Finding Refuge

  • by Maggie Andresen, Temple Refugee Outreach
     
Nowroz and Shazia's ability to navigate the difficulties of acculturation has made their resettlement a success. Their new child, Almir, represents a chance at achieving their version of the American dream - a life of safety and prosperity for their new family. But Nowroz says will never forget his roots.

This story was written by Maggie Andresen, a student at Temple University and a member of the student group - Temple Refugee Outreach.  TRO students volunteer on projects with NSC each month and in April, Maggie participated in NSC's refugee job club and interviewed one participant.  For more information about TRO, visit https://www.smore.com/d033h-temple-refugee-outreach.

Nowroz, 29, was resettled by the Nationalities Service Center with his wife, Shazia, ten months ago. His journey to the United States was fraught with peril and involved transit through several nations - but Nowroz's new life in the United States is just beginning. Only last Saturday, Shazia welcomed their new son Almir into the world, and Nowroz himself has a job preparing sushi at Double Knot at 13th and Sansom (where he says he is learning to be a "sushi whisperer"), where he has worked happily for seven months. The couple represent a success story in American resettlement; they live a life achieved through sacrifice, trauma, hard work, and hope.


Nowroz refers to himself as a "Pakistan-Afghani," his parents are Afghani and he was raised with the language, though Ali himself was born and raised in Quetta, Pakistan, which closely borders Afghanistan. In his home country, Nowroz studied medicine in his undergraduate years and later pursued a masters degree in business. He was in his fourth semester when he fled the country.

"I had to quit and get out of there [Pakistan] as soon as possible."

Nowroz belongs to a small Shia ethnic minority indigenous to his Afghan heritage, the Hazaras, who have been persecuted in Afghanistan since the late 19th century, when a massacre perpetuated by larger ethnic groups halved their population. Today, Hazaras face severe persecution and repression for their anti-Taliban stance and religious beliefs. Mass killings have forced thousands from their homes; Al Jazeera reports that over 80,000 have fled Afghanistan within the last decade. Nowroz grew up on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan near the city of Quetta, where a large group of Pakistani Hazaras have settled.

Abandoning Pakistan in December 2010, Nowroz was smuggled through Thailand and Malaysia as the new year dawned. Three of his friends were lost during the journey by the smugglers he traveled with; this and atrocities he witnessed perpetuated against the Hazara people now inspires Nowroz to share his story.


"I'm going to tell the stories of our people, by our people I mean all refugees. The only purpose of my life is to tell this story to people so future generations will know what happened to us," Nowroz said. "They will know how we suffered."


The traditional smuggling route for Hazara Pakistani people fleeing persecution ends in Indonesia. Nearly 75% of the Pakistani asylum seekers in Indonesia are of Hazara descent, according to a report by Al Jazeera. On arriving in Indonesia, Nowroz united with 136 other refugees of all ages, hailing from areas of conflict around the world, to embark on the perilous sea route to Australia in hopes of achieving asylum there. At least 1,500 migrants have been claimed by the Indian Ocean in the past decade on journeys from Indonesia to Australia. Nowroz's group launched on the seven-day journey in late March 2011. Chaos struck in the midst of their trip when the boat's steering wheel broke, leaving the group unable to guide through the waters.

"I called my wife for the last time, not sure if I was going to be alive or not."

By luck alone, the boat had drifted near enough to the Australian shoreline that the shallow waters enabled the refugees to reach shore on April 1, 2011.


Nowroz was detained in Australia for sixteen months following his arrival, and was rejected for asylum based on discrepancies between his claim to Afghan heritage and his Pakistan citizenship. Although Nowroz applied for reconsideration of asylum status, July 2013 saw the Australian government's halt in accepting people who had entered Australia by boat and without a visa. An academic article in the International Journal of Refugee Law noted that newspaper advertisements claimed, ‘If you come here by boat without a visa you won’t be settled in Australia (Sydney Morning Herald).’


Nowroz was thus forced to seek refuge with another nation. It was 2014 when his case was referred to the United States, and another two years before he and his wife were cleared to arrive in 2016. Their arrival involved some culture shock.


“When you arrive somewhere new it’s really difficult…everything scares you.”


Nowroz and Shazia's ability to navigate the difficulties of acculturation has made their resettlement a success. Their new child, Almir, represents a chance at achieving their version of the American dream - a life of safety and prosperity for their new family. But Nowroz says will never forget his roots.


“Even if I become a citizen in the U.S. I will always remain a refugee.”

To listen to Nowroz's story and to learn more about the work of the student club, Temple Refugee Outreach, visit the link to their newsletter.

 

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