International Rescue Committee (IRC)

“Life is good here”: Catching up with Ismail and Safirah in Salt Lake City

You may remember Ismail Arafat and Safirah Omar, whose refugee journey began in 2003 when they left their conflict-ridden native country of Myanmar for neighboring Thailand. From there, smugglers transported them south to Malaysia.  

The International Rescue Committee’s Peter Biro first met Ismail and Safirah in Kuala Lumpur in May 2011, when he was reporting a story about the IRC’s efforts to resettle refugees in the United States. He saw the young couple off at the airport as they embarked upon their new life in Utah with their baby daughter.
 
“I hope that I will have a good job, maybe in a shop, and a car and a house,” an optimistic Ismail told Peter a few weeks later when they met up again in Salt Lake City. “But most of all, I know we have freedom and that our child will become educated. Life is good here.”

An IRC caseworker helped the couple get on their feet during their first months in the U.S., working with them to find housing, jobs and medical care and to enroll in English classes.

Despite the difficulty of learning a new language, the family is doing well. They are sharing a home with relatives in Salt Lake City, where Ismail works as a custodian. His employer is very happy with his performance and recently gave him a raise. 

Ismail just earned his driver's license and purchased his first car, enabling him to take a second, part-time job as a cleaner to build his family’s financial security. Safirah, who cares for their daughter full time, plans to start looking for work herself: Little Norwana begins preschool next fall.
 
In the coming year, Ismail hopes to earn his GED (high-school equivalency) and go on to college. He has another important goal: becoming a U.S. citizen.

“I am happy my English is improving,” he says, “because it means more opportunities for me and my family.”
 

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