In 2006, I was forced out of Iraq by the civil war. It was mass chaos.
It took six years of living in shelters and worrying about the future before I was able to make it through the refugee resettlement process and finally move to the United States. Still, this is a process we refugees willingly go through because we know we are lucky to be free.
Being a refugee is not something anyone ever plans to be. My journey is unique to me, but my situation is shared by countless others around the world who are desperately searching for safety.
In 2012, I came to the United States and settled in Albuquerque. New Mexicans gave me a new life. They gave me my hope back. I found out that, despite political rhetoric, there is still truth to the American ideal that says no matter who you are or where you come from, you can still become a member of this great nation.
I am forever grateful to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program and to the community in Albuquerque for giving me this second chance at life.
You may not know how the “refugee resettlement” process works. It wasn’t something I was aware of until I became, by circumstance, a refugee. For most of us, it takes years to complete the entire process, and only a very slim minority actually make it through and are able to travel to a new home. Even those who have been “approved” may never actually arrive to their new country.
Worldwide, less than 1% of (displaced people) in need of new, permanent homes will ever receive one.
It was difficult to go through many rounds of screenings and checks, but arriving in Albuquerque made it all worth it. I had a new home, a new community, and I could finally sleep at night.
I am glad to be part of this community and to give back through my position as a program coordinator, working with the Refugee Well-being Project at the University of New Mexico. Since I settled here, I wanted to be active and serve this community so that we can all reach our goals.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government has recently turned its back on refugees living in other countries and hoping for the same chance I received to be free. The refugee resettlement program that saved my life and that of countless others has been cut by 75% over the past two years. At the same time, refugees who arrive at our nation’s southern border in search of safety are also being denied.
That is why I’m raising my voice in support of reinstating the full refugee resettlement program in the United States. I feel it is part of my responsibility to give back to this great nation, and that includes pointing out when our policies do not match the values we cherish so much here.
As (we marked) World Refugee Day (last Thursday) – a day when we celebrate the contributions refugees make to local communities – I (was and) am inspired by the Americans I know who are also concerned and raising their voices.
Together, as Americans and new Americans, we call on the Trump administration and Congress to rebuild the refugee resettlement program and protect the right to seek asylum.
All refugees want the same thing: a chance to be free. This is what America means to me.
Mohammed Alkwaz was born in Iraq and came to Albuquerque in 2012 as a refugee. Since 2015 he has worked with Refugee Well-being Project at the University of New Mexico as a field research assistant and interpreter. He was awarded a master’s degree in sciences from the University of Baghdad in 1995.