The first family we visited consisted of a Somali mother and her seven children, ages ranging between one and 13 years old. She was home with the three youngest children while the older kids were in school. With the help of an interpreter, we learned that she had fled Somalia with her parents when she was a child in 1991. They spent the next 19 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. It was here that her parents died of natural causes and where she met and married her husband. All of their children were born in the refugee camp. There was very little assistance for the family at the camp and the children did not attend school regularly with the exception of Islamic school where they were taught the teachings of the Koran. The mother was able to make and sell Somali tortillas while the husband found labor work pushing a cart. When the family learned that they would be leaving Ethiopia for Phoenix, the father was away visiting other family members at a different refugee camp and missed the appointment where their immigration papers were being processed. Therefore, the mother and seven children had to leave without him and flew to Phoenix one month ago. They are hopeful that he will be able to come here soon.
Next, we visited a family of five from Burma. The mother, father, and their oldest daughter greeted us and the daughter spoke English very well. She told us that her family is part of the Chin tribe and had moved to the Sagaing where they had a shop next to a church. The Burmese army burned their shop to the ground in hopes of the same fire destroying the adjacent church. The family was falsely accused of arson and faced arrest. They decided to flee and left their home in the middle of the night. They could only carry two bags of belongings and stayed at a farm until they were able to make their way to Rangoon and further to Thailand. Unfortunately, the family became separated in Thailand when the mother, father and youngest sister were detained at the Malay border. The oldest daughter and son pretended to be with another family and travelled onward to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They hoped to find assistance from the ACR (Alliance of Chin Refugees). The two children were without their parents for one month until they were reunited with the help of the ACR. The family spent the next two and a half years in Malaysia where the mother worked part time as a cleaner and her husband did hotel housekeeping and also worked in a butcher in a chicken market. The children were able to attend school and learn English. With the help of the UNHCR, they arrived in Phoenix last month and are very happy to be here. The parents are anxious to find employment but must wait until they receive their social security cards. In the meantime, they are taking English classes and the children are enjoying making new friends at school.
The third family we met was from Iraq. The father supported his wife and three children, ages four through eight, as the owner of an electrical shop in Baghdad. His wife taught Arabic. He said they had to leave Baghdad because of “troubles” but did not go into detail. The family moved to Amman, Jordan and spent five years there. The children were able to attend school but the parents were not allowed to work. They arrived in Phoenix last month and the parents are taking English classes to improve their chances of finding employment. The father said he would accept any job but has some experience as a sport-related masseuse in addition to his electrical knowledge. Their main concern at this time is to find help for their youngest son who is autistic. The child did not receive very good care in Amman and the parents are unsure of what services are available for their son here in the U.S. The parents are looking for information regarding resources in the local area. They are hopeful that, one day, he will be able to go to school with other children.