Finding Refuge in the Heartland — A Treacherous Journey

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) — A constant state of unrest, worry, and war is a way of life difficult for some Americans to relate to.

But for Jinana Wijar, a refugee from Iraq, those things were a part of daily life for years before she resettled in the Capital City.

Wijar, and her four daughters, arrived in Nebraska in June, after spending five years fearing for their safety in the Middle East.

“My whole family, we were in the car and we got shot,” Wijar told 1011 News through a translator. “Somebody shot at us, but nobody got hurt, nobody got shot.”

This was just one example of the horror Wijar and her family lived through before being resettled by Lutheran Family Services last summer.

“Our life it was terrible, because they were focusing on the men, they were trying to kill my husband first,” Wijar said.

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Wijar, her children, and her husband all applied for refugee status, and proceeded to go through every step of the vetting process.

After years of interviews and screening, they were preparing to start their new life, away from gunfire and fear, in America.

However, two months before they were supposed to arrive, the family received devastating news.

“The first time they gave us mail, that said your case has been separated, 10 days later it said (my husband) got denied,” Wijar said. “And 10 days later, they set up our physical exam for my kids and I only.”

Wijar and her children passed their physical exams, and were resettled in Nebraska, without their husband and father.

Nearly a year later, Wijar said she still does not know why her husband was denied entry.

“That's really, really hard and we're so worried about him to either get killed or something happens to him,” she said. "Every morning he's the one who wakes up the kids for school, through the Internet, and when we get back to eat lunch, we open the camera so he can see us eating."

Although the family misses its missing member, Wijar explained that they are incredibly grateful to be safe in Lincoln, and is fortunate that she has some family in the Heartland, as well.

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In fact, her brother, who lives in Lincoln, was a translator for the Untied States Army and played a key role in helping her escape persecution.

“After they figured out my brother had worked for the U.S. Army, he had the right to apply to get to the U.S., then he applied for himself and for me and my family as well,” Wijar explained.

Lutheran Family Services, a non-profit organization, helped Wijar once she arrived in Lincoln.

The organization receives $2,000 from the federal government for each individual that is placed.

$875 goes toward LFS’s administrative costs, while $1,125 helps the family start a new life.

“Before a refugee arrives, we set up an apartment, we put groceries in the fridge, we meet them at the airport, we help get their kids enrolled in school, we get social security cards, we get them to the doctor's offices, we help them find a job,” Program Coordinator for Lutheran Family Services, Lacey Studnicka, said. “They have to sign for every penny that we spend. And it's a one time fee to resettle them.”

The help LFS provided for Wijar did not go unnoticed for a family of five learning to adapt in an entirely different culture.

“As you know back home, everything back home is dependent on the husband. I was dependent on my husband,” Wijar said. “We are appreciative of Lutheran Family Services. They stand out with us until we become standard or it fits. They did a lot for us.”

Lutheran Family Services said that the refugee program is not a hand out, but a hand up program.

When a refugee travels to the United States, they have to pay airline tickets back, and depending on where the family's coming from, that can cost thousands of dollars.

The U.S. government loans a refugee the money interest free, and once that individual has been in the country for six months, they start paying back the loan.

This helps the family establish a credit history.