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September 19. 2013 9:11PM

Queen City welcome

Iraqi community finds a home in New Hampshire


Raghad Basher, a 24-year-old graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University, listens to remarks at a community appreciation dinner hosted by the Manchester Iraqi community at the Manchester police station Thursday. (MARK HAYWARD / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — New Hampshire is colder than they’re accustomed to. And things like credit cards and bills take a little getting used to.

But the 25 families from Iraq who have settled in Manchester over the past five years have found the city safe, which is far different from their homeland. That’s according to Haytham Aukra, a leader in the Manchester Iraqi community.

“When you are in hell and you just get room to breathe, it is good,” Aukra said “It’s easy for them when they remember the hard times when living back home.”

Aukra’s organization, Iraqi Social Services, hosted a community appreciation dinner at the Manchester police station Thursday.

They hosted a dinner and presented a plaque of appreciation to Police Chief David Mara and welcomed Mayor Ted Gatsas, as well as representatives from the Congressional delegation and the refugee-support community.

Mara said the Iraqis participate in the Police Department’s community advisory board. He said he has no worry having Iraqis, whose country was at war with America, living in the city.

“All the people I’ve met from Iraq here are peaceful,” Mara said. “They want the same thing we want, to raise their families in a safe environment.”

Aukra has been in Manchester 13 years and works at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in the laboratory. About half the 50 Iraqi families have been here long enough to navigate the intricacies of the American system. Iraqi Social Services was founded to help acclimate the other half to the country, he said.

He said Iraqis also work at Lindt Chocolates and Freed’s Bakery as well as other jobs.

Nael Alrubaye said he was an officer in the Iraqi army until 2003. After leaving the army, he handled security for media companies such as the New York Times and Associated Press in Iraq. He also handled security for the United Nations.

But twice he was kidnapped and once his wife was shot at. After kidnappers tried to abduct his son, he decided to leave Iraq, which his colleagues agreed would be a good move.

“They said you need a quiet, safe city,” Alrubaye said. “They didn’t tell me about the winters or this dead city; it’s too quiet.”

He now handles security at the Radisson Hotel, and his wife works there as a breakfast attendant. His children go to Manchester schools. He said the Queen City is a good place to learn about the American system.

Everything was free in Iraq, but in America one has to pay for health care, water and education, he said.

“This,” Alrubaye said, “is difficult for us.”

mhayward@unionleader.com


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