With the recent increase in conversations about borders, refugees, and statuses, I was feeling like the most important part of the discussion was missing: The People.
I met Bariq Mirjan at the VIP Diner on Monday night, and he agreed to share his story with us, which is both more ordinary and more exceptional than I expected it to be.
“I’m a refugee from Iraq. I came here through the IOM program.
“At first I moved to Jordan for education and for safety, but I always wanted to come here. I applied online from Jordan. My family is still in Iraq.
“I lived in Jordan for 6 years. I was a student – I finished my bachelor’s degree in architecture and then I came here.
“Architecture wasn’t my choice – I got stuck with it. Architecture eats you alive. If you want to practice this job, you have no life.
“Over there, you don’t have many options, especially if you want to work in media production. Even if you have an option, it’s not as good. I had to choose medical school or engineering school, and the pressure of the family and friends played a role. I chose architecture because it was the closest thing to arts within a science degree.
“Now I work as a freelancer in film. I used to do this a long time ago even when I was a student. It’s how I’m starting to build up a resume with that sort of job field.
“There’s a lot of people that are willing to help me get into that field, but professional work is where I’m lacking, and jobs want that.
“I came here by myself but my father is a resident here. When you apply for refugee status, you have to have an American tie – somewhere you can get housing and someone who will look after you. You might know a neighbor of another neighbor and they have to put their information on your papers.
“So that’s my father. He is a professor in University of Baghdad but he also manages projects here in urban planning and civil engineering.
“At first I wanted to move to California, but so far, being on this side of the country is better for me.
“I can apply for a green card for one year – I had work permits on day one when I arrived.
“All in, it took me about 5 months. I registered online and got the interview. There was a big gap between our culture and America. For example girls go to girls schools and boys go to boys schools. My favorite time in school was when I got out of school.
“My family is religious, but I’m not. I’m actually an atheist. They’re very open about it and they respect it. That’s one of the reasons I went out of Iraq.
“My father used to work for the US Military when they came. A lot of people have eyes on these individuals. A lot of people who are looking for revenge – my father was then a target. Especially for the religious and the extremists in the area.
“The scary part came after 2003 where things start happening closely to you. You start to witness things you haven’t seen before.
We lived in Baghdad where Shia Muslims and Christians lived. There was a church near to our house. Armed men came into the church on a Sunday during their prayers and took them all hostage. They were Afghani and at the time, the border was opened. You don’t have to have ID or anything.
“The armed men demanded us to release hostages in Egypt. Imagine the situation. 5 Afghani terrorists come in the church and take everyone hostage. They were wearing suicide vests. They were demanding the government to release hostages from Egypt! We can’t even close our own borders but they wanted us to release terrorists in Egypt?
“The army, the Iraqi army, it’s not an army…The US has demolished all the military and police. There wasn’t any army at that time… A group of people tried to break in and free the hostages. The bombs went off an dozens of people died. A piece of the bomb landed in our backyard.
“And after that we started to adapt. On a daily or weekly basis you hear bombs go of a mile away from your house. You get used to it, you continue to live your life normally. They just adapted to all of that and make them part of their lives somehow. You see it, but you wait an hour and everything goes back to normal.
“It’s like a shock for a moment. That’s one of the issues.
“The belief is that there is a plan for their death, that only god knows when it will come – They want to forget the pain and stress of everything. They want to know there is something bigger – because there isn’t anything else they can do. They haven’t been taught. There’s not enough education.
“It’s an internal way to keep themselves calm. They think everything is normal. They all understand the culture of war. We only have ourselves – our villages, the people that live in these places. We have to take care of each other because no one else understands.”