• 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





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

The Continuity Of Risk

A three-city study of Congolese women-at-risk resettled in the U.S.

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

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Lebanon: Refugees Brave Winter in Unfinished BuildingPlay video

Lebanon: Refugees Brave Winter in Unfinished Building

More than half of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in precarious shelters such as unfinished buildings, garages and shops. Their already difficult conditions are made worse by the winter weather.
Lebanon: US Dream keeps Hopes Alive for Syrian Family 
Play video

Lebanon: US Dream keeps Hopes Alive for Syrian Family

When Syrian refugee Yaser, his wife Amani, and family heard media reports of anti-refugee sentiment among some quarters in the United States, they feared their 18-month wait to find refuge in the country that resettles more refugees than any other could go on indefinitely. But putting their hopes on a new life in the United States, away from the horrors of Syria's war is the refugee family's only way to escape the fear of the past and struggles of the present in Lebanon.
South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.