LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Colorado's governor has vowed to help any Ukrainian refugees who come to the state, while thousands of those who fled Afghanistan are already trying to make a new life for themselves here. The painstaking process is something one Iraqi family knows all too well, and they have a message of hope for anyone facing the long road to resettlement.
Mousa Alkhafaji and Rasha Alhlaichi fled Baghdad with their young sons Ghaith (Jay) and Ali in 2017. The family was forced to leave the country following Alkhafaji's pivotal work translating for US forces. He wanted to protect his family, and it took him around four years to sort out the paperwork needed for the family to leave.
“Sold everything, I quit my job, we're ready to leave. And Trump became the president and he declared the travel ban. So, I got that call that said 'Mousa your flight is canceled.' It was a big shock. For me, it was a disaster," Alkhafaji said.
Alkhafaji was not about to wait another four years to apply for the documents needed. He bought more tickets and took a huge risk, but the family made it to Colorado.
“The best place ever for us. And we already feel like we are at home," Alkhafaji said.
Five years later and the family has faced countless challenges over the course of their resettlement process. For Alhlaichi, she stayed home when they first arrived, which was very different from her life as a teacher in Iraq.
"After two months, I'm like, this is not me. Because when I was in my country, I was an elementary school teacher. And I was a student too," Alhlaichi said. "I'm not going to be here and not follow my dream. So, I decided to find a job.”
When she first started working in Colorado, she had to go back to being an assistant teacher. Alhlaichi worked her way up, and in 2020 graduated as a director of early childhood education. Now, she's in school to become an early childhood educator coach. She is expected to graduate in December.
"My mom — she would be so proud, because it's not easy," Alhlaichi said.
In September, the family moved into the first home they have purchased in Lakewood.
Despite the accomplishments of the family, they miss their loved ones in Iraq more than words can say. They have not been able to return since they fled in 2017.
“Unfortunately, and after a few months arriving here, I lost my dad and I couldn't have a chance to go and see him because of what happened to us. Because that was scary," Alkhafaji said. "What if I left and they didn't allow me to come back again?”
Watching what has happened in Afghanistan and Ukraine has been heartbreaking for the family.
“I was born during the the war between Iraq and Iran. For eight years I grew up in this world. And how bad is it? We lost people, friends, relatives, neighbors," Alkhafaji said with emotion clearly in his eyes. "The war doesn't distinguish between young, old, man, woman or kid. And it was really harmful to see this on videos happening again in 2022.”
Still, what the family remembers most about 2017 was the love and support they found in Colorado. Alhlaichi has one message for any refugees currently trying to resettle: “Just don't give up. We can do everything we want. We are so strong.”