For many refugees, the process of entering the United States in search of a better life requires significant patience and perseverance. The journey can be even more difficult for families seeking safety and security while remaining united during long periods of separation. Such was the case for Entidhar Abbood, an Iraqi refugee living in Jordan, who after years of waiting to be reunited with her husband, two daughters, and 10 grandchildren, was finally granted permission to come to Indiana last month.
Greeted with joyful enthusiasm by her family members on Nov. 10 at South Bend International Airport, Abbood was deeply moved by the experience and expressed sincere gratitude for the generosity and compassion of the many individuals who made her dream possible.
“Thank you for everything!” Abbood exclaimed. She later shared, “My heart is very full.”
Her case had not been a simple one, and it required the assistance of many dedicated people before finally reaching approval. One of these passionate advocates was Dr. Michael Griffin, vice president of Holy Cross College and parishioner of Holy Cross Parish. Griffin explained that although her husband of 40 years, Hazim Yousif Al-Adilee, had been granted refugee status in 2014, and their daughter Zinah had been welcomed here years earlier, Abbood’s case received additional scrutiny for two reasons: She had been employed at a government-run school, and during the interview process she had received poor legal advice.
As an employee for many years at a school operated by the Baath party, the dominant political force in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule, Abbood became associated with the former leader’s policies, although she had no control over the affiliation. Then, before meeting with officials who could have provided her with assistance, she was encouraged by an attorney in Jordan – where she had been granted sanctuary on a temporary basis – to remain silent regarding the political association. Without offering sufficient knowledge of her background, her case was not approved and she was unable to join her family in the United States.
Griffin learned of Abbood’s status from Laurie Pinter, who regularly works with refugees at St. Joseph Parish, South Bend. Pinter shared with him the issues regarding Abbood’s status and asked for assistance.
Griffin had initially encountered the family through friendship with Hazim based upon shared mutual intellectual and faith related interests. Through contacts at the USCCB, Griffin was able to bring Abbood’s case to a new team of attorneys dedicated to helping Iraqi refugees. These men and women based in New York traveled to Jordan to meet with Abbood and discuss her case in person. Although additional details about her case were revealed, it was not a quick or simple process. Griffin emphasized, “The biggest danger in these cases is that there are so many that they just get lost and languish. It was clear to me, knowing the family and talking with Abbood, that hers was an example where an initial decision was made wrongly. I knew it would be different if someone looked at the whole case and situation. We tried to continue to shine a light on it to make sure her case didn’t get lost.”
Eventually, this dedicated effort paid off. Through coordination between the United Nations, the USCCB, Catholic Charities, support from Rep. Jackie Walorski and Sen. Joe Donnelly, and assistance from members of Holy Cross and Sacred Heart parishes, Abbood was finally approved to travel to the United States and join her family again.
Although the family members are Muslim, they have longstanding ties to the Catholic faith and acknowledge with gratitude that their reunion could not have happened without the persistent effort of hardworking men and women within the Church.
As children, Hazim and his brother attended Catholic primary school in northern Iraq, where they were taught by Chaldean sisters. Their father also worked at the school. Hazim, who prays often, recounted that their family seeks to know God, seeing Him present both in the mosque and the church.
Griffin acknowledged that their resettlement has provided greater local awareness of the beautiful intellectual and religious culture of Iraq, as well as the country’s ancient tradition of Muslim-Christian friendship, much of which has now been largely eradicated due to groups like ISIS.
Such friendship has brought forth much fruit and newfound hope for this family. Abbood, who has now been able to receive vital medical care since her arrival, acknowledged that although the journey was long and included lengthy periods of separation and sadness, she is now filled with much joy and is “very, very happy to see this beautiful country” and be surrounded by such loving and supportive friends who have helped her return to her family.
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