Former Iraqi refugee gives perspective on refugee crisis

Iraq refugee Salman Yakub speaks to students at the Joseph F. Smith Building to share his personal journey adapting to U.S. life (Jessica Banuelos)
Former Iraqi refugee Salman Yakub speaks to students about his personal journey adapting to life in the United States. (Jessica Banuelos)

BYU’s writing department promoted the stand for refugees by inviting Salman Yakub, a former refugee from Iraq, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, to speak at the Joseph F. Smith Building. He explained to students the process some refugees go through in order to adapt to American life and gain self-sufficiency.

Yakub was originally born in the Czech Republic, where his family was located at the time to support his father in school. His family moved to Iraq a few years later where he was raised. Yakub eventually moved to Jordan to reunite with his family and applied to be moved to the United States as a refugee in 2008.

He said some refugees have no sponsors to support them and are sent to states where an organization can sponsor them for a limited time until they can financially sustain themselves.

“I didn’t have anyone to sponsor me, so I was chosen to be sent to Utah, randomly,” Yakub said. “Luckily, I was sponsored by the Catholic Community Services. They helped me in the process achieve my goal of becoming self-sufficient.”

He explained the difficulties he had while trying to balance work and studying for tests that would certify him to practice medicine. He told students many refugees struggle with the pressure to be self-reliant while trying to learn the language as well.

“In their case, the job they can find isn’t promising. Refugees find it hard to integrate because they need programs that focus on teaching them English and the skills they need to find a good job,” Yakub said.

He said during in his journey to become employed by the University of Utah as a clinical research assistant, he struggled to find employment that related to his studies.

Yakub worked as a seasonal case worker for refugees while searching for a decent-paying job. He noticed refugees lacked not only the knowledge to integrate but sufficient time to adapt to their circumstances before being cut off financially from the government.

“During those few months they have a lot to learn about things that are completely new to them. Everything here is different than everything they had in their country: the language, the culture, the traditions,” Yakub said.

When students asked him how citizens can help refugees adapt to their new lives, he said they need to take the responsibility upon themselves as “good Samaritans” and reach out to help them grasp more resources.

“We need volunteers to help refugees. We need a campaign to make things more organized and easier for them to adapt,” Yakub said.

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