In September the Supreme Court gave the green light to President Trump’s universal refugee ban, then when the program expired the following month, the administration retargeted the ban to a select eleven countries – including Iran.
When it comes to the “should we, shouldn’t we” debate that has reared its head because of these bans, Americans tend to be big on opinions but short on understanding. I say this as an American who had gone my entire life without knowingly interacting with refugees. That is until an Uber ride put us face to face.
Marduk (names have been changed because the world is an uncertain place) had never foreseen driving an Uber in Seattle.
Several years earlier he’d left his home in Iran for Turkey, where he studied journalism. During this period, visits back across the border elicited a barrage of questions from the intelligence services: why journalism, and why Turkey? Eventually it became clear that it was no longer safe for Marduk to return to home.
From there he spent two years waiting to be resettled by the United Nations.
According to Marduk, “It’s a corrosive process. You know that you’ll not be able to visit your country and your family again. It’s painful, but you need to make a choice.” For him, it was a choice between government repression and the rigors of refugeehood. “You feel homeless. Even after the move, we never feel that we have any welcome country.”
“I lost my life, my job, my status.” Marduk explained that while most Americans have treated him well, he is still plagued by misconceptions. “We are not what you think. I have a Master’s degree. I was a manager in a big company. I was a lecturer for graphic design at a university. I had a perfect life.”
Later, Marduk introduced me to Rab, an Azerbaijani activist who was arrested and tortured by Iranian intelligence before fleeing to Turkey in 2011.
In Turkey, Rab spent eighteen months in limbo waiting to see which country would take him in. When he was finally informed of his acceptance to the United States, it took another two years for him to pass a security check. Finally, in December of 2015 – almost four years after fleeing his homeland – Rab and his wife arrived in the U.S.
“Refugees generally are victims of the dictator governments,” Rab explained. “Most of them come to the United States because of problems which were created by the governments. We need to distinguish between the dictator government and the refugee.”
For all refugees, gaining asylum is a process of starting from scratch. Marduk initially found a job with a beef jerky producer, eventually shifting into his field of graphic design while driving Uber to tie things together. He’s hopeful about starting on his PhD. Today Rab is a sociology student at the University of Washington.
Both men described the generally warm reception with which they were received, but both also warned that incoming refugees should be prepared to adopt their new culture.
“Refugees skip from a culture and they want to make the same culture in the second country. It’s crazy,” said Marduk. And Rab urged, “I think the first thing to do is the adoption of the new country.”
“Respect is two sided. If you want to be respected, you should be respectful,” Marduk continued. “It’s not about refugees. In our age, we are all going to lose our humanity.”
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