Monday, February 13, 2017

A Refugee's Story

When talk about refugees came to the forefront of our classroom discussion, my students told me we had a refugee in our school. By their calm telling and seemingly taking his presence for granted, I assumed his story was unremarkable--perhaps--but not unimportant, not in the least.

I pushed and pulled for answers, and finally, they remembered he was from Pakistan. I erroneously assumed his passage to America was routine.

Little did I know, I had seen the young man almost everyday; but he had a presence of confidence, he fit in, he looked nothing like (what I assumed) was a refugee. So what does a refugee look like? Does he forever bear the scars or the look of the trauma endured? Apparently not.

The young man decided to come forth with his story. He'd learned plenty, and he wanted to help others. A colleague sent me his Go Fund Me website. I was mightily surprised when I recognized him, but had never assumed he was the refugee.

He reveals the haunting truth in his story...yet it didn't hit me that this bright eyed, healthy and happy young man had gone through such horrific circumstances until I saw the photo taken of him a week after the boat accident.

Though I'm sharing his story, the photos have a kind of sacredness to them, and I feel apprehensive to post. You can see the photos at:

My name is Mustafa Hamidi.  I am 18 years old and a refugee from Quetta, Pakistan.  I enjoy hope and opportunities that were not possible in my home country.  I am in the United States because of the generosity of others.  I am sharing my story because I want to help give educational opportunities to other refugees who are beginning their journey.
In my home country, I did not have the freedoms and opportunities that I now have in the United States.  My ethnic group (known as Hazara) is still targeted, threatened, and oppressed daily with ethnic and religious discrimination.  The Hazaras are peace loving people and the extremist groups do not want our people to succeed in careers or education. Within my hometown, I was reasonably safe, if I stayed within an approximate five-mile radius of my home, but our people are regularly targeted and killed when they go outside the boundaries of our community.  Close members of my family have paid with their lives by simply looking for work outside of our town.

When I was 14, my mother paid a smuggler to get me out of the community so I could be safe and eventually help them get out to safety.  My intended destination was Australia where most of the migrated Hazara community have found asylum since the late 90’s.  We traveled under the the cover of night to avoid being caught and sent back to danger.

After a week of leaving Pakistan, I arrived at Jakarta. A few days later we boarded a worn down wooden boat at 3:00 in the morning.  We had to avoid the police because capture would lead to a guaranteed jail sentence.  I was the youngest of 72 people on board.  All but the captain were refugees.  We expected a 24-hour boat ride to Christmas Island (an Australian outpost).  The seas were extremely rough.  I was seasick, laying on the deck.  Nine hours into the journey, the boat was overcome by the waves.  One wave finally broke the boat into pieces.  Because I was on deck, I was one of the first to fall into the water.  My companions who were under the deck couldn’t escape.  Only 14 of us survived.  We held on to floating debris from the boat, and tied ourselves together.  We were alone in the water for 24 hours.  A fishing boat from Indonesia discovered us and took us back to the police in Jakarta.  The only way we could stay out of jail was to give all our money to the police.  They dropped us off in the streets at 2:00 in the morning.  We were in a foreign country; homeless, hungry, and completely broke. After difficult application process, I was fortunate to receive temporary asylum in Jakarta under UNHCR (United Nations High commissioner for refugees).  This was the first time since I left home that I had legal protection, and the first time in my life that I was free from the fear of life-threatening persecution. 

I now have been in the United States for 2 and a half years and I am finishing the last semester of my high school senior year. I now have the opportunity to go for further studies and achieve my goal and pursue my dreams to become a professional pilot. I am extremely grateful to have all these opportunities, a wonderful and amazing foster family and friends in the States who support me all the time. None of these great things would have happened if it was not because of all the wonderful people I have met through this journey. I know that I have the opportunity of living the American Dream.

Since arriving in the states, I have longed to reach out to other refugees who are at the beginning of their long, hard and stressful journey. I understand their desperate desire for a safer and brighter future.
Since arriving in the states, I have longed to reach out to other refugees who are at the beginning of their long, hard and stressful journey. I understand their desperate desire for a safer and brighter future.