Mustafa Kareem, Hiba Alsamawi and their young daughter, Lana Najah, were living in Mosul, Iraq in 2014 when ISIS attacked and took over the city and surrounding area.
The upheaval sent Hiba and Mustafa on the run with their child to find safety.
They were forced to go to Baghdad, but couldn’t find any work, although Mustafa is an engineer who worked at a paint factory in Mosul.
From there they fled to Kirkuk, then back to Baghdad, and then to Sulaymaniyah, in eastern Iraq near the Iranian border.
“The problem was that ISIS took over checkpoint after checkpoint,” Mustafa said.
“We try to get back to Mosul because owner of factory said he would try to smuggle us illegally into Kurdistan, but we couldn’t get back and stayed night in Kirkuk,” he explained in halting English. “We were ready to go to Kurdistan, and we were at bus station in Kirkuk when ISIS attacked the bus station.”
It was a close call.
They fled to a few more cities before they finally spent $1,000 to fly to Bagdhad.
“It was very expensive to fly back to Bagdhad. I could not find any job. And then we had our baby,” Mustafa said. “I was afraid and had no job.”
“We worked with agency and in 2015 we received an email approving us to leave; we just had to wait for our time.”
On Aug. 8, 2016, Mustafa and his family were told they could leave.
Today, Mustafa, Hiba and their daughter live in midtown Tucson. The couple works at a Target distribution center here.
After President Trump’s January executive order temporarily barring travel to the U.S. by citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq, “We were very afraid,” Mustafa said.
“But people here in Tucson have been very nice and we face no harassment.”