Leaving home was the hardest part. I wasn’t expecting to leave Eritrea and I didn’t want to. Because I worked with the UN peacekeepers, I was suspected of being a spy and I spent 2 months in prison in Eritrea. I am very lucky, really, that it was only 2 months. There are innocent people—journalists, politicians, and others—who have been in prison there for over 28 years. When I got out of prison, I knew I would have to leave to stay safe.
I don’t have the words to describe how hard it was to leave my home. You don’t appreciate how special a normal life is until you don’t have it anymore. As a refugee, I couldn’t control my life. Every day, I woke up and I didn’t know what my future held. Unlike many, I was not in a refugee camp, but in an urban environment – Nairobi, Kenya. I was far from home, with no direction, no family, and no idea how long I would be there. As a single woman living alone in a foreign country, it was very, very challenging. Horrible things happened to me during my 3 years in Nairobi.
Refugees are usually not permitted to work, but I was able to do some work in Kenya for UNHCR as a refugee receiving incentive payments. One day, I was sharing my story with a co-worker and he asked me why I hadn’t applied for resettlement. I was surprised to find that I was eligible for resettlement since I worked for UNHCR. The application process took about 8 months.
When I learned I would be going to the U.S., I was so excited and hopeful. I finally saw a clear future. Being resettled in the U.S. was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. My mother and sister were already living in North Carolina, so I requested to live with them. When I finally arrived, it was the best family reunion! I hadn’t seen my sister in 12 years. Her husband and kids welcomed me into their home with open arms.
It’s so hard to restart your entire life in a new place and I couldn’t have done it without USCRI. The USCRI staff gave me a sense of direction and provided orientation and assistance. My case manager was wonderful, and we are still friends today. USCRI helped me find work and adjust to living in the U.S. Of course, it was very helpful to have my family’s support too.
Today, I’ve achieved the American dream. I own my home, I married an amazing American man, I have a job I love, and I’m really, really happy. I’m working as a resettlement coordinator for USCRI now, welcoming other refugees to North Carolina just like I was welcomed 10 years ago.
The current administration’s policies make me so sad. There are thousands of people who will not get the second chance that I got to restart their lives. I was one of the lucky ones. I could easily still be a refugee in Kenya, waiting for my life to begin again. I can’t even imagine what that would look like. I want people to know that refugees contribute to the U.S. They are more than just a sad story. If someone survived refugee life, they can definitely succeed here, and I see it every day.