Alaa Amir fled Iraq for Jordan a decade ago after years of being harassed for his liberal views by Saddam Hussein's regime. Amir, a Sunni, lost his house to Baathists, then Shiites. When English speakers like him began getting kidnapped and killed in Iraq, he knew he could never go home again.
As sectarian violence escalated after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq five years ago, Amir and his son, Mustafa, now 14, applied to enter the USA as refugees. After a year of interviews, background checks and medical exams, they were approved last year. Finally, workers from a resettlement agency handed Amir airline tickets to their new home: They were going to Boise.
"Where is 'Boys?'" Amir, 44, recalls asking. "They showed me Idaho on the map. It is not very famous outside America. … I just imagined there were skyscrapers."
There are few skyscrapers in Boise, but in more than 130 U.S. cities from Anchorage to Stone Mountain, Ga., that have embraced a federal push to welcome refugees from Iraq and elsewhere, there is something more important: peace and a place to start a new life.
More than 4,500 Iraqi refugees have been resettled in the USA since the war began. Amir was in the first trickle of 53 in Boise, part of an effort to resettle exiles the U.S. government has deemed particularly vulnerable to violence in their homeland. (MORE)