Family Bios: May 21, 2016

Flag_of_Iran.svgThis brother and sister pair are from Teheran, Iran and have been in Phoenix four months.  At home, the sister was in school completing university and the brother worked as a notary.  They have an older brother who has been in Arizona for years.  Both speak English well and have already found jobs a major grocery chain in the deli and Starbucks departments.  What they love most about the US is how easy it is to find a job, and the many opportunities they have to create a successful life.  They also appreciate the respect for differences shown in America whether it be religious views, ethnic/cultural differences or simply different ways of looking at the world.  Their goal is to become independent and successful.  She likes movies especially romance and comedy and getting outside to walk and experience nature.  He plays the guitar – or at least is teaching himself to via you-tube videos.  Both are athletic – she loves swimming and he is into boxing.


Flag_of_Ethiopia.svgFour men from Ethiopia in their twenties and thirties were thrown together by fate in an apartment complex in the US.  None of them knew each other beforehand and after a couple of months they have become fast friends.  The younger two men had been in school, one worked in a supermarket.  They are studying English and will then look for jobs in the US.  The love the freedom of speech we enjoy here and believe in the great opportunities we have to create the lives we each want for ourselves.  Their primary goal is to get jobs quickly so they can support themselves and become more independent.  They love to watch and play soccer, with Germany a particularly favorite team.



flag_Kenya2This young man joins us in Phoenix from the islands off Nairobi, arriving just last week in the US.  He is one of the roommates in this home. He is cheerful, funny, optimistic and speaks excellent English.  He is already looking for a job, ideally in the IT space.  In Nairobi he sold biscuits and water as a street vendor and also worked to provide internet services.  He would love to have his family join him here some day.  His parents are still in Somalia and he has a brother who was moved to the UK as part of a refugee relocation program.  He loves both playing and watching soccer.  He is excited to find a way to learn to swim, play basketball and become more fit by joining a gym.  What he most loves about the US is that he has the opportunity to learn and build a future for himself.

Refugees in Our Communities

IMG_1897Marina Kovacevic, Law Student and Former Refugee from Banjaluka, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Where are you from?
Banjaluka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Why did you have to leave? Who did you leave with?
I left when I was 8 years old with my mom and sister. We had to leave because the living conditions in Bosnia at the time were unbearable. We had just gone through a civil war, and much of my family was either killed or in financial despair. We did not know the future of our home or what would happen to us if we stayed, if we would even live to see another year. During the war, my father was drafted into the army on the Serb side because we lived predominantly in a Serb region. His platoon was captured and taken to Croatia. He was held in a prison camp, but was allowed to leave when he called an aunt who proved that he was half Croatian. However, the Croatian army had taken all of his identification documents, so he could not stay in Croatia as half Croatian and could not prove his half Serbian identity when he tried to return to Bosnia. He applied for refugee resettlement with the United States and several other countries. Luckily, the Catholic Social Services in the U.S. helped him immigrate to the United States and after several failed attempts that took a year, my mom, sister and I, were able to immigrate as his dependents.

What were you able to bring with you?
I brought clothes and one doll. We also brought some photographs, video cassettes, and music cassettes.

When did you arrive in the U.S.? Which organizations helped you when you arrived?
I arrived on January 16, 1997 and the Catholic Social Services helped us.

What surprised you about daily life in the U.S.?

I was surprised about how HOT it was in Arizona in the middle of January.

I remember thinking that the grocery stores were gigantic and I had so much fun going. In Bosnia, we only had coca cola on birthdays and New Years because it was expensive. So I thought it was wonderful to have coca cola whenever I wanted. I also gorged on cookies, chips, and McDonalds, which I had only seen in movies. It isn’t that my family was poor in Bosnia, but chocolate and snacks were just not sold ever since I can remember.

I also found it wonderful that everyone always smiles in the U.S., something that we consider ingenuine in Bosnia. But, I loved it.

I loved the desert and the fact that western movies that I had seen stayed true to the actual scenery.

I loved how many children’s movies there were on TV and even though we only had basic cable back then (about 10 channels), there was always something fun to watch. Once we got the Disney Channel, I was in heaven.

Lastly, I was mostly surprised how emotional people are here. I felt this as a child, but more so as I grew older. Here, it is okay to express your emotions, even encouraged. It is okay to stop in the middle of what you are doing and smile, cry, or laugh. It is okay to tell people you love them every day and you will not be seen as weak or ingenuine. That is my favorite thing about America.

What would you like fellow Americans to know about refugees arriving in the U.S.?
I would like them to know that refugees and immigrants are just as intelligent and capable as you. I did not appreciate being talked down to (which I still do) because people thought that just because I did not speak English, I was not as intelligent. I work with immigrants and always imagine where they used to work in their home countries and how intelligently they speak in the native languages. So, I appreciate that someone does the same to me.

I would also like people to know that immigrants and refugees are not “stealing” Americans’ economic opportunities or social benefits. Refugees did not choose to leave their countries and the lives they likely loved before things became ugly. They simply needed to save their own lives and do what is best for them. They had to find another countries and if they need any public benefits Americans claim they abuse, refugees are only allowed to use it for a certain amount of time until they settle in.

I would also like Americans to know that we are the same. I would like to put themselves in refugees’ shoes and think–would I do anything necessary to save my own life and the life of my child? If so, what would that be?

What do you (and your family) do now?
I am immigration attorney in the making, my sister is a bankruptcy attorney and my mother is a student liaison for refugee and immigrant students at an elementary school district and she teaches behavioral health (psychology) at a university.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I want to continue traveling the world. I want to learn Spanish and several other languages. I want to ride an elephant, sky dive, and have my own garden. I want to live in a big city and work for a non profit organization that deals with human rights. I want to present a case to the U.S. Supreme Court. I want to write a book. I want to have a column in a fashion magazine. I want my mom to retire in a beach house. And lots more!


Family Bios: May 14, 2016

600px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svgThis family is from Afghanistan and consists of a father, age 45, a mother, age 34, one son, age 10, and two daughters, ages 9 and 4.  They arrived in Arizona in late March, and the two children are currently in school. He is relieved that his family is finally safe and adjusting well to life in Arizona.   The father worked for the American Embassy in security, and he proudly showed us pictures of him with the ambassador.  Because of his affiliation with the Americans, his father was killed by the Taliban, as were some other members of his extended family. He fled with his family to Pakistan and lived there for two years before immigrating to America.   His four siblings have all left Afghanistan, and three of them are currently living in Germany.   He has no support system of family or friends in this country.  He is a graduate of university where he studied literature.  He worked as a financial officer in a government office in Afghanistan, and his wife worked as an elementary school teacher.  He learned English in high school, but describes himself as not fluent in the language. His focus now is to find whatever work he can, and his wife intends to work once her youngest child is in school.

600px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svgThis family is from Afghanistan and arrived here in mid March.  The husband, age 27, and his wife, age 21, have one child, a son age 10 months.  The husband worked as a translator  from 2007-14  and in security for the American Embassy for a year.  He left Afghanistan because he and his family were threatened.  “I went through a hard time…they are bad guys…I got a lot of phone calls.”  His parents and three siblings still live in Afghanistan, and he said that they are doing okay.  He learned his English in high school; however, his wife does not know English. She is beginning language classes this week through Refugee Focus.  His focus now is to find work, but he is concerned because he does not have any training beyond high school and has limited job skills.  His hope is to further his education  someday, so that he can become an electrician or an electrical engineer.  He does have a limited support system here as some friends  who were translators with him in Afghanistan live nearby and visit the family.

600px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svgThis male refugee, age 18,  is from Afghanistan, and he fled his country alone at age 14 because the village where he lived was attacked by the Taliban.  His family feared that he would be either killed or abducted into the Taliban army.  His father had died earlier, and he had taken over running his grocery store to support his family which consisted of his mother and sister.  He came to Arizona in late February. He lives alone here, but his caseworker has introduced  him to other refugees from his country so he is building a support system for himself.  He is currently taking English classes and is hopeful that he will find a job soon.  He has applied to Job Corps and to other positions.  His goals are to bring his mother and sister here someday and to attend college.  He said that he is “happy” and “comfortable” living in Arizona and optimistic about the future.

Family Bios: May 7, 2016

IraqFlagThis Iraqi Christian family of mom, her adult son and his adult male cousin share the small Mesa apartment with the wife of a brother the family lost track of in Iraq.  The missing brother has two sons, 5 and 12, who also live in the home.   The family left Iraq to escape the war, seeking refuge in Turkey for where they lived for 2.5 years.  More recently, the family emigrated to the US to begin their new lives.  The two adult sons with quick smiles proudly spoke of their work as car mechanics in Iraq and are pleased to have begun employment with the housekeeping staff at Casino Arizona.  While they miss the family scattered from the war, they are embracing their new lives in the US and raising the two young boys in peace.



IraqFlagThis Iraqi couple is blessed with four beautiful young daughters, ranging from 2-8.  The father who worked as a contractor with the US military in Iraq is currently seeking employment here in Arizona.  His wife looks forward to the opportunity to apply her skills and education in the field of medical science and raising their daughters in peace.  A small backyard of children laughing, running and playing showed the resiliency of the family and the certainty of a happy new life for them all here in the US.




Flag_of_Myanmar.svgThis Burmese family initially settled in San Diego, but recently relocated to Phoenix, seeking a more affordable place to build a life in the US.  Two small boys, 2 and 4, play and laugh non-stop in the small apartment, requiring their mom’s nonstop attention while their father is at work using his skills as a welder.  The family looks forward to a life of new opportunity for their two young boys.




Flag_of_Myanmar.svgThe fourth family we will visit is from Burma. The dad (37) and mom (45) have 3 children: 2 sons (22 and 12) and a daughter (17). The family practices Islam and was persecuted in Burma for their faith. The father had owned a small grocery story; in 2000, the government passed a law forbidding Muslims to own businesses. In 2004, the father fled to Thailand as he was under threat. The rest of the family stayed behind until 2011 when they joined him there.  They have been in Phoenix for 2 months. The children all speak some English. They were not able to attend school in Thailand, but they learned from people in the UNHRC camp. The 2 younger children are in school and the older is working on his English so he can get a job. The family is very happy to be together here in Phoenix. They were so grateful for the visit from WTAP that they had tea and biscuits ready for the home visitors as a way of showing their appreciation.



Flag_of_Myanmar.svgThe fifth family we will visit also fled from Burma.  Our client is a young man (23) who is joining his brother’s family. The family left Burma in 2009 for Thailand. Shortly after, the brother gained asylum in the USA. He wound up meeting again a young woman he met in the UNHRC camp and they were married. They now have a 4-year-old son and an 8-month-old baby, and have just bought their first house! Our client has been here since the end of March. He is happy to be in Phoenix with his brother, his mom and his sister. The day we visited he had just finished an interview for a job at the Marriott. Fingers crossed!



IraqFlagThe sixth family we will visit is from Iraq. The father (31) and mother (30) have a 4-year-old son. In Iraq, the father worked for the US Armed Forces so the family came to Phoenix directly from Iraq. They have been here 2 months. In Iraq, the mother was a Chemistry professor at the university. She understands English very well, but is still shy about speaking. She hopes to work on her English and go back into teaching. Right now, she stays at home with the son. The father has secured a job. The family is very happy to be safe here. The mother wanted us to know that she thinks Phoenix is very beautiful. She said she likes America because “people respect all people, “ and “America helps people.” Welcome to America!