Publisher: AP, The Associated Press
Author: SHARON COHEN, AP National Writer
Story date: 11/10/2009
When many Americans who served or worked in Iraq came home, they left behind Iraqi friends whose lives were at risk because of their U.S. connections. Some soldiers and others, frustrated with the government efforts to help the Iraqis, embarked on their own rescue missions. Here are two of their stories:
Kirk Johnson has a team of 200 lawyers he can tap to help Iraqis start over in America.
He has a network of volunteers across the country who will serve as guides and friends to newly arrived Iraqis, helping them with everyday matters _ from enrolling their kids in school to escorting them to get driver's licenses.
Johnson also has a list of thousands of Iraqis waiting for his help.
Johnson, who worked for the U.S. government on reconstruction in Iraq in 2005, founded The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies after an Iraqi colleague told him about a gruesome death threat _ a severed dog's head on his front step with a note attached, warning he'd be next.
Johnson, now 29, wanted to help that man and others, so he started compiling a list of other endangered Iraqis with American ties. They included those who'd been civilian and military translators as well as who'd worked with the U.S. government or private contractors.
The goal is to start helping them long before they make it to the United States.
Refugee organizations, he says, "are focused on the millions of displaced around the world, not the several thousand who have helped the U.S.," he says. "You can't bring a particular case to them and say, 'Help them get to America.'"
Johnson, an expert on Arab issues, worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, coordinating reconstruction in Fallujah in 2005. He started planning his group while recuperating from a post-traumatic stress related injury. He walked out a window in a dreamlike state while on vacation, leaving him seriously injured.
Johnson says his nonprofit group, officially launched in 2007, has helped more than 500 Iraqis with American ties make it here; more than 3,000 more are waiting.
"Everybody has a stake in this population in making sure they don't stagnate in neighboring countries," he says. "There are those who think that we can't do better than we are ... (but) we are a superpower. We can walk and chew gum at the same time."
After Capt. Jason Faler returned from Iraq where he had worked at the Ministry of Defense, he wanted to help a dedicated group of translators who had worked with him and constantly received death threats.
"I considered them close friends, almost like brothers," he says. "They chose to assume some risks that were very noble, very courageous."
Back in Oregon, the National Guard officer set up The Checkpoint One Foundation, a nonprofit group, to help his translators come to America.
After three of them arrived here, he figured he'd disband his group. But, he says, he began hearing from other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"People came out of the woodwork," he says. "We received dozens and dozens of calls from people saying, 'I want do this.'"
Since 2007, Faler's group has helped more than 50 Iraqi and about 15 Afghan translators resettle in America, at times paying for their application fees, plane tickets, electricity or rent. Faler's own parents temporarily provided a spare room to two Iraqi families.
Faler also has a few dozen lawyers he can turn to who will provide free legal assistance to Iraqis.
The group is scraping for dollars now, but Faler says there's still a need for an organization considering the process is slow and the adjustment long and difficult.
"Many have worn through their patience and then some, but patience," he says, "is the key."
On the Web:
_The Checkpoint One Foundation, http://www.cponefoundation.org
_The List Project, http://www.thelistproject.org
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution