A Man With No Country

2020 n11

Tim* and his family walked away from their home when he was eleven. The Sunni and Shia sects of Islam were killing each other, and Christian families like Tim’s were caught in the middle. His father sold the factory he owned, they packed their most precious belongings in a few suitcases, they locked up their house, and they moved to the northern part of Iraq. Tim’s mother knew they would never go back.

They settled in a Kurdish city in northern Iraq—a place very different from their home city. Tim was the only Christian in his high school classes of forty students or more. Other kids would ask him and his sister, “Why don’t you convert to Islam?” After seven years, the pressure became too much. Tim and his family packed again. This time, they decided to move to Lebanon.

From Lebanon, the family applied for visas to visit Tim’s uncle, a long-time Knoxville resident. Tim’s father and mother received visas, but he and his sister were denied. They had to make another difficult decision. Eighteen-year-old Tim and his 20-year-old sister stayed in Lebanon while his mother and father came to Knoxville, where they asked for asylum.

Tim and his sister found a tiny apartment and started jobs. They applied for refugee status with the UNHCR, and they waited.

In Knoxville, Tim’s dad found work at a factory and his mom started her own business. It takes 1.5 years to complete the asylum process in the USA. Tim’s parents then spent another 3.5 years trying to bring their adult children here. In the meantime, Tim gained five years of experience in his profession. He also learned to cook by calling his Mom on WhatsApp, where she would explain how to cook whatever they wanted to eat that night. But Lebanon was never “home.”

mother-son reunion

Tim’s sister was too old to qualify as a dependent, but Tim’s application was finally accepted. After five years away from their parents, the siblings had to make yet another difficult decision: should he leave his sister alone in Lebanon, or should he reject his only opportunity to come to the US and stay with his sister?

Thankfully, before they officially decided, Tim’s sister was accepted by Canada as a refugee. Three months later, she had joined family in Canada and Tim, 23 years old, was reunited with his parents in Knoxville. He arrived just before borders closed in response to the Corona virus.

Tim enjoys the quietness and all the green in Knoxville. He’s looking for work in his field, and he’s happy to be close to his parents again. But also, he has finally found a country he can call home.


The sense of displacement and the difficult decisions made by Tim’s family are all too common for refugee families. June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth, and we just observed #WorldRefugeeDay (6/20). Take time to educate yourself about the plight of refugees here or find another resource.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

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