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Two Americas: Refugee from Iraq reflects on time in Omaha, serving others in a similar position

Posted at 6:47 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 19:47:11-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Nizar Rasho, a program manager with Lutheran Family Services, knows first-hand what it’s like to leave home behind and to have no choice but to become a refugee.

“If nothing in Iraq had happened, I would never came here; I would have just stayed there," Rasho said. "But we flee from some type of persecution and war and fear for safety.”

In 2014, as ISIS was making its way through Iraq, it became clear to Rasho that he would need to leave.

“I lived in this very small village in the north of Iraq, close to the Syrian border, and basically that village was destroyed," Rasho said.

He says the spirit of his childhood home was destroyed, and all around him was a fear that sleeper agents of the terrorist group would be awakened overnight.

For several years, he and his family worked to leave Iraq. Rasho says some of the worst times of his life were when his mother, sister and brother were trying to escape to Europe through a smuggler and were caught and jailed.

“I couldn’t reach out to them, I couldn’t talk to them, for weeks," Rasho said.

Eventually, his family did make it to Germany, and he was able to come to the United States — leaving behind a life as a lawyer and refugee advocate, and becoming a refugee himself.

Rasho is one of 10,418 refugees to be settled in Nebraska, according to some of the latest numbers from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Lutheran Family Services says it normally takes about 30-90 days for a refugee to lay the groundwork for a new life by getting essentials like proper IDs, healthcare and English classes to name a few.

Challenges like finding housing without a form of ID or a credit history come up often.

Rasho says with refugees only being given $1,025 to make ends meet during this time, many are also put into “survivor jobs”. For the former lawyer, that meant cleaning the parking lots at a grocery store.

Rasho said on top of adjusting to a culture that often operated online and working around some language barriers, he was dealing with survivor's guilt his first year here.

“When I came here, I just felt so much guilt," Rasho said. "Like, ‘Why am I here? I’m going to go back to try to help.’”

Rasho says he made it through that rough first year largely through the help of the community at Lutheran Family Services, where he is now a program manager.

“I think there are people who are benefiting from our experience and our services," Rasho said. "We do our best with them, and of course that makes me feel better.”

He says through his work he’s been able to share what he’s learned with others stepping into that frightening first year of settlement.

“We are all human, so we need to help each other," Rasho said.

Rasho says volunteers, donations and community partnerships would help Lutheran Family Services right now in their mission to offer safety, hope and wellbeing to the incoming refugees.

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