• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

After fleeing violence in Darfur, resettled refugee cherishes new life in Alaska

News Stories, 21 December 2009

© Catholic Social Services/Kerina Vue
At-Tahir Karief, the first refugee from Darfur to be resettled in Alaska, has found safety and freedom in the United States.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, December 15 (UNHCR) The first refugee from Darfur to find a home in Anchorage, Alaska, thrives in the cold northern climate, having found a safe haven and freedom far from his native country.

At-Tahir Karief, a farmer from Darfur, arrived in Alaska in February 2008 and now works for a cargo company loading and unloading airplanes at the Anchorage airport. A native Arabic speaker, he began learning English in refugee camps, but takes regular classes to improve his language skills. He and his wife both work, but find daycare for their children to be a challenge, as well as saving money for the future. Still, the family is extremely grateful to have found a new home.

"I love it so much here. I can feel peace. I love freedom. Nobody bothers me. We are very satisfied and happy with what we have," says Karief. Nevertheless, he remains disturbed by the tragic events in his home country and remains hopeful for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Darfur.

Now firmly rooted in Anchorage, Karief mentors newly-arrived refugees by greeting them at the airport and helping them adjust to a new culture. Over the past 18 months, nearly 70 refugees from Darfur have arrived in Alaska.

"The weather is not the biggest challenge refugees face, but it does feed into some of their problems," says Dr. Karen Ferguson of Catholic Social Services in Anchorage. "We have a very low out migration rate. People don't leave us. At the same time, refugees do struggle with earning enough money to pay for bills, finding transportation in a city with an unfriendly bus system and becoming independent."

Anchorage, a city of 300,000, has less diversity than other U.S. cities. Housing is can be expensive and the employment rate is moderate. "People in Alaska are very friendly and refugees seem to get beyond their problems," says Ferguson. In addition to refugees from Darfur, Catholic Social Services has also helped refugees from Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the former Soviet Union, Iran and Iraq start new lives in Alaska.

Running a smaller program compared with many other states, Catholic Social Services is the only resettlement agency in Alaska, providing assistance to more than 300 newly enrolled refugees a year. The agency provides rent, food, clothes and cash assistance and helps refugees find housing and employment upon arrival. Ultimately, the agency works to help refugees live independently.

Having fled the conflict in Sudan in 2004, Karief began his journey in a refugee camp in Chad.

After leaving Chad he and his family traveled by bus across Africa through Cameroon, Nigeria and Benin, and then lived in a refugee camp in Ghana for three years. In Ghana he felt safe, but living conditions in the camp quickly deteriorated. After several months, he found there was little food, water and medication for his family. UNHCR referred Karief to the U.S. resettlement program. After waiting for several months, Karief was told he would be resettled to the U.S. with his family.

"The Sudanese value education. They hope that by being resettled to the United States they and their children will get an education. But the truth is when you come to the U.S. through the resettlement program, the plan is work first, not education. The refugees want to take college classes and learn English, yet they have to start by taking entry level jobs," Ferguson says.

Holding on to the hope that his children will be well-educated, Karief expects that his children will learn to read, go to college and find jobs helping fellow refugees. "I wanted a better life for my kids and now I've found it in Alaska."

By Lilli Tnaib in Washington, DC

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

UNHCR Resettlement Handbook and Country Chapters

July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.

Stateless in American Samoa: Mikhail Sebastian's Story

Mikhail Sebastian is a stateless man who has been living in the United States for more than a decade-and-a-half. In this video, he tells of the hardships he has faced and the importance of providing legal protections to stateless persons in the U.S.

Operational Guidance

Operational Guidance for the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehousePlay video

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehouse

An Iraqi man who turned down resettlement to the U.S. in 2006 tells how it feels now to be a "refugee" in his own country, in limbo, hoping to restart life in another Iraqi city.
Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.
Canada: Light Years Ahead
Play video

Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.