Iraqi refugee builds future in York Township

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | Dec 13, 2016 1:26 PM

ubmitted photo of Farheng Tawfiq, during his flight to the United States in February of 2014. Tawfiq was among 510 Iraqi refugees who came to Pennsylvania from October 2013 to September 2014, according to the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program. (Photo: Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record)

The 23-year old Kurdish Iraqi is one of about 3,000 refugees that move to Pennsylvania each year.

(Undated) -- The journey from Dohuk, Iraq, to York Township was filled with danger and uncertainty. But three years later, Farheng Tawfiq is now married, working, and in school to be a nurse. The 23-year-old Kurdish refugee sees a road ahead filled with promise, security, and possibly a chance for his family to join him in America.

Tawfiq's father worked as a translator for the U.S. Army during the Iraq War, a job that made him and his family targets for terrorists.

"My dad was followed so many times by the terrorist groups," Tawfiq said.

Tawfiq was among 510 Iraqi refugees who came to Pennsylvania from October 2013 to September 2014, according to the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program. That's just a slice of the 3,033 refugees Pennsylvania took in from all over the world that year. Other recent years saw a similar number of refugees to Pennsylvania.

Farheng Tawfiq, of Iraq, had created a life for himself in York with a career and a wife.

The move offered Tawfiq a shot at a better life. In Iraq, steady work was hard to come by. World Bank data shows the male unemployment rate was 24 percent in 2014. At its worst, in 2008, unemployment soared to 58 percent.

Tawfiq wants to to be a registered nurse. He takes classes at the York campus of Harrisburg Area Community College and works as a nurse's aide at Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community in Lancaster County.  His wife, Tasha, is from York County, and he hopes to live, work, and raise children here.

It wasn't easy to get here, though.

Three times over four years, Tawfiq had to travel 300 miles from Dohuk to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, crossing a war-torn region where robberies, sectarian violence and roadside bombs are part of everyday life.

On one trip alone, 13 bombs exploded along the route, including an improvised explosive device that struck a vehicle shortly before he passed the same point.

"There was a huge crowd of cars," Tawfiq said. "Even after a bomb, there are people out walking around. It's strange, but you get used to it."

With his special immigrant visa finally in hand, Tawfiq said goodbye to his parents and his six older siblings and flew to Amman, Jordan. From there a 13-hour flight took him to New York in February 2014. Finally, a drive to Conestoga, Lancaster County, connected him with a friend of his father's who agreed to sponsor him.

Like many immigrants, Tawfiq knew the "America" of film and TV -- Hollywood. Though northern Iraq is mountainous and can get snow in the winter, he still hadn't experienced anything like a Pennsylvania snowstorm.

"It was difficult," Tawfiq said. "I wanted to go back. When I came, it was February, and they were saying it was the worst winter we ever had. It was all snow everywhere. It wasn't anything like it was in Hollywood."

That changed. That spring he visited beaches for the first time. He soon fell into a workout routine at Planet Fitness. He met Tasha and he fell in love.

He hopes he won't be far from his family for long. His father is working to relocate the rest of the family to the U.S. His siblings have interviews scheduled at the U.S. Embassy, but some of them are nervous about traveling so far from their homeland.

Tawfiq said he knows that feeling, but he knows the trip is worth it.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.


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