Op Ed

I’m Glad U.S. Will Again Welcome Immigrants

We are a family of Rohingya refugees. Being allowed to immigrate here saved our lives.

By - Feb 21st, 2021 09:20 am

Statue of Liberty. Photo by William Warby (originally posted to Flickr as Statue of Liberty) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Liberty. Photo by William Warby (originally posted to Flickr as Statue of Liberty) (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly six years ago, my family received the news that saved our lives: We were accepted into the United States as Rohingya refugees. I, my wife and our four sons left behind persecution and poverty in southeast Asia for the open arms of Milwaukee, a city that allowed us to start new lives. I have a good job as a medical interpreter. My sons are enrolled in college and high school. Best of all, my citizenship interview is scheduled for this month.

Most people we meet have never heard of the Rohingya people. We are a Muslim ethnic minority that isn’t recognized by any country. We are stateless, which means we have no rights and were subjected to constant oppression and violence back in Myanmar. If we had stayed, we could have been among the more than 24,000 Rohingya who were shot, burned or beaten to death in the 2017 massacre by the military, police and local militias.

I am deeply grateful for the generosity of the United States, and I am grateful to hear that President Joe Biden has committed to resettling more refugees and increasing the previous levels of 15,000 people from the past few years. His leadership sends an important message that the world has a responsibility to help vulnerable people and protect them from discrimination. President Biden also made it clear that Americans should welcome people who have experienced this pain and help them feel at home.

Refugees want to create new lives after enduring so much hardship. In 2019, 96 percent of the nation’s nearly 2.5 million refugees were employed. More than 15 percent of refugees work in health care and are doing their part to help the country during the coronavirus pandemic, according to New American Economy. As a medical interpreter of the Burmese and Rohingya languages, I can help patients communicate with their doctors and nurses and provide comfort when they are scared. I assure them in their own language that they will receive the best medical care in the world here. I know my work is important, and I feel proud to serve my country this way.

The Rohingya are from the western part of Myanmar (formerly Burma), but we are not welcome there. In 1982, the country passed a law denying us citizenship, and we also do not have the right to work, own property or receive an education. In 1994, after some of my friends were arrested—including one who was severely tortured and later died —I fled to Malaysia. I was hopeful for Burma’s peaceful transition to democracy in 2010 and thought I might be able to return. But two years later, riots forced about 240,000 mostly Rohingya to take shelter in camps. I lost my dream of returning home, and I applied for asylum to the U.S.

I am happy to become an American, but my heart is heavy with the recent news that Myanmar has been overtaken by a military coup. This is another devastating development after a crackdown led by the previous Myanmar government since 2016 has resulted in thousands of deaths and forced over a million Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

Many of my people are living in miserable refugee camps, including my brother and two sisters, and an entire generation has been deprived of the right to go to school. So many people have died of malnutrition and disease. I fear there could be another genocide.

I hope someday my siblings can join me in the United States, but in the meantime, I urge President Biden and other world leaders to apply international pressure to restore democracy to Burma. The government must guarantee the basic human rights of the Rohingya and allow them to return home with dignity with full-fledged citizenship.

I also hope Americans will learn more about the thousands of Rohingya people who are living in Milwaukee. We are family-oriented, humble and hardworking. We want to live in peace. Most of all, we just want a country to call our own. For my family, I am honored that country is America.

Abdul Hamid, a medical interpreter for Aurora Health Care.

Categories: Immigration, Op-Ed, Politics

One thought on “Op Ed: I’m Glad U.S. Will Again Welcome Immigrants”

  1. Mark Kennelly says:

    Amazing history and blessings to you and your entire family. Good luck on your citizenship interview. I’m sure it will go well!

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