“I am a citizen of nowhere. I had a dream to become a citizen of the USA where I can have freedom of religion, freedom of expression and enjoy full human rights.”
A member of the persecuted Rohingya ethnic group, IRC case aide and resettled refugee, Safa Shamsuddin, waited five long years to swear allegiance to the country she now calls home.
“Due to the state-sponsored discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community, my family fled Myanmar to the neighboring country of Thailand and then to Malaysia,” Safa shared. “We arrived in Malaysia in January 2009 and, compared with many other Rohingya refugees, we were able to apply for refugee status and get our UNHCR refugee cards relatively easily.”
However, for Safa and her family, life as refugees in Malaysia was often difficult and full of uncertainty. She wasn’t legally allowed to work and her five-year-old daughter couldn’t attend public school. “Not having any legal status makes everyday life very stressful. We are always under the threat of being arrested, sent to an immigration detention center or blackmailed,” she said. “I was stopped four times, and it is only down to luck that I’ve never been detained. Other Rohingya I know haven’t been so lucky—some have spent months or years in detention!”
In 2014, Safa and her family were finally offered the opportunity to resettle and begin a new life in the U.S. They arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson airport at 1am and were greeted by then IRC case aide—now logistics manager—Amal Abdi. “We were accommodated with fully-furnished home and a freshly cooked hot meal which we enjoyed very much,” she said.
Safa smiled as she recalled more of the people—who are now dear co-workers—that first helped her family adjust to their new life in America. “Ms. Wende Crow taught us English and American Culture. We were introduced to Steffani Meier who was then an employment specialist and she searched for jobs for us. And Mr. Christopher Carpenter trained us for job readiness and helped with writing our resumes. We were provided with warm clothes and kitchen utensils by Mr. Duncan de la Feld. I will remain ever grateful to the noble staff from IRC, who helped us to integrate smoothly into the American culture and environment.”
Since then, Safa has returned this generous welcome to countless other new Americans assisted by the IRC. “I started working for the IRC in Atlanta as a case aide in 2016. I feel that I can pay back to my adopted country and I can help refugees and asylees who want to resettle in the USA.”
After five years of living in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident, Safa became eligible for citizenship and, naturally, visited her co-workers in the IRC’s Immigration team for assistance. “I decided to get help from the IRC's Immigration department with filling out the application so that it can be smooth and worry free,” Safa shared. “It was a smooth and successful application, as I expected.”
Safa was sworn in as an American citizen in October 2019—more than 10 years after she was first forced to flee her homeland. “I became a U.S. citizen recently and I hope my dreams are going to come true. I can now vote and join community service groups. After getting my U.S. passport, I can freely travel most of the countries around the world. I can help the people who are in need and refugees around the world.”
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, Kalie Lasiter, at Kalie.Lasiter [at] Rescue.org or 678-636-8941.