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Anna Al Darraji – Surviving the Ban

Anna Al Darraji, a mother of two, came to the United States as a refugee in 2017. Like millions of other displaced people and refugees who have been forced from their homes because of violence or persecution, Anna tells a story of dire straits, unimaginable sacrifice and incredible resilience.

In 1998, Anna left Iraq for the first time. She moved to Libya to live with family, eventually getting married and having two children, Dania and Yousif. As circumstances worsened in Libya, leading to violence and war, Anna’s family was forced to flee, seeking refuge in a camp along the border with neighboring Tunisia.

Their application to be resettled in another country was denied and – unable to return to Libya because of the unceasing violence and political instability – Anna and her family decided to try to move back to Iraq.

Several years after returning home, they were again forced to leave because of war and escalating tensions, this time between a U.S.-led coalition alleging that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), and the Iraqi government led by Saddam Hussein, the man accused by many proponents of the war of supporting the terrorist group Al Qaeda (both accusations were later proven false).

This time, Anna and her family fled north to Turkey, where they lived in a camp (again) and applied through the United Nations to seek refuge in the United States. After 5 years of background checks, health evaluations, security screenings and interviews, Anna was notified in January 2017 that her family could be resettled in the United States.

Optimistic for the opportunity to start a new life in one of the world’s safest and wealthiest nations, Anna and her family began preparing for departure. However, their dreams were suddenly dashed when, shortly before they were scheduled to leave, the Trump administration announced an Executive Order banning refugee admissions for 120 days, reducing the number of refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017 to 50,000 (from the 110,000-level set by President Obama), and prohibiting the entry of foreign nationals from specific Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

Anna nearly lost hope. After years of stagnation, uncertainty and instability, she felt as if she had missed her only chance for a fresh start in a safe country where her children would have opportunities she never had.

After days of protests in the US, a federal judge placed a nation-wide block on Trump’s executive order, a decision that was later upheld by the Federal Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) resumed resettlement operations. Unfortunately, it would only be a short time until President Trump’s next attempted refugee and travel ban in March 2017. Anna and her family were, for the second time, notified that they would be resettled in the United States.

Upon arriving in the U.S. for the first time at the airport in New York City, Anna was overwhelmed with joy, gratitude and optimism, kissing the ground and praising Allah for his generosity. As refugees are expected to be self-sufficient after just 3 months, Anna quickly shifted her attention to finding employment and enrolling her children in school.

Despite missing 4 years of their schooling during their stay in Turkey, her children quickly rose to the top of their class. Dania, Anna’s 18-year-old daughter, wants to be a doctor and has plans to go to medical school. Yousif, her 15-year-old son, wants to be a pilot.

Anna is an English teacher who spends her free time inspiring other refugees to learn English and take advantage of their new opportunities in the United States. She encourages refugees to become active, engaged members of their communities and to volunteer with community organizations.

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