Communities

The Refugees Of Capitol Hill: ‘I Don’t See The Protests. I Hear Them On The Radio’

by Barbara Noe Kennedy

June 19, 2017

In January, President Trump sat at his desk in the Oval Office and signed an executive order attempting to curb the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the United States. Yet displaced people have long woven themselves into the very fabric of the neighborhoods surrounding the White House and Capitol Hill.* In this series called “The Refugees of Capitol Hill,” we share the stories, in their own words, of some of the refugees who have lived and experienced Washington, D.C., before and after the 2016 election, including an 81-year-old German refugee from World War II, the son of a Laotian refugee who has established a food delivery service featuring refugee chefs, and, below, a recent Afghan refugee fleeing the Taliban.


Nematullah Noori

33, Afghanistan

I come from Wardak Province in Afghanistan, near Kabul. I was working as an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for eight years in different provinces. They were helping us to rebuild our country. But the Taliban and al-Qaeda were fighting with the U.S. Army and the Afghan government. It looked like the situation was getting worse and worse.  

Because of that, my family and I decided we had to find a good place for ourselves to be safe. It was hard to make the decision. In 2014, I started my case to come to the USA with the Special Immigrant Visa program, available to Afghan and Iraqi nationals who assisted U.S. forces. I wanted to come to the Washington, D.C., area because I have a friend there. It took two years to get the visa. Normally, it takes eight to 12 months, but the passports for the kids took more time.  

The passports for the kids took more time.

When the Trump ban came, at first people thought Afghans would be affected. But with the SIV, we’re under a different program. I finally came to America on March 1, 2017. We had a lot of help from Lutheran Social Services from the time we arrived at the airport. I didn’t know the procedure and was in contact with a friend to help me get out of the airport. He told me there was no need for anyone to come. Your case manager will be there. I really appreciate my case manager, Tannya.

My biggest fear then was that nothing would be right in my new house. But everything was perfect. The beds, carpets, desk. The food. All this was really enjoyable to me and I really appreciated it. Lutheran Social Services even helped us buy a computer with a low price. You need a laptop at home to apply for jobs.

The next morning, on March 2, we started seeing America. Our first day in Washington. I was a little surprised, seeing the people, seeing the roads. There are a lot of big differences, the level of traffic, the level of security. I saw a museum just for the airplanes. 

I don’t believe the fighting will stop in Afghanistan. I am not the only one to come to America in order to be secure.

I don’t really see the protests in Washington. I hear more about them on the radio when I’m driving. I have also heard about the situation with the Russian interference in the American election.  

When I look back to my country, I see the bad political situation. It’s really hard to see their situation and I remain worried about my family and people still in Afghanistan. Lots of other countries want to work and have benefits in our country, but not take care of our country. And there’s the issue of Pakistan supporting al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I hope to hear some things from Mr. Trump about taking care of Pakistan. If the United Nations and USA do not take care and bring pressure on Pakistan to stop assisting them, then the security situation is going to get worse and worse. Everyone back home wants to know what he will do. If this issue is not stopped, I don’t believe the fighting will stop in Afghanistan. I pray to Allah for security in Afghanistan. I am not the only one to come to America in order to be secure.

Here in Washington, I feel welcome. It’s a nice place, good place. My kids are in school, fifth grade, second grade, kindergarten, and the free one (2 years old). I found a mentor to help my wife learn English. And a mentor to tutor my kids after school. I hope to start work with a company. Lutheran Social Services has an employment service. The companies come to the office and interview. Many of my friends went to the Trump Hotel. I interviewed with a construction company as an engineer. Yesterday, I was tested for drugs—I hope to start working next week.

Illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky. 

*The original published version of this story contained an explanation of Washington, D.C.’s historical population of refugees, including an insensitive description of Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. GOOD regrets this portrayal and has removed it.

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The Refugees Of Capitol Hill: ‘I Don’t See The Protests. I Hear Them On The Radio’