“I want to tell you why I left my country.”
After a multi-year journey from his home country, with support and guidance from the IRC and IOM, Adbul, his wife, and two sons have finally settled in San Diego.
Five years ago, Abdul, his wife and two sons left Pakistan in search of religious freedom. This past March, the four arrived in the United States ready to establish a life where they might finally feel secure and supported, two things that were often absent in their journey.
Abdul explained that in Pakistan, most everyone religiously identifies as Muslim. There are 72 different sectors of Islam practiced across the country, but not without conflict. Abdul and his family practice the Ahmadiyya faith, a movement originating in Punjab, British India, in the 19th century. However, in 1974, Pakistan declared that those who practice Ahmadiyya will not be considered Muslim, and have since incurred violent and ongoing targeted persecution. Abdul and his family are no strangers to these threats. He says hundreds of people have been killed since by their own community, because they don’t consider Ahmadis as human; they don’t want to do anything with Ahmadi Muslims.
“They burn our houses. They attack on our mosques. It is very difficult to survive in Pakistan,” said Abdul.
He and his family were no exception, having been both violently targeted and threatened to convert. In 2016, Abdul’s employers discovered he was an Ahmadi Muslim and was soon thereafter fired from his position. It was not long after that Abdul and his family would embark on the process of resettling—in search for the freedom to live securely and practice their religious faith.
Abdul and his family first left Pakistan for Sri Lanka, where they registered with the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) in need of resettlement.
It was a difficult five years living in Sri Lanka. “I had no food in my house, I had no money in my pocket,” recalled Abdul. Abdul’s wife was pregnant at the time, and Abdul was not able to legally work in Sri Lanka. Instead, he would go door to door offering his services around the community. Adbul recalls one woman offering him 100 rupees to clean her house. Though it was difficult to survive, Abdul emphasized that these conditions are commonplace for those who leave their country in search for a better future.
Sri Lanka would ultimately fail to provide an escape from the ridicule and violent threats he and his family faced in Pakistan. In 2019, Sri Lanka was devastated by a series of Easter bombings targeting churches, luxury hotels, and housing complexes. The bombings were coordinated and carried out by Islamist extremists, heightening the already violent anger towards the Muslim community. Abdul’s family experienced even greater hostility in Sri Lanka after the Easter bombings. One day, a mob of 30 to 40 people broke into their home and tried to kill him and his family, breaking their windows and belongings, only sparing the family’s lives because of their young children.
Abdul reflected: “In Pakistan, they kill us because we are not Muslim. In Sri Lanka, they kill us because we are Muslim.”
Abdul and his family spent five years in Sri Lanka struggling to survive, and undergoing a resettlement process that was delayed two and a half years due to continuous challenges, one of which was the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, however, he and his family’s UNHCR resettlement application was approved. After an interview with the International Organization of Migration office, Abdul and his family were able to continue onwards, this time to their final destination: the United States. The IOM would organize their travel to arrive and resettle in the U.S., and Abdul began paying monthly installments to pay the travel costs.
Now it is August of 2021. With the help of the IOM and the IRC, Abdul and his family have settled in San Diego, California. They were greeted by an IOM officer at LAX when they arrived in March, and after a mandatory quarantine, their IRC caseworker introduced the family to their new home, assisted them in setting up appointments, and helped filing applications for Social Security and a driver’s license.
Just two weeks after their resettlement in San Diego, Abdul secured a job at an Indian restaurant and began working towards obtaining his American driver’s license. Abdul commutes about one hour on the bus to work every day. It is a busy job, he says, with a very diverse staff which he enjoys because it allows him to meet and work with different people. While he usually works in the store front, he hopes to eventually begin working at the farmer’s market stand that the restaurant holds every week.
“It’s a busy job. But it’s a passion.”
As Adbul and his family continue to build their new lives, they continue to show strength and dedication to one another as they turn their new city into a new home.