Wake County

Iraqi refugee in NC: ‘Thanks to God we arrived before the ban’

Noaman Al-Naqshabandi sits in his new home in Garner, where he lives with his wife, parents and three daughters. The family arrived Jan. 12 - 15 days before President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
Noaman Al-Naqshabandi sits in his new home in Garner, where he lives with his wife, parents and three daughters. The family arrived Jan. 12 - 15 days before President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

Noaman Al-Naqshabandi arrived in Garner 15 days before President Donald Trump issued the executive order that temporarily banned citizens from Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Al-Naqshabandi, an Iraqi citizen, traveled from a refugee camp in Turkey with his parents, wife and three daughters – ages 9, 16 and 19. Sitting in his new home with his wife and youngest daughter on one side and his mother on the other, Al-Naqshabandi described the impact Trump’s policies have had on his family and on his friends still waiting to be resettled.

“Thanks to God we arrived before the ban,” said Al-Naqshabandi, speaking in fluent English he learned as a mechanical engineer working with international companies in Baghdad. “But friends we have in Turkey who are applying for resettlement are really suffering. They don’t know now what will happen.”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that it would not continue litigating Trump’s travel ban in the courts, allowing a court order halting the order to stand uncontested. Instead, the Trump administration will write a revised executive order, which Trump said will be issued this week.

Asked what message he would share with Trump if given the opportunity, Al-Naqshabandi, 42, replied: “Do not be afraid of us.”

“A lot of my friends and a lot of our people dreamed of this day, so please don’t crush their dreams,” he added.

Al-Naqshabandi says his family fled sectarian violence in Baghdad, where he grew up, in 2007, four years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. They headed to Syria, but when civil war engulfed their new home, they returned to Iraq in 2012. But Al-Naqshabandi worried daily about car bombs and kidnappings, especially when he was sending his daughters to school, and the Al-Naqshabandis left Iraq for a second time in 2014.

Al-Naqshabandi then registered his family with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and lived in a refugee camp in Turkey for two and a half years before arriving in the U.S. last month.

The family was resettled through Lutheran Services Carolinas, one of the four refugee resettlement organizations in the Triangle. Ted Goins, president of LSC, called Trump’s policies “disappointing,” highlighting in particular the impact that his decision to cut the maximum number of refugees for fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000 will have on resettlement efforts.

“It’s already almost like winning the lottery to get the opportunity to come to the United States to be safe and free,” Goins said. “Sadly, the chances of winning that lottery are now even slimmer.”

Nine refugees who were scheduled to arrive in February through LSC had their plans canceled because of the immigration halt, but all have now been able to re-book their travel following the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to block Trump’s travel ban, said Haneen Alsafi, a case manager for the organization.

Alsafi noted that many refugees from banned countries have expressed fear about what the ban means and are worried about their family members who are still living overseas.

“Many green card holders that travel every year to visit their family overseas are now feeling stuck and restrained,” Alsafi said.

Goins said LSC has not changed the nature of its work with refugees since Trump took office. But he said that employees have placed a special emphasis on stopping the spread of misinformation and attempting to make sure that the refugees they work with have the most updated information about immigration policies.

Directors at the other three refugee resettlement organizations in the Triangle – Church World Services Durham, World Relief Durham and U.S. Committee for Refugees and Migrants North Carolina – expressed similar disappointment about the ban and uncertainty about what the future might bring.

“There is this really broadly spread, tragic human side of this that for us is what we’ve been dealing with,” said Ellen Andrews, the director of Church World Services Durham. “There have been refugees crying, coming to our office, wanting to know what it means for their spouse or their child that they believed was within a few weeks of being resettled or living with them.”

Al-Naqshabandi said that despite the heated national political controversy surrounding refugees, he has been amazed by the welcome that he and his family have received in Garner. Pointing to books in their living room, he said that neighbors have brought gifts for his daughters including everything from clothes to the Harry Potter books. He is seeking a job in his field, with help of Lutheran Services Carolinas, and last week both his 9-year old and 16-year old daughters had their first days of school.

Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629