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Letter from Cathy Breen, May 15 2010

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Damascus, Syria

May 15, 2010

Dear Friends,

Last week I visited a family I met last year. They were rejected by Homeland Security for resettlement to the U.S. in March of 2009. They received a form letter with a check in the box “credibility.” Translated this means “we don’t believe your story.” The family told me that during the interview for resettlement the Department of Homeland Security officer repeatedly said “good, good” after each question, even telling them that as far as he was concerned they would be accepted.

The wife collapsed when she heard the news of their rejection. She had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.

Her mother and brothers are in Detroit, and the father’s brother as well. This was one of the “cases” we presented to Homeland Security-Resettlement in Washington DC last July, asking that they review the case, grant the family a second interview and overturn the decision.

A year has passed. They were not granted another interview. They did however get another form letter in English in October of 2009. It stated that their “request for review” had been denied because they could not show that an error was made during the interview significant enough to overturn the denial. But I ask you, how could someone file an appeal when they don’t know the reason why they were rejected?

This family, Chaldean Catholic, came to Syria in 2004 after the husband received death threats. He was working as a body guard and driver for the American firm, Sandi Co.. After about a year and two months in Damascus, their money ran out. They heard that the security in Iraq was better so they decided to return to Baghdad. Less than two weeks later their oldest daughter, who was six years old at the time, was kidnapped. Upon her release, they immediately fled again to Syria, in September of 2005.

During our visit, this daughter, now eleven, left to get a photocopy of the rejection letter for me. I took the opportunity to ask the mother about the details of her kidnapping. Again, she was only six years old at the time.

The family had gone to visit an aunt. They were not in their own neighborhood. The child asked for some change to buy candy at the corner store. It was about noon. The next thing they heard was the loud shouting of neighbors. A black car had pulled up and taken a small child. About four hours later the aunt received a telephone call on her land line. The kidnappers were demanding a ransom of $50,000. After several telephone calls throughout the afternoon and evening, the amount was reduced to $10,000. The money was raised through the sale of the mother-in-law’s jewelry and an uncle who was able to help. The child was eventually released. She had been beaten about and was badly shaken, but “Thank God,” they said, “she had not been violated.”

I try to make it clear that we have little influence in the matter of resettlement. We can approach the UNHCR to see if they would consider “reopening” the case for another country, but there are thousands ahead of them. We will definitely resubmit our request to Homeland Security to revisit this “case.” Persistence has paid off in the past.

The mother related that one of her brothers in Detroit lost his job. The company where he worked went bankrupt. They lost their home to foreclosure as they couldn’t make payments for three months. Only one brother is working. They can no longer send money to help support this family. All around the news is grim.

Thanks to the gifts of money sent on by many of you, I was able to discretely slip some bills into the mother’s hand as we left, enough to pay their rent for a month. For a moment she resisted taking it, pulling back. With tears in her eyes, she asked me to thank you.

The husband’s mother was with us during the visit. She had come from Baghdad just 5 days prior to my visit, a rare opportunity to speak with a Christian family still living in Baghdad. “She also has been threatened by terrorists” the daughter-in-law said. We learned that all but four families living on her street have fled due to the violence and targeting of Christians. There used to be about two dozen families living there. “New Baghdad” is a very dangerous area, and they are always terrified when they go to church, she related, “fearful of another explosion.” She lives with her 75 year old retired husband and two single unmarried daughters. Two of her husband’s brothers have fled. One daughter, a lawyer, was shot and wounded when caught in the middle of a street fight in July of 2007. Some of the friends with whom she had been walking were killed. Their second son went to Detroit in June of 2008.

She tells with a tired voice that they hope eventually to get to the States. Maybe if this oldest son and his family get to the U.S., there will be hope for them to join them. Until then, they feel they can’t move to Syria as they would be an added burden to their son and his family… in whose little apartment we sat. She will return to her family in Baghdad, to a neighborhood which has become so threatening in the last years. They will continue to lock their doors at 7pm, to leave the house only to shop. “What can we do?” she says, smiling sadly.

Already shouldering so much, I thought, and worrying about being a burden to others.

Who can imagine.

Cathy Breen