“When we came to America, everyone was so nice. People in the airport were smiling; they welcomed us.”
After being kidnapped and held hostage for two days, Belal escaped imprisonment and began a journey to America that lasted eight years and took him across four countries.
A Sunni Muslim, Belal and his wife were threatened constantly in their hometown of Baghdad by Shite militant groups. One day, while leaving his job, he was kidnapped by Shite militia men and taken to an unknown location, where he was told he would be murdered and his wife would be captured from their home. After two days with no food and very little water, Belal escaped imprisonment and returned to his home expecting the worst. Delighted to see his wife when he opened the door, they left immediately with just the clothes on their backs.
This was in June of 2006.
Frightful that the Shite militia would visit his home at any moment, Belal and his wife Zina hid in his brother’s home for three days before fleeing on a 17 hour journey to neighboring country Syria. While in Syria, Belal began the refugee paperwork to come to America. He struggled to find work while Zina stayed at home. In 2009, they welcomed a son Yahya and in late 2011, Belal was overjoyed when his family was notified that they could come to America.
A Change in Plans
While in the Syrian airport, authorities rejected Belal’s passport and told him he would have to apply for another one in Baghdad. Although he was terrified to return to Iraq, especially with a young son, he and his wife hoped that it would not take long to get the documents needed to start a new life in America. They lived on the couch in their brother’s house while waiting for their new passports. Eighteen months later, they were given their passports. Belal cried tears of joy when he heard the news.
Life in the Bayou City
Life is much different for Belal and his family in Houston. He works full time at a car wash and his wife Zina is working at a factory. They plan to enroll their 5-year-old son into kindergarten soon. During the week, Zina works with Interfaith Ministries volunteers to learn English. She wants to become fluent so she can start school. When asked what they loved most about America, Belal responded, “When I came to America, I forgot fear. I feel safe to be Sunni. We are happy now.”
This year with your help, we will match 50 refugee families like Belal’s for sponsorship during the holiday of Eid! In addition, we hope to raise $25,000 to provide essential needs for our refugee families – needs including food, housing, and housewares. Find out how you can help by clicking here. Learn more about Interfaith Ministries Refugee Services here.