The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 9, 2013

Helping immigrant victims of torture heal


Each day of his 16 days in captivity, the kidnappers executed one person, seemingly at random.

At one point Rabaa said they blindfolded him and began beating children they told him were his own.

Eventually he learned their demands: Convert to Islam, quit working with the Americans and leave Iraq.

The day it was his turn to be shot, Rabaa said one of his captors, whom he didn’t know but for whom he’d apparently done a favor in the past, advocated for him.

They spared his life and he agreed to leave Iraq.

He went home, packed up his wife and children and fled to Syria, where, as a foreigner, he couldn’t work nor could his children attend school.

After a year there, and thinking it was safe, the family returned to Iraq and moved into the house of a relative, only to be attacked by militias not long after.

He said he could hear his children screaming from a room where the men had taken them. “They tied me up, hit with a rifle and I bleeding from the head,” he said. His wife, pregnant at the time, was assaulted.

She miscarried.

They spent the night in a hospital and the next morning drove to Syria, where they spent the next five years — unable to work, the children unable to go to school — until gaining refugee status to reach the U.S.

Here in Washington, Rabaa said they’ve discovered a few other Mandeans, whose ancient religion predates all three Abrahamic faiths and who are facing worldwide extinction.

In recent years, the U.S. has admitted about 1,200 as refugees, but there are ongoing petitions urging the government to allow more, giving their predicament.

“This is my story, but it’s also the experience of millions of Iraqis whose homes have been destroyed and who have had to flee their home country,” Rabaa said.

Asked whether he feels at home in this new country, he reflects on all he left behind and the potential for citizenship within sight.

He said, “I have a year and half before I can wake up in this country as an American.”


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