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Escaping Iraqi violence, Kurds find safe harbor in Moorhead

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Hugs and smiles
Thanks to the much anticipated arrival of Anwar Hussein, center, and four family members hugs were in abundance at Fargo's Hector International Airport on Thursday.
Ann Arbor Miller / MPR News

Five members of a Kurdish family landed in Fargo Thursday night, fleeing the violence in their Iraqi homeland for a chance at a new life here among a growing Kurdish population.

About 20 family members and friends who live in Moorhead greeted Anwar Hussein, his wife Naeema Mohamed and three children at the airport. Smiles, hugs and tears were plentiful as parents and children and sisters and brothers reunited.

"We've seen so many bad things in my life."

Hussein worked for the U.S. military as a security guard and guide about a decade ago. Because of that, he said the radical group Islamic State, known as ISIS, wanted to kill them. The family lived in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq but declined to give the city because family members still live there.

•  Jan. 2012:  Refugees want visas for relatives who helped U.S. military
•  Dec. 2011:  Kurds return to class for homeland's language

The family has been trying to get visas for about four years. They'll join a growing Kurdish community in the Fargo-Moorhead area. About 1,100 live in the area, most in Moorhead. More than 200 students in the Moorhead public schools speak Kurdish as their primary home language, Minnesota Department of Education data show.

"I haven't seen much stability in my life and hopefully this will be a new chapter in my life and I can just not worry about so much and just live a peaceful life," Hussein said as son-in-law Newzad Brifki translated. "We've seen so many bad things in my life." 

Waiting at the airport
Family and friends anticipate the arrival of Anwar Hussein, his wife Naeema Mohamed and three children at the airport in Fargo on Thursday.
Ann Arbor Miller / MPR News

Brifki was a child when he came to Moorhead in 1992 as a refugee. Now he runs a Kurdish community organization that gives new arrivals a built-in support system. The family is also supported by Lutheran Social Service's refugee resettlement program. 

"There's a lot of us here that are family members that can help them around in terms of transportation, language," Brifki said. "We'll play a huge role in helping them adjust" faster than if they were on their own, he added.

The journey from Iraq was long and tense. The family watched two roadside bombs explode as they traveled from northern Iraq to the U.S embassy in Baghdad. The three children ages, 9, 13 and 18 haven't been in school this year because of the ongoing conflict. 

Getting aquainted
Lorin Brifki, 8 months, of Moorhead gets acquainted with her maternal grandmother, Naeema Mohamed, right, and her aunt Jeylan Salih on Thursday. "It's a dream come true," Mohamed said of being surrounded by family here.
Ann Arbor Miller / MPR News

"From this day forward I would like to see my kids especially to have a new beginning, a new life, where they are not frightened," Hussein said.

Despite the happy family reunion, Hussein still worries about two children who remain in Iraq. 

His son Mohammed worked for the U.S. military and has been waiting several years for a visa despite the efforts of U.S. soldiers he worked for. A daughter remains in Iraq. Her husband also worked for the military and is still trying to get a visa. 

"I can't predict the future, my hopes are to be happy."

Now that he's left the conflict in Iraq behind, what does Hussein expect from life in Moorhead? 

"I would just like to be happy you know, be happy around my family, be happy with the area where I live and see where it takes me. I can't predict the future, my hopes are to be happy." 

The family gathered to celebrate on their first night in Moorhead. Now, the transition to a new culture begins. 

The couple is most comfortable with their native language, but there was one thing they wanted to say to Americans in English: "Thank you, thank you, thank you. Very good."