“We want to go back to Iraq,” she said last week on a cold evening in the family’s apartment at Hunters Glen near U.S. 29 and East Cone Boulevard. “Can you find someone who will help us get back?”
Escaping war in their native Baghdad and fleeing to Jordan, the family gained political refugee status and got to Greensboro in July, among 63 Iraqis resettled here in the past year by Lutheran Family Services.
Although al-Janabi’s husband would have been a target of Shiite death squads for having worked on a local government project as a computer trainer and later for American contractors, the family is losing hope about their resettlement.
“Anyone who worked for American companies will be killed. But still the situation there is better than here,” said husband Nasih al-Janabi, 36, who walks with a cane and so far has found work for only one week, delivering pizzas. “We don’t have enough food. We live in a place with drugs and criminals. We love America, but the picture we had is the exact opposite of what we found.”
With winter closing in and the refugee influx again on the rise, longtime advocates are voicing concern about the lack of follow-up service, funding and jobs for the newly arrived refugees.
“There is a crisis in the refugee services in this city which has magnified over the past year,” said Sister Gretchen Reintjes, a longtime missionary for refugees here, who says it is business as usual in delivery of services.
In a report last weekend, Greensboro Urban Ministry confirmed that a Burmese man was the first refugee to seek emergency shelter at the Weaver House.
A spokeswoman for the resettlement agency that sponsored him in 2007, Lutheran Family Services of the Carolinas, said this week that the agency in fact continues to offer services for five years after a refugee resettles.
But these are immigration and pre-employment services, cautioned Martha Ransley, a veteran church sponsor at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Basic assistance such as rent only lasts for the first three months.
“These Iraqis are already nearing their three months,” said Ransley, who has worked with refugees since 2001. “They’re desperate. I see trouble coming.”
For example, Kamal Yousuf, 29, and his two brothers live in a $475 below-ground unit at Hunters Glen, with no idea of how they will pay December’s rent, and no prospects or work, having applied at McDonald’s and the dollar store.
Last week, their unit was completely without heat, as were several neighbors’ units.
Assistant property manager Sharon Pate said the complex was fixing each complaint as it came in, and that as of Saturday, a maintenance man was working on his day off to restore units that needed repair.
The complex, where Lutheran Family Services settled a number of clients last summer, is owned by Shannon Enterprises and managed by Alliance Management.
At Greensboro Housing Coalition, counselors put Hunters Glen on a “not recommended” list because of lengthy code violations, said director Beth McKee-Huger.
She expressed frustration that refugees, already traumatized, wind up in dangerous neighborhoods.
“It’s important for them to have people close by they can relate to,” McKee-Huger said. “But the reason there are a lot of vacancies is that the property is not where anybody else wants to live.”
Meanwhile, at the al-Janabi apartment, they fretted over the first bill they received in the U.S. — for $5,454.
“Welcome to America!” it said. “You will recall that before your departure from overseas, you agreed to repay the transportation expenses incurred by you and your family in coming to the United States. ...”