Iraqi refugees in America still facing difficulties

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It was once a dream but now Iraqi refugees are finding life in America is filled with harsh pitfalls.

Forced to flee their homes overseas, thousands have been settled in the Valley. That is why Phoenix is the focus of a new report calling for an overhaul of America's 30-year-old refugee policy.

The sights and sounds of gunfire, sirens and rioting are forever scarred into the minds of Aysar Jaber, her husband Maher, and their three children.

The family made a living translating documents for the United States military in Iraq and for that Aysar says they became a prime target for terrorists. "They kicked out my husband and threatened us that if we work again that we get killed," she says.

Forced to flee, they moved several times before receiving word they would be resettled in Arizona. Aysar recalls, "We were happy and joyful because finally we were going to establish our life again and start our life again."

The family is five of the 257 Iraqi refugees settled in Phoenix last year, according to a recent report by the International Rescue Committee (IRS). That is up dramatically from just eight in 2006, and 47 in 2007. But because of the nations' sharp economic downturn, the IRC's Iraqi resettlement numbers are declining with even fewer expected in 2010.

IRC spokesperson Katherine Ried says that with the U.S. job pool shrinking, it is becoming more difficult to resettle refugees because they are expected to find jobs within a month of arrival.

Aysar admits, "I think it's a broken system and I think that that's what the argument has been."

Upon arrival, each refugee is granted a $900 stipend by the government, an amount the IRC says does not even begin to meet basic needs, like food and rent.

Aysar asks, "How do you expect a person, he came from empty pockets to pay $800 next month?" Ried adds, "So we're seeing that people are struggling a lot more to be able to pick up where we leave off."

Refugees can apply for some additional funding but the IRC maintains the U.S. resettlement program is still dangerously underfunded, adding that many immigrants are here for helping American troops.

"They put their own lives at risk, the lives of their families at risk and so we really need to be supporting them in coming to this country," says Ried.

Right now, one family of four's sole source of income is Maher's job as a dishwasher at a Marriott Hotel, a far cry from his job as an engineer in Iraq. After nearly a year in the U.S Aysar continues her search for work, but says she can deal with the struggle now that she knows her family is safe.

The IRC is calling for Congress to allocate more money for refugees facing poverty and eviction.

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