by Hena Hussain ’20
With a growing number of global conflicts, many throughout the world have been displaced from their homes and lives. Many of these refugees choose to seek asylum in the United States, at a time when the Trump administration is restricting immigration. While Americans are familiar with the broad idea of the refugee crisis, many are not acquainted with the issue on a personal level and view such conflict as portrayed by the media.
Zalmai Tanha is an Afghan refugee living in Maryland. Tanha moved to the United States in September 2016 because of the danger he faced while working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“I worked as a logistic coordinator and procurement assistant for almost twelve to thirteen years,” Tanha explained. “Every day I would go to work, then come back to my home, my children, my wife … we were happy there.” However, in 2014, he began to receive threats for his work.
“When I was going to my home a car stopped and they hit me and told me to stop working with U.S. people: otherwise they would kidnap my children or kill my children,” Tanha said. “I just went to my father’s house,” after which he said that his car was stolen from the back of his father’s house.
“They again called me and told me, ‘if I can steal your car I can do anything,’” Tanha said. After that particular incident, Tanha applied for a Special Immigration Visa, which he said is available for those who work for United States agencies for a year or more with approval from their supervisor. Tanha’s supervisor had also informed him of other threats caused by his involvement with USAID.
“At that time, I applied for a special immigration visa. It took one and a half years and after that, I came here,” Tanha said.
The people who targeted Tanha were members of the Taliban, an extremist group. “I lived in a village close to the capital of Afghanistan. Many Taliban were living there; they knew I worked with U.S. people,” Tanha said. “Whenever they know that someone is working with U.S. people, they want to kill them.” Tanha said that after the numbers of Taliban increased in his area, his normal life became more difficult.
Tanha now works as an engineering technician. Before coming to the United States, he attended a university in Afghanistan for business administration, but had to leave it in order to immigrate. “It’s very difficult in the U.S. when you are new. . . my wife doesn’t speak English and I have three boys, so I just work . . . sometimes I work [long hours], so [continuing education] is a little difficult,” Tanha said.
His wife takes care of their sons, who attend school. In Afghanistan, his family lived in a large house but now live in a smaller home, which, according to Tanha, is just one of the factors his family has had to adjust to.
“Whenever [my children ask] me, ‘I want this,’ I can’t buy that thing for them,” Tanha said. “Here, it is a little more difficult for me to do everything for them.”
Despite the inevitable obstacles, Tanha and his family are content with their new life. “We are happy that the situation is good, and that security is good,” Tanha said. He feels that they are much safer here and have been met with support and acceptance in their new community.