Dilbireen Muhsin, a 2-year-old Iraqi Yazidi boy whose family fled a genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State a few years ago, has been without his parents for more than three months.
Sometimes, Dilbireen thinks Adlay Kejjan, his caretaker, is his mother.
He used to cry at night, Kejjan said. He would want to get out of his crib, walk around and check every room to see whether his father was there. He wasn’t.
But that’s about to change.
The toddler, whose face was severely burned in an explosion in a northern Iraqi refugee camp last year, will soon be reunited with his parents. His family’s visas, previously revoked, were approved this week, said Sally Becker, the head of a Britain-based nonprofit that has been helping Dilbireen and his family.
The family is among those whose lives were caught up in President Trump’s executive order barring refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq, from coming to the United States. A week ago, Dilbireen’s father, Ajeel Muhsin, and his wife, Flosa Khalaf, were told by U.S. officials in Iraq that interviews for new visa applicants have been suspended for 90 days because of Trump’s travel ban, Becker said.
On Thursday, a federal appeals court panel declined to reinstate the ban, rejecting the administration’s argument that it should be in place for national security reasons.
Becker, who has been in contact with the family, said Dilbireen’s parents were “delighted” that their visas have been granted. She said she doesn't think the court's decision was the reason the family's visas were suddenly approved — because it happened before the ruling came out.
“It could have been the fact that the press have been covering the story, or perhaps it was simply an act of compassion,” Becker said, adding later: “The past 2½ years have been incredibly traumatic for this family, so the news is very welcome indeed.”
In August 2014, Ajeel Muhsin and his wife, then pregnant with Dilbireen, were among the Yazidis who left the Sinjar region in northern Iraq after it fell to the Islamic State militant group. There are about 700,000 Yazidis globally, the vast majority of whom lived in the town east of Mosul before it was seized by the extremist group, The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor reported.
Becker said the couple were among the thousands who fled to Mount Sinjar, where they were stranded without food and water.
A 2015 report by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said the attack on the Yazidi people, who belong to a minority religion, constituted a genocide. The report noted that at least 40,000 people were trapped on Mount Sinjar and that hundreds may have died from starvation and dehydration. In response to the crisis, the United States under then-President Barack Obama airdropped supplies, and the Yazidis were eventually evacuated, The Post’s Adam Taylor reported.
Muhsin and his wife moved to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Dahuk in northern Iraq, Becker said.
The couple’s son was born there on Jan. 4, 2015. They named him Dilbireen, which in Kurdish means “wounded heart.”
“That’s how they felt about the whole genocide,” said Kejjan, a Yazidi woman who heads a Michigan-based humanitarian organization dedicated to helping Yazidis.
On Jan. 4, 2016, Dilbireen’s first birthday, a heater exploded inside a makeshift house at the camp. The toddler was in his crib sleeping while his mother was outside baking bread when the explosion occurred, Kejjan said.
Dilbireen survived, but his face was severely burned. He nearly lost his right eye, and his nose was reduced to two uneven holes. His face was so disfigured that he was unable to close his mouth to chew or keep food in.
Three months after the explosion, Becker, founder of Road to Peace, a nonprofit that facilitates medical treatment for wounded children in war-torn countries, visited the camp and found out about Dilbireen. By that time, the boy had been discharged from a hospital with no plans of further treatment of his severe injuries, Becker said. He also was in danger losing his sight.
Becker got to work.
With the help of a friend, Scott LaStaiti, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker with connections in Boston, Becker’s organization was able to find a hospital there that agreed to treat Dilbireen and a few other children for free. Eighty-seven other children are still living in camps, awaiting treatment, she said.
Becker went back to Iraq in October after securing medical visas for the family. Dilbireen and his father flew to Boston, where the toddler was to undergo surgeries at the nonprofit Shriners Hospital for Children. The initial plan, Becker said, was for the family to return to Iraq once Dilbireen is fully treated.
However, his mother, who was seven months pregnant, stayed behind.
“We were told that if the baby was born in the United States it would create all kinds of problems, so she agreed to wait until the baby was born before joining her husband and son,” Becker said.
Dilbireen underwent the first of many surgeries a few days after he and his father arrived. It was successful, Becker said. The toddler was finally able to close his mouth. But being away from his mother was traumatizing.
“He just kept calling for his mom,” Becker said. “He would wake up from the anesthetic, and he would want his mom.”
In November, Dilbireen’s father left to be with his wife during childbirth. Dilbireen was left in the care of Kejjan, who said she heard about the boy after reading a news article and later volunteered to take care of him for six weeks while his father was gone.
The plan, both Becker and Kejjan said, was for the family to eventually reunite and stay in the country while Dilbireen was going through reconstructive surgeries, which could last for up to a year.
But six weeks turned into months. The boy’s parents and his baby brother — who was named Trump because he was born the day the real estate mogul was elected U.S. president — were unable to come to the United States.
In December and January — before President Trump took office — the parents’ medical visas were revoked and their infant son’s application was denied. Becker said the family members were told that they were unable to provide proof that they intended to return to Iraq.
“The fact is they fled from Sinjar with nothing. They’ve been living in an IDP camp for almost three years,” Becker said. “They don’t have any of the documents that you’re supposed to provide in order to prove ties to your country. Tax returns, proof of property, marriage certificate, they don’t have any of that.”
The family tried to reapply for visas. Last Sunday, more than a week after Trump signed his executive order on the travel ban, they showed up at the U.S. Consulate in Irbil, Iraq, for an appointment, but they were told applications for visas had been suspended for 90 days because of the ban, Becker said.
“They're in limbo,” LaStaiti said last week, before the visas were approved. “Medical care aside, we have a simple issue where there's an infant in the U.S. who's stranded and separated from his parents.”
A State Department official declined to confirm whether the family's visas have been approved, saying such information is confidential.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who had written a letter to the U.S. Consulate in Irbil calling for the approval of the family's visas, confirmed to The Post that the applications have been approved, citing information received from the State Department.
Becker said Dilbireen's parents picked up their visas on Sunday.
She and LaStaiti said the family has no intention of staying in the United States permanently.
“Iraq is their home,” LaStaiti said. “They just want their son to get the medical treatment that he needs.”