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Interview with an Iraqi Refugee

Below is an excerpt of an interview I conducted with Mustafa Ali, a new friend of mine who is new to Pittsburgh.  Mustafa is originally from Iraq and has spoken about his experiences at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Downtown.  CLP strives to be a resource for all members of our community.  Many of our programs support refugees, recent immigrants and the whole community.  Our program Let’s Speak English provides English learners with an opportunity to practice speaking English in a supportive social environment.  Our Job and Career Education Center has many programs to help job seekers with every aspect of the job seeking process.  These are just a couple of examples of how the library strives to bring education and lifelong learning to everyone in our community.

CLP also offers many books and documentaries about Iraq and the recent wars in Iraq. Be sure to check some of them out!

Cover for Rise of Isis Movie

Scott (S): Hi Mustafa, What has it been like coming to the United States?

Mustafa (M): I received a phone call from International Office of Immigration.  They told me that you have been selected and your case has been approved to go to the US as a legal refugee, and your departure date will be September 28, 2015, from Baghdad international airport.

At that very moment, I felt sadness and happiness at the same time.  I felt sad because I was going to leave my country and family alone, and happy because I was going to live a secure and stable life in other hand.

Some of my friends and relatives, they discouraged me from traveling outside Iraq.  They told me, “You are going to be homeless again in the US.” They told me that my life was going to be ruined in the US.  But a whisper came to my ear and said, “Someone’s opinion of you doesn’t have become your reality.” I didn’t listen to them.

While I was preparing myself and getting ready for the departure date, I received a phone call from one of my neighbors in Ramadi. He told me, “Unfortunately your own house has been destroyed,” and he sent me pictures of it in my Facebook account. I was extremely shocked by a moment of deep silence and painful sorrow for days.

When I opened my Facebook account and saw the pictures of my destroyed house, my heart was torn apart and my eyes filled with tears.

But a whisper came to my ear and said, “Your house has been destroyed and you lost everything, but you have to believe in the extent of faith in good and evil, and my life is not over until I win again and achieve my new goals in United States. It’s not over until I get through.”

Finally, I came alone to Pittsburgh on October 01, 2015.


S: How is your family in Iraq?

M:  My family is in Erbil province, in the north of Iraq now.  It’s what is called the Kurdistan region.  They’re Iraqi Kurdish people.  Its federal government belongs to central government in Baghdad. It is the safest place in Iraq since 2003.

My family and millions of internally displaced families are in Erbil, Suliymanyah and Duhok, three united provinces under the name of Kurdistan region.

Most of the internally displaced families including mine were rented houses there to live a peaceful life far from war zones and sectarianism in Baghdad.  


S: What are some important things you think Americans should know about Iraq and Iraqi people?   

M: Iraq is a unique country because of the  many cultures, civilizations and religions embedded in Iraq’s people.

Most of the Iraqis are well educated and willing for human development.  The Iraqis love peace and prosperity. In Iraq you will find a Sunni man married to a Shiite woman and vice versa; they live in love and peace. In Iraq you will see morality and patriotism.

But unfortunately, Iraq became the most dangerous and horrible place to live in since years ago up to present time.

I always wanted to live in peace. I believe I am in the right country, the land of the American Dream and the land of human development. I wish to get US citizenship in the future. Also, one of my dreams is saving money to build or buy a home for my family in Iraq. This is my major dream.


S: What are your dreams for your life here in the United States?

M: In fact, I have a lot of dreams, like to get a good regular job and to complete my higher education.  As well, I am aspiring to develop myself in human resources and English language skills.

I always wanted to live in peace. I believe I am in the right country, the land of the American Dream and the land of human development. I wish to get US citizenship in the future. Also, one of my dreams is saving money to build or buy a home for my family in Iraq. This is my major dream.

I hope I will achieve them before I die.


S: You faced many challenges due to the conflict in Iraq, what do you think are the biggest challenges that you face adjusting to life in a new place?  

M: My first challenge is the language.  As you know I was an English teacher in Iraq for several years, and I worked with various international organizations in Iraq, but because of the wars and dangerous situations there I didn’t practice English language for long time.

In my first three months of living in the United States, I have challenged myself to read English and to listen to American slang and conversations just to refresh my mind and tongue again. I enrolled as refugee student at the Greater Pittsburgh Literary Council to learn the American culture and American language here in downtown Pittsburgh.

The second challenge, and the big one is that I was informed by the organization that was responsible for my case that they are going to pay for my apartment’s rent and utilities as well as bus pass for only three months: October,  November and December 2015.  I told them, “I don’t have any money to pay for even my bus pass!  How should I pay for everything in January 2016?” They told me I have to get a job in order to live here, otherwise I will be homeless again, but this time in United States.

At the end of November 2015, I was invited by UPMC to go there for an in person interview. Then I went to the interview and I did the interview successfully for Admin Professional – Temporary position in human resources department.  

December 07, 2015, was my first day working with UPMC in the human resources department under admin professional temporary position up to June 11, 2016.  

I made it with the will of God, my mother’s prayers, self-motivation and determination.

I’m still working in my temporary assignment, and I am seeking for regular job in Pittsburgh to be in a safe side and to get health benefits too.

I got the job before the end of my period.  I am thankful to God for helping me.

I am paying for my apartment’s rent, utilities and bus pass since January 2016 up to the present time.

Hopefully I will get a regular job before the end of my assignment.

I have a lot of hopes and dreams for my home country.  Like: Peace and Peace and Peace.


S: What are your hopes and dreams for Iraq?

M: Wow, it’s a great and inspirational question.  I have a lot of hopes and dreams for my home country.  Like: Peace and Peace and Peace.  It’s definitely peace.  Why?  Because Iraq has been bleeding and the people are dying because of the deadly wars. I hope peace and happiness return back to Iraq soon.  I hope love and prosperity return to Iraq soon. I hope to see my family, relatives and friends in a stable life living in peace and love forever.


If you’d like to learn more about the conflict in Iraq and its devastating aftermath, head to our catalog for more great resources.

Interested in learning more about the conflict in Iraq?

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Scott M. is the Assistant in the Office of Programs and Partnerships at East Liberty. When not busy running around with his two daughters, he likes reading non-fiction, learning languages, gardening and cooking.

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