On this blog, I try to share both my thoughts and those of others standing for welcome at LIRS and nationwide. Today, I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS, with Dr. Hussam Al-Kayali, a former Iraqi refugee from Grand Forks, ND.
This World Refugee Day, former refugees from all over the country are visiting Capitol Hill to tell their representatives that they support fair and humane immigration reform that promotes a robust refugee resettlement program. These leaders will meet with a diverse group of congressional delegations, telling their stories as former refugees, and sharing why our country is improved by opening its doors to people fleeing persecution. They’ll also be honored for their strength and service at the Walk of Courage Award Dinner.
Dr. Hussam Al-Kayali, a former refugee from Iraq, is one of the refugee leaders coming to the nation’s capital this World Refugee Day. He was not able to stay in Iraq after the war, and, with the help of LIRS, came to Grand Forks, ND in 2007 with his family. He is excited to give back to newly arriving refugees from Iraq and all over the world. I was lucky enough to speak with him through an email interview. Here are his thoughts:
Luke Telander (LT): What drives you to advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees?
Hussam Al-Kayali (HK): I experienced the process of immigration myself, and I went through many challenges to become integrated in our community. I know that immigrants and refugees have difficulty in adapting to a new culture and language. They face feelings of isolation, frustration with basic activities due to the language barrier, difficulty integrating their children in a new education system, concerns about meeting financial needs, and often face prejudice from those who don’t understand them. They deal with these difficulties in addition to the normal stresses faced by any person. I want to help them overcome these challenges, and reach a point where they can experience the new opportunities available in America, and the privilege to live in freedom and peace.
LT: Can you tell us a little bit about your story of coming to the United States as a refugee?
HK: I am one of eight children born into a family in Basrah, Iraq in 1957. Our family placed a high value on education and faith in God. I obtained a PhD in Business Administration from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq. I spent five years teaching in the university. In 2002 the university sent me as a visiting professor to Amman, Jordan. My family moved with me to Amman. We were unable to return to Baghdad because it became unsafe for educated professionals to live in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. I remained in Amman as a university professor for five years. As I considered my long-term opportunities, my wife and I felt that we should pursue immigration to another country. We took part in a long process to seek immigration through the United Nations beginning in 2004. In 2007 we were told that our case had been accepted. We arrived in Grand Forks, North Dakota on October 22, 2007. We were the first Iraqi family to be sponsored in Grand Forks by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. I began my present job at Young Manufacturing, Inc. on April 14, 2008 as Operations Manager.
LT: Why have you chosen to be a part of the Refugee Alumni Network and give back to newly arrived refugees?
HK: I have chosen to be a part of the Refugee Alumni Network in an effort to share my experiences and knowledge with new refugees. I feel that my experience will help new refugees overcome some of the issues they encounter.
I plan to provide new refugees advice and feedback on how to get acclimated within the United States. I feel that my experience firsthand as a refugee can be passed on in a positive way to new refugees for knowing what to expect in their journey.
LT: This World Refugee Day, what do you think the message to the world should be?
HK: America is a great place for refugees to come. It is a country built by pioneers from various cultures, and continues to be a welcoming place for people from other cultures. It has no social constraints for people from different ethnic backgrounds. It gives widely diverse people opportunities as individuals and communities to live, work, grow, and share.
LT: What do you think is the most widely misunderstood fact about refugees and resettlement?
HK: I believe that one of the most widely misunderstand facts about refugees is the experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills that are brought over by each refugee that positively impacts the community to which they now belong.
LT: As you advocate for immigration reform that protects refugees, what do you want to make sure and tell your legislators?
HK: I feel that the biggest impact our legislators can make in immigration reform is to invest more in the success of new refugees. They should understand that welcoming immigrants provides a great opportunity to enrich American culture and economy. However, this requires effort to recognize the unique skills and experience of each individual. Therefore, the immigration program needs to provide diverse opportunities for immigrants, and a means to help them move towards ways that they can engage in the culture. In this way, the immigrants will have a chance for more sustainable opportunities and will have a significant impact to the communities in which they belong to.
LT: What are your plans for the future?
HK: I am focusing on the following areas:
- Continue to work at Young Manufacturing Inc. as an Operations Manager.
- Pursue further professional training in business administration. Get certification in Lean Six Sigma manufacturing continuous improvement processes from Gemba Academy (online).
- Continue helping with the resettlement program for new refugees. Consult with the refugees to help them integrate with their communities.
- Make it possible for my children to gain professional employment by helping them choose a suitable university and degree program, and helping them pay the cost of their education.
LIRS offers many resources for those looking for ways to speak out on World Refugee Day. For starters, please stand with refugees by raising your voice today through our Action Center! You can also get your congregation involved by signing up for our free World Refugee Day kit, or honor our refugee leaders by attending our Walk of Courage Award Dinner. Tickets are available here. Keep standing for welcome!