ICNA Relief Blog


What Does it Mean to be a Refugee Family?


By Naazish YarKhan


Hardship. Loss. Grief. These are just some of the words that come to mind when we think of refugee families. However, the word that truly defines refugee families is “resilient."


A.H. Nasser, age 47, his wife, both of whom have war-induced disabilities, and their six children, exemplify courage, despite the worst tests. Nasser, a Sunni blacksmith, and his Shia wife, had been threatened by militia for their union, putting their family in constant danger. Compelled to flee with their six children, they headed to a refugee camp in Jordan. 


A. H. Nasser suffered spinal injuries as their car drove over a landmine, while they were escaping Iraq for Jordan. Of the three passengers in that explosion, only Nasser survived. His wife, who was following in the car behind with their children, never recovered from the trauma. Diagnosed with PTSD, she has been deemed unable to work. 

When Nasser had healed sufficiently, the family was resettled by Catholic Charities in Chicago in July 2014. They arrived with neither a formal education nor knowledge of English.


The US government’s social security disability payments are $625 for each parent. The family also gets food stamps. However, a family of eight, by Illinois law, isn’t permitted to live in anything smaller than a three bedroom apartment and their rent is $1400 a month. 


“Disability payments aren’t enough to pay for their rent and utilities,” says Ahlam Mahmood, ICNA Relief Chicago, Outreach. “We have helped with utilities, text books for the girls, a recommendation letter for their eldest daughter’s college applications and more.”




Their eldest son, 19, currently in community college, aspires to major in biology, while the couple’s 16 year old high school freshman aims to be a pilot. Their 17 year old daughter intends to be a doctor, while the other girls, ages 15 and 14, want to be a teacher and a nurse respectively. The youngest is a son in preschool.


“The kids work so hard to secure their future,” says Mahmood. “They are learning more English. They are in (an) after school program focusing on English and Math. The girls are in “Girls Go Forward," an NGO for refugees. They are in this program Saturday and Sunday.”


While the children are adjusting well, Mahmood says the transition has been much harder for the parents. Making ends meet is only one of the challenges. “It’s very hard for the parents. Their children are doing their best and they will be something in the future.”


Want to help other refugees like the Nasser family? Here's how.