Houston has led refugee resettlement nationally for the last several years, welcoming more refugees than any other city in the United States. Every year, there are approximately 2,500 refugees from all over the world that resettle in the greater Houston area.
In honor of World Refugee Day on June 18, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is sharing stories from several former refugees to help honor and celebrate their strength and perseverance.
Basel Abdulaal is from Syria and does not speak English, but he held a conversation with one of our program managers and one of our job developers that involved a lot of laughter and surprise on our part.
Our conversation involved a lot of hand signals and him showing us pictures of the work he used to do in Syria. So below is what was translated from his gestures and excitement of the day as he was about to have a job interview.
“I want to work. I want to work. I want to work so that I can eat and pay rent.
In my country [Syria] I was a roofer and welder. Do you want to see?! Look I did this! [He shows photos of beautiful Spanish style roofs and welding.]”
ALI SAFARZADA [Afghani Client from St. Jerome]:
Ali is a client in the St. Jerome’s foster homes under the care of parent Chris Colteri.
“I am 18, I have been here maybe 14 months. It has been good. I came alone, now I have a big family with seven brothers and two foster parents.
I’ve been taking ESL classes. I didn’t know any English before. Now I know a little bit.” [He knew a lot of English.]
MAHAMED ADAN ABIKAR
Mahamed Adan Abikar was a trash truck driver in Malta during the time he spent there as a refugee. A native of Somalia, he made stops in Libya and Malta before arriving to Houston about two months ago.
“I came with one friend from Malta but now I have a lot of friends,” Mahamed said. “I have met a lot of other Somali people.”
He speaks English well but with a few cultural differences after spending time in Malta.
“In Malta, the English is different. It is British English so many things I don’t know.”
According to his case manager, he is very eager to work so that he can have money of his own the way he did in Malta. He even arrived two hours early to his job interview.
“I came early because I have to ride the bus. I worked in Malta with the rubbish. Do you know rubbish? I was a truck driver we took rubbish.”
Bashir Muamin arrived in the United States in September after spending time in a refugee camp in Malta. He had some difficulties during the first few months of his resettlement process but those are not things Bashir talks about.
He looks at the past with gratitude for all those who helped him, and to the future with a realistic plan for his life in America. Upon arrival Bashir was assigned a roommate, as most single refugee clients are, began taking English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and took a seasonal job working at Neiman Marcus.
Once his seasonal job was over, he still tried to pay his rent with what he had, but the leasing office refused and he came to Catholic Charities for help. At the time that Catholic Charities agreed to help, the apartment company was in the process of trying to evict Bashir and his roommate. Catholic Charities staff advocated for Bashir and his roommate, and the eviction was dropped. Once the rent was paid, Bashir’s roommate moved to another city, which put more of the burden on Bashir. But, he made the staff here a promise that he would work very hard so that a situation like that would never happen again even though none of it was really his fault.
What has helped you the most?
I came in Sept. 21 to Houston and Justin came to pick me up at the airport, he is a good man. Then he dropped me off at home and showed me around and told me that tomorrow I would meet my case worker. So my friend, who arrived 10 days before me, came to the office the next day to meet Omar Farouk, our case manager. He picked us up and brought us to the office. He helped us to apply for a social security card, employment card (work permit), and food stamps. We had some trouble getting our I-94’s (form from the Department of Homeland Security issued to aliens who are admitted to the U.S.), which delayed our social security and food stamps. So every day we came to the office because, we were new and didn’t know anything.
After about two months, I met with Omar, and he said that he is going to Africa so now my case worker is Huda Alhamadi, and my friend moved to Nacogdoches. Huda told me that my healthcare has now expired, so she will help me apply for healthcare through Obamacare.
I heard you worked at Neiman Marcus.
Yes, Mayadah is a good lady, we worked there three weeks doing the gift wrap, and then after Christmas the job was no more. Then I came back to Mayadah asking if she could help me to find another job so, she took me downtown to JW Marriott. Until now I have been working downtown in the valet at JW Marriott.
Do you like it?
Yes, I like it, but money is small now.
What would you like to do?
I want to change jobs to make more money, maybe become a delivery driver with company of a Somali guy I know.
I did ESL for two months in October and November it was very helpful, I forget my teacher’s name. I only knew a little bit of English when I arrived, I’m not perfect now but it’s more normal.
I would like to go to school but, not yet. I want to work to save money then I want to go to school for electrical and mechanical engineering. But not yet, because America is not easy life you know?
Is there any advice that you have been given that you would want to share?
My friend who lives here gives me advice. He said, “You can go to school, but you will need to spend two years learning the language perfectly. Then you will go to college so you can learn something like engineering or something else practical like nursing. Then in six or seven years you will be fine.” But I don’t have time. I have a family, a wife and kids. They are in Africa and need money for bills and medicine. For me to bring them him here, I want to wait another four or five months.
I am proud of myself.
World Refugee Day introduces the general public to the many contributions refugees make in Houston and honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who were forced to flee their homes and rebuild their lives. This event thanks the many Houstonians who have welcomed refugees with open arms for than 40 years.
Learn more about World Refugee Day and register for tickets at WorldRefugeeDay.org.