Refugees settling in Austin: ‘We are not dangerous’

A man in Afghanistan reading news on Donald Trump (NBC Photo)
A man in Afghanistan reading news on Donald Trump (NBC Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — President Trump is expected to deliver an executive order putting a hold on the U.S. refugee program for people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim Countries.

The president’s goal, he says, is to strengthen national security against terror threats.

For refugees, it’s increasing their fears for their families still abroad, and also for their own futures here in the U.S. Students studying English at the Austin Interfaith Action of Central Texas say they want Americans to know they are not terrorists.

“We are normal people, all refugees are normal people, [we] are not dangerous,” Esmatullah Azat, a refugee from Afghanistan, said. “Like Americans, we’re going to the mall and we’re playing games and we like the American military.”

Azat is 18 years old, he’s been in the U.S. for four months. “The situation in Afghanistan wasn’t good that’s why my father and my brother was working with American forces,” Azat says. “We came to the USA and now we’re here safe and happy.”

But it’s a happiness he says is bittersweet. For him, it’s the uncertainty if he will be able to stay. For his family, it’s not knowing if they will live or die in his home country.

Azat says his grandparents old in age and can’t care for themselves. Other refugees studying in Austin say they worry for younger siblings.

“I have two sisters and their families who have applied and they’re just waiting for the last word to be able to leave,” Maryam Lami, an Iraqi refugee says. “That’s the situation with a lot of people from a lot of countries who need to get out to be safe, because they are all in danger.”

Lami has also been in the country for four months. She says her message to the president would be to see and understand the world they are coming from.

“We in Iraq — we are people who have been suffering, who are exposed to terrorism and to killing,” Lami said. “Our life is threatened at every moment. As soon as you leave your home, whether you’re going to school or you’re going to the supermarket or you’re going anywhere there could be a car bomb, there could be an explosion, you could die.”

For the people who dedicate their lives to helping refugees, they say there’s a feeling of hopelessness when her students ask her what will happen.

“I told them all to go nowhere, stay where you are,” Lubna Zeidan, refugee program director at IACT says. “Those who are expecting relatives to come, I said, ‘I don’t know’ they probably are not going to come in anytime soon but we don’t know. Just keep a low profile don’t try to leave the country and you’re here legally, there shouldn’t be any fear but right now, none of us know.”

Zeidan herself lived in Lebanon, she says she’s disappointed in the way the U.S. is planning on handling refugees.

“A lot of people already have applied for refugee resettlement are already given the OK and I’ve been through very, very rigorous scrutiny,” Zeidan says. “Now, are we going to tell them OK wait for months, wait a year, wait forever, because we may be worried about this random person that may possibly have a chance of being a radicalized?”

The English program at Interfaith Action of Central Texas teaches about 800 refugees every year. Their program has been funded for 15 years through federal money from the office of refugee resettlement.

They fear Trump’s administration will cut that funding as well.

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