Omranaso's Long Journey
Omranaso's life as she knew it ended seven years ago in a small town in Eastern Syria, not far from the border with turkey.
Her husband began to disappear at odd hours, and one day he left her, she suspected it was to join ISIS something she did not approve of.
When she went out looking for him, fellow militants captured her and dragged her back to her home and warned her that she could never leave her house again uncovered or without a man to escort her.
They told her that her husband wasn't coming home, that she would now be the wife of five or six fighters, and care for them in any way they wished.
Omranaso is not a person to accept humiliation or domination, she dressed in her husband's clothes and fled at night, only to be captured by Syrian soldiers, who believed she was a rebel, and imprisoned and tortured her. We talked to her last week, when we talked with Hawah, her friend.
She cannot tell this story without weeping, she will never forget the day soldiers brought her mother to see her while she was hanging naked from a prison cell ceiling. They told her mother the same thing would happen to her if her daughter didn't confess.
But Omranaso had nothing to confess.
Her mother and her friends gave the guards their gold jewelry. She was freed and went home only to find her mother dead.
She fled through the cemetery towards the Turkish border and made her way alone into the mountains where she was found freezing and starving by Turkish soldiers, who brought her to an Istanbul hospital and turned her over to the United Stations, and then to a refugee camp, where she lived for years.
Everyone she ever knew and loved is dead, she got to the United States with no money or support of any kind.
I feel obliged to say that when Omranaso first came to the United States, the government provided continuous subsidies for people like her until they could acclimate. They don't now, the administration in power has made its contempt for refugees unmistakably clear, to our government, they are not welcome in America.
I hear people talking about the refugees and immigrants on the news all of the time, and I hate to join the national pastime of grievance and rage, but most of what is said about these people is false.
They have not come here to harm us or steal our jobs and services, they want the same thing we want, to build safe and comfortable lives for ourselves and our children. The refugees in America now face many new dangers, including hatred, ignorance, bigotry and poverty.
So the refugees are refugees once more, desperate in some cases, along and in great need. The truth is Omranaso is traumatized by her experiences in Syria, and I haven't repeated the worst of if. Ali and I have spent many hours trying to understand how to help her without making her helpless and dependent, or to make her situation less tenable.
Here is where we are. She is living in a small apartment with several other people, and she is clearly not comfortable there. But some of these problems with her roommates appear fixable and we are going to try to do that. Clearly, Omranaso has some trauma symptoms that might bear treatment, she is wracked with pain and awful memory. You can see it in her face.
If we got her an apartment, a studio or one room now, she could not sustain it, she has a job but it doesn't pay enough to cover her rent and food and car. Lots of refugees, I see, are desperate to buy cars because that way, they can drive to better jobs, but the cars are often used, and break down, and there are insurance and other costs, including gas and service.
So first, we will ask her if she wants some counseling to deal with what has happened to her. She often cries when she thinks of what she has lost.
This is almost an unheard of thing among the refugees, they expect brutality and suffering, they aren't shocked by it the way Americans are. I think it's worth a try.
We find that Omranaso is in debt, mostly because of her car and insurance and the fact she has had no money.
So I am giving her $700 to pay off all of her debts (thank you, Kathleen). Ali and I believe – and Omranaso agrees,and so does Ali, that the first priority is a job that will cover her monthly rental costs, we estimate them to be between $500 and $600.
We know it's a trap to pay people's rent if they can't afford to pay for it themselves. It just sets them up for more trouble down the road. So one step at a time. I have enough money available to get her counseling (and she speaks little English), if she wishes, for PTSD, and if not, to pay off all of her debts and give her an open field.
She understands the key to our assistance is her finding a good job, and if she is not able to do that for any reason, we will act as her advocate, even hire a lawyer if necessary, and try to get more aid or assistance for her. It's up to her, she surely has good cause.
What she wants is to work and have her own place. So we'll take this step by step. She agrees her current living arrangement are tolerable for now.
First the debts, then some help if it is wanted or possible, and then a small apartment that she can sustain and be comfortable in. She said the relief from not owing money to people will be enormous.
For the refugees, now and always, there are no great choices, no easy solutions. Only what is best and what is available.
I learned also that the Department of Social Services is balking at Hawah's rent for her apartment, they insist much of that money must go to pay for her husband's nursing care home, he is unable to move, he only communicates by blinking his eyes.
I want to give her six months of paid differential (between what the county will pay and what she can afford to pay, now that her subsidy is cut to pay for her husband's care) so she can get things together for herself and her family. Looks like that will be about $210 a month or $1,260 for six months, about $2,500 for a year.
I don't have enough money to do that all at once, we have to manage the donations carefully. I will try to do it in chunks.
Help for these two deserving women is welcome. You can contribute by sending a check to The Gus Fund, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, email@example.com. Please mark your donation "Omranaso and Hawah."
Thanks! We are doing good, in the most direct and important of ways.