,000 – less than half of the 110,000 proposed by the Obama administration.

 

 

What is the current vetting system like?

The current vetting system for incoming refugees is extremely thorough. Learn more here.

 

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Christmas in Karbala by Cathy Breen

Written on January 3, 2017, by

Published with permission from Cathy Breen

Dec. 25, 2016

Karbala, Iraq–It is Christmas day, and I am in Karbala with dear friends. We awoke to a second day of rain, and pictures of flooding, especially in Baghdad, are being shown on TV. Yesterday, on Christmas-eve, several tents caught fire in a camp for the internally displaced near Mosel. As I write you, I am looking at the charred remains of one of the tents on TV. Angry people are describing what happened, lifting high the kerosene heaters for all to see. And, of course, the conflict in Mosel is foremost in the news. I am missing a translator this morning as my host is at work. But I would like to relate something from last week’s events.

Over the years, we have made many contacts in Najaf through our generous host there, Sami. These include doctors, dentists, hospital personnel and University deans. On one particular morning last week two presentations for me had been arranged, one at a Medical college, another at a college of Dentistry. As Voices for Creative Nonviolence we are eager to hear from young people, and rather than giving a presentation, I welcomed the opportunity for an open exchange.

One of the questions that repeatedly arose was “What will happen under Trump to all Muslims in America?”

“We want the U.S. to understand one thing” said a student. “Islam doesn’t mean terrorism.”

When asked if there was any interest in the US elections, a female student spoke up. “The elections were not important for us, but somehow the U.S. rules the world and I think the elections for the U.S. president should be worldwide. I was really disappointed in Trump.” Another student felt that it didn’t matter who was elected, the U.S. policy would remain the same.

Both Najaf and Karbala house holy Shia shrines and thousands of pilgrims visit both cities annually. They are two areas which, thank God, have remained for the most part safe and stable. It is one of the reasons we can travel here.

One of the first students to speak in the lecture hall of about 150 students said “On facebook I get the impression people think we are dodging bullets and bombs every day. We live a normal life.” Someone retorted, but not harshly, “And in Mosel or in other parts of Iraq?” And there was a feeling of agreement in the room that Najaf has been spared the violence, destruction and death that beset most other parts of the country.

“We have to start by changing the corrupt government,” said one, “a government the U.S. put in. But I don’t know how to bring about that change.”

On another day, we visited the Middle Euphrates Cancer Center which opened in 2014 and provides radiation and chemotherapy. Fifty percent of their patients come from the middle Euphrates area and they receive patients from the internally displaced population as well.

They have entered a critical period in terms of budget cutbacks. As the incidence of cancer increases throughout the country, the Ministry of Health (which provides 90-95% of their services) is cutting their budget by 50% in 2017. In 2013 the budget was 3.7 billion dollars. In 2016 the budget was $1,2 billion dollars. The salaries are fixed, but the cuts will affect drugs, equipment and specifically cancer care. Last week 85 items in their drug stock were depleted; 50% of their overall stock is depleted. The Minister of Health can only provide 6% of their needs. This is indeed distressing news.

Just prior we visited El Sadder hospital. Walking through the halls, clean but in a state of disrepair, I was reminded of the time of economic sanctions. In one of the sitting rooms, a doctor sat down next to me and immediately began to tell me of two great needs: 1. deficiency in orthopedic supplies and 2. the need for training for their technicians. Could they come to U.S. for a month or more of training? I asked to see the prosthetic unit and was taken there immediately.

A personable young man named Hussein, 21 years of age, who had lost an arm (and had extensive scarring on his face) at 10yrs of age due to an explosion approached me. He spent time in Arizona receiving treatment, and his English was excellent. Hussein has many contacts with Shriner’s Hospital in NY city. I was given an itemized list of items they need. It would be a wonderful thing if Shriners could contact this hospital for some type of interchange and/or assistance.

I struggled with mixed emotions during the visit, feeling like a visiting ‘dignitary of importance’¯ being escorted through the halls and units. I remembered back to a young 12-year-old quadruple amputee, Mohammed. Four or five years ago, his father and prosthetic technicians brought him to the house where I was staying in Najaf. Could I help him get a prosthetic arm? For months on end I showed his picture and told his story in the states and in Jordan as well, trying to find some organization that could help. Coming home from school at six years of age, Mohammed had stepped on an electrical wire from a pole downed by a U.S. bomb. All of my/our attempts proved futile. I still find it painful to remember this boy, who had not been able to feed himself, itch his nose or embrace a fellow human being since he was six years of age. This experience has made me very hesitant to receive similar requests.

Last night my host read to me from the Koran the account of Jesus’s birth. It was a special way to spend Christmas eve, assuring, that our faith traditions share much in common.

Meet our new intern: Allie Harris

Written on December 26, 2016, by

Hello, my name is Allie Harris. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and finished my Master’s in Islamic Studies in June. After finishing my degree in Denver, I moved north to the Twin Cities. So far, I am loving Minnesota and I could not be more excited to be involved in IARP. I am lucky to have this opportunity to be more involved in my new community, continue in the field I am passionate about, and, hopefully, work on my Arabic language skills.

Hygiene kits and Dignity Baskets

Written on December 14, 2016, by

IARP has been grateful to partner with the Critical Needs Support Foundation (CNSF) on a Humanitarian Project for Peace to bring hygiene kits and sanitation products to IDP’s in Iraq. The recent kits were for the people of Mosul who have fled from IS (Daesh). The CNSF team are working tirelessly on the ground to identify and respond to those in need.

The most recent distribution consisted of:

  • 68 hygiene kits in Al Haj Ali Village, south of Mosul, Ninewa Province

  • 60 hygiene kits in Hamam Al Alil, south of Mosul near Al Qayyarah, Ninewa Province

  • 270 Dignity Baskets in Alkhazer Camp, for displaced Iraqis feeling from Mosul (this distribution was funded in part by IARP and other humanitarian organizations).

 

The Dignity Baskets contained feminine hygiene products. The Hygiene Kits distributed in the villages each contained:

  • 1x towel

  • 5x toothbrush

  • 1x toothpaste

  • 1x shampoo

  • 1x body-wash

  • 1x baby shampoo

  • 1x lice shampoo

  • 1x q-tip

  • 1x feminine hygiene kit

  • 1x sponge pack for dish-washing

  • 1x dish-washing liquid

  • 1x plastic box

Here is a note from our partners at CNSF:

“Again, we thank you so much for your incredible support. You have helped us reduce risks to people’s health in a very simple but effective way. Disease can spread quickly, making an already difficult situation even more so. Most importantly, you are helping us protect their dignity.”

Iraqi Voices 2016 Premiere Oct 29

Written on September 22, 2016, by

Join us for the premiere of a documentary film written and directed by Twin-Cities based Iraqi refugees and Iraqi-Americans, followed by a discussion with Joseph Farag, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture (UMN), and filmmakers. Reception to follow.

Iraqi Voices is a collaborative arts lab which gives Twin Cities-based Iraqis an artistic platform to share their stories. The new half-hour documentary in the Iraqi Voices series dismantles caricatures of Iraqis and Muslims in the United States ”” Muslims pray at a Catholic church in Minneapolis, refugees own a St. Paul neighborhood grocery, and a public school administrator becomes the first Muslim woman to win an election in Minnesota. The films are photographed and edited by Nathan Fisher and produced by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project.

This event is organized in collaboration with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. It is part of their year-long series of public programming, “Global Minnesota: Immigrants Past and Present”¯, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Event is free, suggested donation $10

October 29th, at 2:00pm
Landmark Center,
F.K. Weyerhaeuser Auditorium
75 5th St, St Paul, MN 55102

Iraqi Voices is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

This event is co-sponsored by the The Advocates for Human Rights.

Friends, fellowship, and fried kebbabs

Written on July 28, 2016, by

It’s friendship via food- even better, via fried food. This past Sunday five American women and six Iraqi women came together in the kitchen to cook, eat, and form relationships. Our Iraqi friends taught us how to make delicious fried kebabs and laid out a full spread of vegetable toppings and Iraqi bread. And while the meal was delectable, the company was even better. Despite the language barrier, we discussed food, our differing marriage traditions, memories from Iraq, and our experiences raising a family, going to school, and managing a career. When it was time to go all of the participants exchanged phone numbers and a hope that the dinner would turn into a monthly event.

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If you are interested in hosting or attending an Iraqi cooking class in the Twin Cities contact us at jessy@reconciliationproject.org

Also, check out the recipes we learned below!

Lamb and Ground Beef Fried Kebabs20160724_154142

1 kilo ground beef
1/2 kilo ground lamb

1 handful of each chopped:
onion (finely chopped)
parsley
green pepper
tomato

Approximately 1- 1 1/2 cups flour

Two teaspoons of each:
curry
cumin
black pepper

salt to taste

Using your hands, thoroughly mix all ingredients. Dip hands in water to keep meat from sticking . Form into patties, logs or balls.

Add lots of oil to pan. Heat it up and when the oil bubbles, put the meat in.

Fry 1-2 minutes per side, or until each side gets brown or as well done as like.

Serve with vegetables and herbs such as: spring onions, sliced onions marinated in sumac, mint, cilantro, parsley, Iraqi pickles (see below!), green peppers, tomatoes!

Wrap in Iraqi bread and enjoy!

Iraqi Pickles

pickling cucumbers
white vinegar
garlic cloves, crushed
kosher salt
ground coriander
curry powder
sugar

Put your cucumbers into sterilized mason jars. In a pot, boil white vinegar, garlic cloves, salt, sugar, and other spices. Use about 1 cup vinegar, ¼ cup salt, and ¼ teaspoon sugar per 1 pound of cucumbers.

Feel free to experiment with different spice combinations/quantities, and different kinds of vegetables! You can also stuff your cucumbers with garlic, parsley, onion, and other spices.

Pour the boiled brine over the cucumbers until the jars are full. Seal the jars.

Once the pickles change color they will be ready to eat- this will take approximately one week.

 

Sahtein!

A chat with the Critical Needs Support Foundation

Written on July 16, 2016, by

Ammar Faily of the Critical Needs Support Foundation (CNSF), our partner in our new Water for Peace hygiene kit campaign, dropped by our office July 12th to give several board members and long-time supporters an update on the project.

In the past few months, CNSF has distributed 280 sanitation kits and given lessons on good hygiene at four different locations in Iraqi-Kurdistan- 35 kits on Sinjar mountain, 185 kits in Zakho (on the Turkish-Iraqi Border), 25 in Sheikhan (mostly to widows), and 35 in Erbil (Ammar described the camp as full of half-built house skeletons). These kits are important preventative measures that not only stop the spread of diseases like cholera and scabies, but that also help families to avoid emergency medical expenses. Ammar explained that many displaced people are living on less than $40 a month, and simply don’t have any extra money for medicine or doctors. By preventing more extreme illnesses, hygiene kits not only improve sanitary conditions in camps, they also help refugees save money, which can then be used for necessities like food, clothes, and schooling.

For those of us in the U.S. it is often difficult to get an accurate picture of the real conditions on the ground in Iraq, and luckily for us Ammar was able to share some of his recent experiences there. He told us about recent activity by ISIS in different areas, the varying conditions of electrical and water services across Iraq and Iraqi-Kurdistan, the conditions in refugee and IDP camps, and the current political climate. His report was realistic about the challenges faced, but still optimistic- conditions are hard and sectarian tensions are high, but he personally thinks that ISIS will be driven out of Iraq by the end of the year.

Ammar also gave us some details on CNSF’s other programming, which includes:

An orphanage, which currently has 37 children in residence.

A safehouse for girls rescued from ISIS. CNSF currently supports 27 girls, all of whom receive trauma counseling and medical care. The girls are between the ages of 9 and 40, most of them in their teens.

The New Life Program, which teaches skills like carpentry and sewing so that displaced Iraqis can find work. 52 girls have obtained positions in a factory, and others have been giving sewing machines so that they can work from home.

Emergency aid for isolated groups like the population of Sinjar mountain.

If you would like to support our Water for Peace hygiene kit project and help promote better health for displaced Iraqis and reconciliation between our countries, please click here, or sent a check with hygiene kits in the memo line to IARP at 416 E Hennepin Ave #116, St. Paul MN, 55414

“People far from the fire don’t feel the heat”: An Update from Iraqi Kurdistan

Written on June 22, 2016, by

As we continue to fund hygiene kits for Iraqi IDPs in the Iraqi Kurdistan region we think it is critical to understand the situation in the area. In May, we funded $2,500 worth of hygiene kits that were distributed by the Critical Needs Support Foundation. As people “far from the fire” our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are those “close to the heat”.

Below is a letter written by Cathy Breen who is currently part of a peacemaking team in Iraqi Kurdistan. Cathy is a N.Y City Catholic worker who first went to Iraq in 2002 as part of the Iraq Peace Team, a sub-project of the Voices in the Wilderness.

April 25, 2016

Dear Friends,

It is hard to put my feelings into words. Just the other day we visited a sheikh whom I had met in Fallujah in 2012. He and his family were forced to flee to Kurdistan about two years ago. Fallujah, as you probably know, is being held by ISIS. None of its residents are allowed to leave. People are literally dying of starvation.

We met in the rented apartment of another sheikh who also fled Fallujah with his family. Although he himself is sick with cancer, both he and our sheikh friend welcomed us warmly. The afternoon was balmy and pleasant, the room was airy and light, with cushions on the floor, a couple of plastic chairs and a bed which also served as a sofa. Water was fetched immediately and we were graciously served sweets and tea. In the course of our visit we were joined by yet another sheikh from Ramadi. The U.N. recently reported that the destruction in Ramadi, also in the Anbar region, was the worst they had witnessed in all of Iraq.

Outwardly everything seemed so normal that at first I forgot I was with people now counted among the hundreds of thousands who are internally displaced in Iraq. In the next couple of hours, though, we would hear many tragic stories that would dispel any thought of normalcy.

“We have lost everything,” our sheikh friend said. “We are like babies just being born. We lost schools, universities, houses, bridges, hospitals, markets. All gone. People in the U.S. need to know what their government did to the Iraqi people. All this pain, destruction and hurt.”

Our host told of a woman who had no breast milk to feed her baby as she herself was starving. However, she had a goat and, for a while, she was able to give this milk to her baby son. Then the goat died. At this point in the story, the Iraqi woman translating for me was unable to continue. Overcome by sorrow, she began crying and left the room to collect herself. I learned later that this mother searched desperately for someone to give her baby to in order to save his life.

After a lengthy open discussion, we were invited to join the sheikh’s wife, watching children with other women of the family in a second room. Again a very warm welcome belied an all-too-grim reality. This dear woman’s mother, sister and daughter are all currently trapped in Fallujah, and with ten children in their collective care. On occasion she is able to reach them by phone. The women in Fallujah weep to her across the line. They are reduced to eating grass.

“We can do nothing to save them!”¯ the sheikh’s wife said. “The government doesn’t help! We don’t know how this is possible!” It was incomprehensible to me -I find myself simply unable to imagine this family’s pain. “We have a saying,” she said. “People far away from the fire, don’t get burned. They don’t feel the heat.”¯ Across that phone line, and waiting for the next call, she feels it.

As we stood to take our leave, we embraced and kissed one another. One by one, I took the sweet faces into my hands. They thanked us for the visit. Photos were taken to remember each other by, and I recorded all of the names of their loved ones in Fallujah so they will not be forgotten. I would write these names here, and include the photo for those who read this, but I am fearful to do so. Their situation is already so precarious.

It was early the next day-that is, yesterday morning-that my driver and I left for Dahuk, about three hours northwest of Erbil. The road to Dahuk is dotted with many Yezidi, Christian and Kurdish villages. My driver and his family are themselves internally displaced from one of the villages surrounding Mosel, and our trip would take us close to his village. Actually we entertained the thought of visiting there, but the fear of random explosions and directed ISIS attacks caused us to decide against this visit.

The family that was to host me in Dahuk are Christians from the same village as my driver. They lost a house to ISIS in Mosul in 2008 when they fled after priests were murdered in their church. They had lived there for twenty years. They fled to a village called Teleskuf where they would live for another 6 years until ISIS took this village as well. Now it is a ghost town with only the Peshmerga there.

We passed the area of the Mosul dam and later with my host family we looked together at a map marking the whereabouts of ISIS. “We all know where ISIS (Da’ash) is”, they told me. And lines were drawn on the map to show me their current locations. They were only kilometers away.

In Dahuk we visited with some Yazidis in an unfinished building where they are living. After a word of welcome we were given water, juice and sweets in a ceremonious manner, so typical of the graciousness in the Middle East. An elderly gentleman shared the terrible story of one of his granddaughters, who had been away from the area at the time of the horrific massacre in August of 2014 and the siege of Sinjar mountain. When she returned and learned of the brutality her people had suffered, she found it unbearable and took her life. How does one respond to such pain?

Seated on the mat next to this sorrowing grandfather was a young Yazidi man who is studying in the university. Together with other young Yazidis they plan to reach out to about 5,000 children on the mountain with the hope of educating them. I shared the story of my friends, the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, and the fruits they are reaping from their literacy program with street children.

Also in Dahuk we were able to visit with several internally displaced families living side by side in a church hall. Excited little children led me to the curtains which act as their front doors.

 

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And then they drew back the curtains to reveal their living quarters.

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The families behind the curtains like these, in camps or in unfinished buildings and compounds, have for the time a desperately welcomed measure of security. But they have lost everything they owned. The family I stayed with had fled here with only the clothes on their backs. Fourteen people in a car!

Because they are in Kurdistan which is officially still part of Iraq, they have no refugee status and are not eligible for resettlement. They are what is called IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). They would have to go to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan and register there as refugees. They would find themselves, however, at the bottom of the pile. And they have no money with which to sustain themselves.

The husband and father of my host family has a mother and several sisters in the United States. His wife has family in Canada, Germany and the U.S. They must feel the heat from here as few others in a comfortable West, author of so much of this region’s suffering, ever can. “What can we do?” my hosts ask. “We want a future for our children.”

It is hard to put my feelings into words. “People far from the fire don’t feel the heat.” Here in Kurdistan I am closer to the fire as I watch good people getting burnt.

Warmest greetings,

Cathy Breen

Meet our summer intern: Emily Crnkovich

Written on June 6, 2016, by

Hello! My name is Emily Crnkovich and I am a rising senior at Macalester college studying Linguistics and English Literature. On campus I am involved in an organization called MacHOPE (Macalester Helping Open Peaceful Exchange), which focuses on peace-building education and spreading knowledge about post-conflict societies. It is through MacHOPE that I was introduced to the work of IARP, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to work with this organization on its mission of peace-building and communication. Other things about me: I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, I just wrapped up a semester studying in Hyderabad, India, and on Macalester’s campus I am also involved in club volleyball, debate, and student theater.

Iraq at the Festival of Nations 2016

Written on May 19, 2016, by

Festival of Nations recap by IARP intern Jackie Myer.

As visitors entered the exhibit area, they to the festival were drawn to the beautiful blue replica of the Gate of Ishtar, the former eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. The gate was originally constructed in 575 BC by the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and was considered to be one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The other side of the exhibit was decorated with a replica of shanasheel, an element of traditional Arab architecture. The projecting windows frequently used in houses and palaces to provide privacy are typically made from wood lattice, and the design attracted attention from visitors to the Festival who wanted to know more about the origins of the design. As visitors walked inside, they were able to see beautiful carpets and pillows, multiple tea sets, and various other decorations from local Iraqis. Children in particular were attracted to the large blue gate, and were often lined up outside the entrance waiting to get inside to receive a stamp in their passport and their name written in Arabic.

It was enjoyable to work at the exhibit with local Iraqis and listen to them tell stories and answer questions from children about Iraq, as well as laughing with them as I made (frequent) mistakes while attempting to speak Arabic. The Iraqis were eager to share the side of Iraq that is not usually portrayed on the news. When asked what they knew about Iraq, most children responded by saying, “there’s a war there, right?” but typically did not know anything else about the country. At the exhibit, we were able to teach them about Iraqi culture, typical foods in Iraq, and the Arabic language, as well as explaining the rich history of Iraq, which was often prompted by questions about the Gate of Ishtar. As people increasingly only hear about Iraq in the context of conflict, this opportunity to share the other side of Iraq with the community was invaluable and I hope that it opened their eyes to a richer, more complicated picture of Iraq than what they hear on the news.