The Option of Last Resort

Many Iraqis risked their lives to assist the U.S. government during the invasion of Iraq. They served as translators working for the U.S. military or as experts with other U.S. government agencies, NGOs, or American companies in Iraq. They saved lives; they built cultural and linguistic bridges; they sacrificed their own safety and the safety of their families to help participate in what they thought would be the creation of a better Iraq. As a result, they quickly became one of the most hunted groups in the country. They bore a lethal stigma as “collaborators” or “traitors” that transcended sect or tribe, and they were targeted in assassination campaigns that drove many of them either into hiding or out of the country. 

However, the U.S. government was extremely slow to allow these targeted individuals to emigrate to the United States, and it only accepted them in small numbers. For the most vulnerable individuals whose lives were in severe danger, the U.S. government offered resettlement as the “option of last resort.” In this project, I photographed and interviewed Iraqi refugees who resettled in Washington, D.C. or other American cities. 

Once in the United States, these refugees encountered an intricate, challenging, and often disillusioning process of transitioning to life in America.  Many felt abandoned by the country they helped and risked their lives for; many were unemployed and facing dire financial crises; many yearned for the embrace of family and friends left behind; and many wished they could return home. Still fearful for their own safety and the safety of family members in Iraq, most refugees asked that I not reveal their faces or names.

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