Refugees create unique culture in Omaha

Audrey Otwell

Texts and threats from terrorists were regular occurrences for Afghan refugee Shafiq Jahish. He was 17 years old when he began working for the United States militia as a translator. Jahish was in battle dodging gunfire calls from the Taliban threats for years before he received a specialized visa allowing him safety in the United States.

His family still lives in Afghanistan and is unable to travel back to their hometown in another part of Afghanistan in fear of being targeted by the Taliban. He is one of the 85,000 refugees in Omaha which, according to The Paris Review, a renowned literary magazine, has the highest Sudanese population in the world, outside of Sudan. The remarkable legal, physical and emotional journey that refugees endure to get to the United States is one traveled by 24.5 million people yearly, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The overall refugee displacement rate has skyrocketed in light of recent political and ethnic conflicts, ruled a genocide, in Myanmar.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a legally complex process, and it has been further limited by the current presidential administration. The Global Citizen Organization reports that the rate of refugee resettlement in the U.S. is the lowest it has been in over 40 years, a 90 percent average decrease in refugees compared to the first three months of 2016. Individual community involvement in refugee resettlement, however, is increasing as refugee crises are becoming more widely broadcast. As Christians, we are called by God to liberate those who may be in positions of oppression. Pope Francis specifies refugees. “He [God] needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help. He needs our voice to protest the injustices committed thanks to the silence, often complicit, of so many,” Pope Francis said. Marian students hope to live out this mission through service.

Marian’s Project Welcome is dedicated to aiding the refugees resettling in Omaha and learning from their experiences in order to broaden their global understanding. Jahish spoke to the club members at a simulation event on Oct. 1 in association with Lutheran Family Services, who aid in job placement and resettlement.

Club moderator, Kathy Salzman, believes in the altruistic nature of Project Welcome, “Project Welcome’s mission is twofold: one, to help settle newly-arrived refugees into their new home and make them feel welcome, and two, to educate the Marian community about the plight of refugees around the world. The needs of refugees are so great that one can often feel overwhelmed,” Salzman said.

Salzman centers her focus on God when the plight of the world seems all-consuming. “I like to keep in mind Saint Theresa’s mantra of continuing to do good things even when they seem to never be enough. We help one refugee family at a time. One refugee family that feels our care and concern is one that would otherwise not feel welcomed,” Salzman said. In order to mend the separation and displacement, organizations for others, like Project Welcome, will start everything one step at a time and pave a path for a safer tomorrow.


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The Network is the student newspaper of Marian High School, Nebraska's only Class A College-Preparatory School for young women.

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