Ali Ahmed, 23

Iraqi refugee from Baghdad now living in the USA

Life in Iraq was quiet before the war, never violent. My family lived with neighbours who were Sunni and Shia but we didn't know what religion they were until after the war. We lived a very normal life, my mother was a teacher for 25 years, my father was an engineer. I went to high school and was getting a good education.

At the beginning of the war people were not afraid to go out but after two or three years the violence really started to increase. My brother was shot, my other brother almost got killed, and I almost got killed a couple of times. My mum felt that if she stayed any longer in Iraq she was going to lose one of her sons, so we fled to Syria.

We lived in a Palestinian camp in Damascus. We weren’t liked because some people thought our arrival raised the prices of everything. When they told us we would go to the USA we were so happy. We had many interviews and then in the last one they gave us the visas and the plane tickets and we left for America, I was so excited.

We came to New York because we had a sponsor here, we had family here. For the first 4 months the IRC [International Rescue Committee] are responsible for you but after that you have to work. We didn't find a job so we went to Idaho because we had friends there. It wasn’t any easier there and eventually after two years we said that's it, we're going to go back to New York. We talked to the IRC and they helped us again to find an apartment and this time my mother and father found jobs. I got a job as a salesman. I'm responsible for the shoe department in a small store and now I'm an expert on shoes: heels, flats, scandals, boots, rain boots, everything! We've been back now for 2 years and we're very settled. We're thankful to the IRC because without them we wouldn't have had the opportunity to come back.

Next January I get my American citizenship, it feels great, believe me. It's important because you've been living here for 4 years, you accomplish something good, you've become part of this society. I love New York city for one thing: it’s so diverse. People from all over the world live here. I'm really so thankful to God that he brought me here, I mean I've been through enough so I just kind of want to forget. I want to be more a part of this society, be more open minded.