Massud Fattah fled with his family from Northern Iraq in 2012. He had worked with the army for years to help fight terrorism in his home country.
He settled in Pittsburgh and two years after he arrived with his working VISA, he got a job at BYN Mellon Bank with the help of the Jewish Family and Children Service, or JFCS. His citizenship interview is next week.
Fattah was one of several local refugees who shared their stories Wednesday, as part of World Refugee Day. He said Pittsburgh welcomed him and his family.
“In five years, we never faced and felt that we are different from people, that we are from a different country,” Fattah said. “We owe them our lives.”
Fattah said he and his family were fortunate to find a home in Pittsburgh, but many refugees still face challenges in America.
Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee and immigrant services for the JFCS, said that since President Trump’s travel ban in March, fewer families have been coming to Pittsburgh. The JFCS helps refugees find homes and employment in Pittsburgh, which can be challenging enough, but Aizenman said the political rhetoric in Washington D.C. makes it even more difficult for refugees to feel accepted.
“We haven’t had a Syrian family come,” she said. “We’ve had one, I think, since the travel ban was proposed. So, it really has slowed down the process of getting here.”
Aizenman said refugees who come to the city often face language barriers and have to learn how to deal with a new culture. She said it’s important for cities like Pittsburgh to continue to welcome refugees and help them find a home.
In 2015, Mayor Bill Peduto committed to accepting Syrian refugees and Aizenman said the city works with a local refugee agency to help immigrants move here. However, since Trump was elected in November, she said she does not think as many refugees will move to the city this year.
Fattah said he did not have an easy childhood in Iraq, where he was surrounded by war. His father was killed when he was 7 years old because he was Kurdish, and he and his wife faced violence while they were living in Iraq. He said he decided he could not raise a family under those conditions.
Now, Fattah said he feels nervous about the polarized rhetoric coming from some of America’s political leaders. He said he realizes that people may be afraid about accepting other cultures, and he urges them to sit down with refugees so they can tell their stories.
“The best way to see if immigrants or refugees are peaceful or not is to talk to them, to ask them about their stories,” Fattah said. “Yes, we are afraid a little, but we keep trying to live our lives and we hope everything will be better.”