Ibrahim will have easier transition than most

New Hampshire Union Leader
August 09. 2014 11:01PM
Meriam Ibrahim watches her husband Da niel Wani give an interview with tears at the Manchester Boston Regional Airport in Manchester on Thursday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - Becoming a U.S. citizen and adjusting to life in New Hampshire can be a long and difficult process for immigrants and refugees, but advocates say Meriam Ibrahim should have an easier time than others.

"From what I know of the family and their story, she already seems to be further along than most," said Cathy Chesley, director of Immigration and Refugee Services for New Hampshire Catholic Charities. "They have family that are here, they are educated and can speak the language. Those factors alone make me think they will do quite well in New Hampshire, once they are settled in somewhere."

Ibrahim, 27, a Sudanese doctor, generated international headlines after refusing to recant her Christian faith despite a death sentence from a Sudanese court for apostasy, the abandonment of a religion.

She arrived at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on July 31 with her husband, Daniel Wani, and two children. In the days since, the family has begun the process of recovering from their ordeal and adjusting to life in the Granite State, according to Matt Cookson, president of Cookson Strategies Group in Manchester. Cookson served as a liaison last week between the family and the media.

"Everyone is in good health but are very tired," said Daniel Wani, in a statement supplied by Cookson. The couple have declined all interview requests, and postponed two press conferences scheduled at the Bethany Covenant Church in Bedford last week. They also canceled a televised interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News Channel.

Cookson said Ibrahim and Wani are taking time away from the media spotlight, but released a statement from Wani thanking those who helped his family.

"I want to thank all the media all over the world for supporting me and my wife, and also I want to thank Sen. Ayotte and Sen. Shaheen and those who've supported me, and all members of Congress for putting pressure on Sudan's government," said Wani in the statement. "Also I want to thank the human rights organizations, Amnesty International, all the civil organizations, civic societies, for supporting me and also my family. I also want to thank the European Union, UK and Italy, and Italy especially for negotiating with Sudan's government to let us go, and for their hospitality. I am so blessed to know people like the Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lapos Pistelli. He went to Sudan twice, the first time to negotiate with Sudan's government and then to get us to Italy. Thank you a lot." Cookson said Wani and Ibrahim are looking at housing opportunities in Manchester. He would not say where the family is staying.

Wani, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is wheelchair-bound, emigrated to the U.S. from Sudan in 1998 and became a U.S. citizen in 2005. He met Ibrahim at church on a visit to Sudan, and the two were married in December 2011.

Chesley said the fact that Wani has been living in New Hampshire gives the couple several advantages over other immigrants and refugees in terms of adjusting to life here.

"Language is often a significant challenge to overcome," Chesley said. "From the stories I've read about them, they both seem well-educated, and speak the mother language here. That's a huge help. They also have family here, and the support network that goes with it. That's such an advantage."

Attorney George Bruno, whose Manchester law office specializes in immigration cases, said the costs associated with legally becoming a U.S. citizen could be another significant challenge ahead for Ibrahim.

"It's very expensive to do what she's doing," Bruno said. "The costs associated with the legal paperwork can run around $3,000, in a best-case scenario. And those are needed to get permission to work here and a driver's license. Imagine facing those costs without a job or car, and running around everywhere on foot or bike. I expect Ibrahim won't be in that situation, but many immigrants and refugees are."

Some of the state's newest citizens described their struggles adjusting to life here after a naturalization ceremony at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester last Thursday.

Samba Halkose of Manchester came to the U.S. 19 years ago after winning a lottery to emigrate from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was an extremely difficult transition, she said, since she did not speak English and came to the country by herself.

"It was very hard," she said. "The language, culture shock, no family."

Gail Somers, 38, of Keene came to the U.S. 20 years ago from her native Jamaica. She spoke English and had family already living here, which made it easier to adapt.

Somers decided to become a citizen, she said, because America is now her home, even though her parents still live in Jamaica.

"At some point, you decide this is home, and you decide to go all in," said Somers, who is director of accounting at C & S Wholesale Grocers in Keene.

Cookson said anyone wishing to help Ibrahim, should contact the Bethany Covenant Church in Bedford at 472-5545.

"Hopefully, Meriam and her family are getting the support they need from family, friends and others while going through the process," Bruno said. "She's already been through so much."

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff Reporter Pat Grossmith contributed to this report.

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