Syria: Iraqi Refugee Lawyer Finds New Life as a Beautician
By Arianna Rondos/IOCC Syria

August 19, 2009
Damascus, Syria — Afakh is a 29-year-old Iraqi refugee who has a diploma in law and public administration. Today, she works from her Damascus home as a beautician. Afakh came to Syria in 1991, following her father’s escape from Iraq as a dissident who opposed the rule of Saddam Hussein. When she began looking for work in Syria as a lawyer, she found that no law firms in Damascus would employ an Iraqi.

Jobless, and with little chance of finding meaningful work in Syria, Afakh welcomed the offer of training courses in cosmetics by IOCC. She had always enjoyed cosmetics as a hobby but had never considered it as a profession. After completing her course, she began offering her specialized services to women from her home in the Damascus neighborhood of Dumar.

Her story is typical of the nearly 1 million Iraqis that have taken refuge in Syria since 2003. Iraqis in Syria are treated as “guests”, meaning they are not permitted to work in the public sector. They suffer the psychological as well as financial burdens associated with unemployment. A 2008 study by the International Organization on Migration found a rise in “feelings of frustration, anger, and a sense of inferiority and incapacity, shame and self-isolation ... in the Iraqi community at large.”
Vocational training affords Iraqi refugees their best chance at finding employment since most of these jobs allow them to work from their home. IOCC offers courses in cooking, English, cosmetics, hairstyling, computers, cell phone repair, and sewing.

Afakh is glad her self-confidence has been boosted through the training she has received, “I feel proud of the fact I am working,” said Afakh. “I have found another way to provide for my family, even if it cannot be law.” She says she is focusing on providing manicures and pedicures but wants to wait until she is more confident before making up brides.

The vocational training component is part of IOCC’s $4 million program to assist Iraqi refugees in Syria. The program also provides school tuition and school supplies for children and community service projects and emergency supplies for impoverished families. The program, which benefits an estimated 65,000 Iraqi refugees and 22,000 disadvantaged Syrians, is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) and implemented by IOCC’s major partner in Syria, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

If you would like to assist refugees like Afaqh, call IOCC’s donation hotline toll-free at 1-877-803-4622, make a gift on-line at, or mail a check or money order payable to “IOCC” and write “Middle East Crisis” in the memo line to: IOCC, P.O. Box 17398, Baltimore, Md. 21297-0429.

IOCC, founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), has implemented over $300 million in relief and development programs in more than 33 countries around the world.

Media contact: Rada K. Tierney, IOCC Media Relations, 443-823-3489,

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