Home NEWS World ‘Happiness Is Incomplete’: A Refugee Couple’s Scattered Lives

‘Happiness Is Incomplete’: A Refugee Couple’s Scattered Lives

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In 2001, Hazim, 65, a former English teacher, left his native Iraq for Jordan. His wife, Entidhar, 61, followed about three years later.

Entidhar, as a former school principal in Iraq, was a government employee, which required her to be a member of the Baath Party. Baathists ruled Iraq until the United States-led invasion in 2003. With the invasion came a de-Baathification policy that stripped many Baathist public sector employees from their positions.

Entidhar lost her job and was directly and indirectly threatened by insurgents for her Sunni religion and affiliation with the Baath Party, said Amira Mikhail, an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), an organization that has been aiding Hazim and Entidhar with their resettlement cases.

While Entidhar was still in Iraq, before she had joined her husband in Jordan, a drive-by shooter opened machine-gun fire on Entidhar’s house, she said, and on her son, who was standing outside. Threatening messages were painted on the exterior of her home, and pieces of paper bearing messages like “Leave or we’ll kill you” were thrown at her window.

Their daughter Zeina, 36, moved to Lebanon, and then she and her husband resettled in the United States, in Mishawaka, Ind., in 2012. Hazim followed them to Indiana in the summer of 2014. Their other daughter, Liqaa, 37, now lives in neighboring South Bend, Ind. Their son Mazen, 35, immigrated to Australia.

Each member has since built a new life far away from Iraq and from Jordan — except for Entidhar, who was forced to remain behind.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.) initially denied Entidhar’s refugee application on the basis that she did not provide enough details, said Stephen Poellot, the legal director at IRAP.

In January 2015, IRAP filed an I-730 form, a refugee family reunification petition, on Hazim’s behalf to be reunited with Entidhar. Yet because U.S.C.I.S. voiced concerns about certain details of the petition and requested more information, which often takes considerable time to process, it wasn’t approved until earlier this year.

“The issue with the whole process, honestly, is that there has been so many ups and downs that the approval of the I-730 at that point was such a huge win,” said Ms. Mikhail.

Entidhar lives alone in the northern Jordanian district of Sweilih, and suffers from diabetes, hypertension and ischemic heart disease.

With young children of their own to tend to and citizenship requirements to meet, Entidhar’s children haven’t been able to visit her. She hasn’t seen Zeina, who now has five children and is pregnant, in 14 years.

In separate conversations in early October Entidhar and Hazim shared how they have dealt with their separation over the last three years.

In Their Own Words

Hazim

Life here is very pleasant and peaceful. People here are orderly, kind and progressive. I’m happy but there’s a void in that happiness.

My wife and I didn’t have a typical traditional marriage that is common in the Middle East. Our marriage is based on true love — even more than true love. It’s based on passion, which differs from love because you can love many, but passion is what binds you to that one special person.

So my happiness is incomplete. And every day feels like a year.

Knowing that Entidhar is in Jordan, which is also a foreign country to us, doesn’t help. I can’t be comforted by the thought that she is in her homeland surrounded by her family. It’s a huge burden knowing that she’s stuck between four walls over there and I’m stuck between four walls over here.

Last month, I returned from a five-month trip in Amman. It was my first visit since I left. I had been aching to go for some time, but traveling is very expensive.

One day a friend of mine, a professor at Holy Cross College, asked me why I was depressed. I told him that I wanted to see my wife because she was having some medical problems, and explained my situation. He bought the plane ticket for me — that’s how kind he is. He paid for everything.

One day while we were at home, I was in the living room and Entidhar was in the kitchen. Suddenly I heard something fall on the ground. I went to check on her and found that she had collapsed, so I immediately called her American friend Chris, who told us to reach out if we ever needed anything. Chris arrived to help and the next day we booked an appointment for an open-heart surgery.

Once Entidhar recovered, we were happy like you wouldn’t believe. If I weren’t there when she fell, that would have ended her life. And it would have been the end of me.

Although we were able to spend time together, my trip presented a new problem. For a while, it was getting a little easier to bear with the distance. But once we created those new memories, it hurt twice as much to leave.

I actually left without saying goodbye. It was too hard. She was holding me and crying, like something out of a movie.

I’ve now traveled to America alone twice, and being on my own took all the excitement out of the journey. When birds migrate from one place to another, you rarely see them flying on their own. They usually fly in a group or as a family. If you’re with a partner, it doesn’t matter how far you’re traveling, because you’d be together. But when you’re alone, it’s really tough.

Whenever we chat over Skype, I don’t fully express myself because it’d be hard on her. She’s all by herself and if I told her how I really felt, it would bring her down. So I just tell her to stay strong, everything is fine here and all of our friends are waiting to meet her.

I wish that Entidhar could resettle here because, firstly, most of my family is here. And secondly, life in Amman is unlike life here. I feel like a citizen in this country. I have my dignity. I feel human, with rights and responsibilities.

My doctor told me that all this stress has been giving me high blood pressure and has taken a toll on my body. For instance, I started having migraines and stomach ulcers, and was told they were both due to stress.

But I’m still grateful. I have a feeling that my wife’s situation will be resolved soon.

Entidhar

I was a school principal in Iraq. Everyone liked me and respected me; all was well. But then the war began. Everything changed so quickly and our world was turned upside down.

What I saw was very harrowing. These strange faces started showing up, and you couldn’t tell who was who and what was what. All the people changed, their behavior changed.

Abu Mazen [Hazim] was already in Jordan. I was living with my son and we would hear gunshots constantly. We went through hell and received very, very disgusting threats. The harassment I experienced still haunts me today.

Luckily, we both made it out of Iraq under such grueling circumstances and fled to Jordan in 2004.

I came here because it was safe. But all of a sudden my personal life completely deteriorated because I live through my children, my grandchildren and my husband. What’s the point of life without them? Is there any meaning to life when you wake up in the morning and realize you’re the only one in your home? It’s a dreadful silence.

I thought the longest we wouldn’t see each other would be three months. We have a divine attachment, a spiritual attachment, a physical attachment. So I never thought that it would take this long.

My life has been reduced to inhaling and exhaling. I’m just stuck between four walls, and I’m struggling with some health problems, which is difficult.

And life in Jordan has been bearing down on people. You sense that everyone is dealing with their own situation and it’s very hard for others to care for you and check in on you. Everyone is just consumed with his or her own life.

But I’m really thankful for my two American friends. They feel like family to me now. No one else around here cares for me so I feel a little better when someone asks about me.

Of course, the internet brings Hazim and I closer. But you don’t understand what it means to love someone from deep down, a profound love. When I talk to him, I can’t touch him or smell his natural smell. Even when I see him over video chat, deep down we’re both crying.

I don’t believe that the internet can bring us closer and our problems would suddenly go away.

The moment I see him, I close my eyes and imagine I’m sleeping on his lap, or he’s sleeping on my lap. Our relationship is one of 38 years — three generations, going into the fourth — and we’re still separated. We don’t know what to do.

I feel like Abu Mazen is depressed because of this situation, because he had to leave me, and that deep inside, he feels this heavy burden of guilt.

My children really love America and they always describe what life is like there, how everybody respects them. They’re very happy so I hope that I can join them.

My patience is based on a glimpse of hope that one day the truth will prevail. And justice will prevail. And humanity will prevail. And that everything will fall into place and I’ll see my children. It’s a dream, and I pray to God it will come true.

An ‘Emotional Roller Coaster’

Talking about the promises and disappointments of the complicated resettlement process, Hazim likened the experience to an unpredictable, dramatic ride. “I have a lot of faith in God, and I’m patient,” he said, referring to a petition approval that was granted in January that did not result in immediate action. “But to hear good news that lifts your spirits and then to be told otherwise is an emotional roller coaster.”

Soon after these interviews, however, IRAP said that it had been informed by U.S.C.I.S. Amman that Entidhar’s case had been processed and that her travel to the United States would be arranged by the International Organization for Migration.

Neither organization could provide a timeline for when this would happen, and only days later, IRAP cautioned that new restrictions on certain refugee groups could delay Entidhar’s case. Specifically, IRAP wrote in an email, “the ‘follow-to-join’ program, which allows close family members to be reunited, has been paused indefinitely,” according to a memo from the State Department.

The United States allowed 84,995 refugees to resettle in the 12 months before the end of September 2016, a number that asylee advocates believe will be drastically reduced if new travel restrictions are signed into law.

Before, and if, that happens, though, Entidhar boarded a plane from Amman, Jordan, to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9. From there she would make her way to Indiana, to be reunited with her husband.

Read new Modern Love essays and follow-ups from past favorites here.

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