Refugees Strengthen Our Communities

Refugees have invigorated our economies, brought innovation to our towns, and strengthened our communities through their contributions to our public life and cultural institutions. Most recently, refugees have been essential in the fight against COVID-19 in the United States. Below are the stories of just a few of the refugees who are giving back to the communities that welcomed them.

Lubab al-Quraishi graduated in the top three percent of her class from Baghdad University’s College of Medicine. She pursued a difficult yet rewarding career working in a low-resource hospital in Iraq until Lubab and her family began to be targeted by the insurgency. “We kept moving from one area to another. Trying to keep my children safe. We were one family of thousands who experienced the same thing,” she recalled. After eleven years of waiting, she and her family were resettled as refugees to the United States.

But despite her credentials and experience, Lubab was not able to practice medicine in her new home –until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Lubab, who had been working as a pathology assistant, was one of the first people from her lab to take on the dangerous task of traveling to hard-hit nursing homes throughout New York to administer COVID-19 tests. Then, thanks to an executive order in her home state of New Jersey, Lubab and other internationally trained medical professionals were granted temporary licenses, but she is still left wondering “What happens when this is all over?”

Mustafa Nuur fled Somalia after terrorists killed his father. He was just thirteen years old when he left his home country, and he spent the next decade living in a refugee camp in Kenya. He eventually settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he has since dedicated himself to creating cross-cultural understanding between refugees and local community members. He is the executive director of BRIDGE, an organization that has prided itself on bringing immigrants, refugees and locals together through dinners and other gatherings. In Mustafa’s words, “There’s nothing that can replace sitting across from someone who’s different from you and hearing their story.”

Since the onset of COVID-19, Mustafa has had to get creative about building connections between refugees and the broader community in a time of physical distancing and fear. He and the refugees he works alongside have come together to provide essential services to community members from making meals, to running errands, and simply keeping isolated individuals company. Mustafa and the people he works with are proof positive that cross-cultural connection is critical even in the most uncertain times.

Wandaka Musongera’s earliest memories include farming with loved ones in his family’s village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “When I was very young my mom would take me with her farming and I would just repeat what she did. And at the age of five or six, she gave me a small plot where I grew green onions and sweet potatoes,” Wandaka remembers. But his childhood was abruptly interrupted when he was forced to flee his home country at just ten years old. After seven years of waiting, Wandaka and his family were resettled to the United States.

Soon after he arrived in Texas as a teenager, he fell in love with agriculture all over again. Today, he works as Assistant Farm Manager at New Leaf Agriculture where he trains refugee farm apprentices in agricultural work. He and his apprentices are a vital link in the food supply chain for the greater Austin area, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has put additional strain on community members. “Feeding my Austin community during this hard time fills my heart with joy,” says Wandaka.