Refugee living in Middletown continues path to American citizenship

Raghad Algbory escaped two war-torn countries, Iraq and Syria, as a child. She is an Iraqi refugee who grew up in Syria and is now living in Butler County. She and her family left Syria to Turkey when she was 16 an applied for refugee status with the United Nation.MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
Raghad Algbory escaped two war-torn countries, Iraq and Syria, as a child. She is an Iraqi refugee who grew up in Syria and is now living in Butler County. She and her family left Syria to Turkey when she was 16 an applied for refugee status with the United Nation.MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Raghad Algbory arrived in the United States near the end of 2014, nearly three years after escaping the second war-torn country in her young life.

In just 2½ years in this country, Algbory, 21, who was born in Iraq and raised in Syria, has adjusted to American life, passed her GED and is finishing up her first semester at Miami University Middletown. She’ll attend Miami’s Oxford campus in the fall of 2018 majoring in Diplomacy and Global Politics.

RELATED: 86 people become new American citizens

Algbory lives in Middletown with her family — her parents and her brothers, ages 22, 14 and 7.

Seeing people who are suffering in her adopted home country of Syria — a place she grew up in and left as a 16-year-old in 2012 — troubles her. With ISIS maintaining a stronghold in the country and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people.

“It’s awful,” she said. “People are dying from hunger, sickness. I just can’t believe as human beings they have to live that (way). In the end, they are human. Here we respect the human being, no matter what your religion or race; you’re a human. There, no. Over there they don’t get that.”

And just like anyone who loves their childhood home, Algbory still loves Syria. Seeing war in places she knew intimately, she said, “It’s hurting me.

“It’s so hard to see those people I know, and the beautiful places get destroyed.”

Aleppo, which is one of Syria’s largest cities and has been devastated by war, was one of her favorite places. “I had fun there,” she said. “And now there is no ‘there’ any more.”

RELATED: U.S. issues 271 sanctions in Syrian chemical attack

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Algbory can see her future — she wants to be an attorney and possibly work for the United Nations — but her future was uncertain just a few years ago as her family was attempting to escape Syria a year after the Arab Spring began.

It would be the second war-torn country her family had fled in less than a decade.

The Iraq War had been going on for a couple years when her family left when she was just 9 years old. A couple years before departing to Syria, her family, including maternal cousins, moved in with her maternal grandparents because it was safer.

“I don’t remember a lot about the war, but I remember as a kid we had fun staying together and playing,” Algbory said.

As she reflects on that time in her life, she realizes it was her parents attempting to ensure the innocence of her childhood was maintained.

The family left Iraq for Syria in 2005.

While her memory of Iraq is not strong, her memories of Syria, living in Damascus, were vivid. She played basketball, was a girl scout and actively volunteered.

“I had a life there. I grew up with the best of friends,” she said. “Every week we had a sleep over. My friends, when they’d go to a family trip, I’d go with them. And when me and my parents would go somewhere, my friends would go, too. It was so cool.”

Then in winter 2012, just seven years after escaping one war, the war in Syria crept toward her family.

The price of amenities rose. Propane and gasoline prices skyrocketed. Households could only have 12 hours of electricity a day.

She was not used to the noises and consequences of war, unlike her parents and others who remembered living through and escaping the war in Iraq.

“I told my parents, I do not want to live here anymore,’” she said. “I love Syria, and I still do. I grew up in Syria. My teenage years in Syria was amazing but I can’t live in a war. I’m not ready for that.”

Seeing and hearing about the destruction of her one-time adopted home, has her torn. Sentimental and personal memories of a life with friends are now infected with the death and destruction brought on by war.

Just like every other millennial, Algbory maintains a connection with her friends still in Damascus through social media platforms — mostly with Snapchat and Instagram — and says she’ll “ talk with them about everything.”

REFUGEE PROCESS

The Algbory family applied for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in late April 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey, and stayed in a small Turkish city, Kütahya, where they’d stay for a year just waiting to see if the UN would accept their application.

RELATED: Fitton Center executive director celebrates long journey to citizenship

“We literally don’t know what was going to happen,” Algbory said. “Did they accept our case or not?”

Then by email in the spring of 2013, the United Nations notified the family they were accepted as refugees but they weren’t certain where they’d be relocated.

Another half-year went by before the United Nations notified the family the United States will consider their case.

A representative of the United States government interviewed Algbory’s parents — mostly her father — twice over the course of a year. They were approved in mid-2014 to relocate as refugees in the United States.

According to the U.S. State Department, fewer than 1 percent of the world’s refugees are identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as being in need of resettlement.

“The United States considers referrals from UNHCR for more of those individuals than any other country, but refugees can only be admitted to the United States after thorough and intense security screening,” according to a State Department spokesperson.

The total number of refugees resettled in the United States varies from year to year. More than 96,874 refugees were admitted into the United States in 2016, a dramatic increase over recent years. More than 66,500 refugees were admitted to the country in 2015, and 72,800-plus were admitted in 2014, according to the Refugee Processing Center.

In August 2014, they received notification they’d be flying to the United States on Nov. 13, 2014.

They first flew to New York, but had an overnight layover, and then flew out the next day to Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati International Airport. They chose Ohio because Algbory’s mom had cousins that live in the area and, as her mom told her, “Ohio has a good opportunity for jobs and schools.”

As a refugee, once the family has lived in the United States for a year they must apply for a green card, which the Algbory family has, and after five years they can apply for citizenship. That’s in 2-½ years.

LEARNING IN AMERICA

When Algbory settled in Ohio, she enrolled into the state’s Adult Basic Literacy Education program (now known as Aspire) at the Scarlet Oaks campus in Sharonville. She said it “100 percent” changed her life.”

RELATED: Ohio ABLE renamed to Aspire

She’s naturally a shy person, but with her difficulty navigating the language just months after she moved to the country, it compounded her shyness, she said.

Katie Travers, Algbory’s GED teacher, said foreign students are typically quiet when they begin, and recalls Algbory, and her brother Haitham, as being “exceptionally quiet.”

“I’m a very outgoing person, and my students and I form like a little family real quickly, and it took me a little longer to break through to them,” Travers said.

After Haitham graduated from the program, Algbory’s shyness softened more and Travers said she blossomed into a vivacious learner, always asking for more work, asking people to check her writing samples and constantly asking for more work.

“She just dug her heals in and did what it took to learn what she needed to learn,” Travers said. “She was 100 percent determined to go to college.”

It takes a person to pass the GED around 18 months. Algbory, and her brother, passed it in half that time.

“I was really impressed seeing both of them make it from no high school education to Miami University enrolled in nine months. That was really encouraging,” Travers said. “That was rare.”

AMERICAN POLITICS

Algbory said she has nothing against President Donald Trump, but disagrees with his travel ban six majority-Muslim countries and restricts the number of refugees the United States would accept a year. Algbory is Muslim.

Trump’s March 6 executive order, which is being legally challenged, says refugees would be barred from coming into the country for four months, and there would be a three-month ban on issuing new visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries. It also limits the country to accepting 50,000 refugees to 50,000 a year, less than half of the Obama administration 110,000-refugee cap.

RELATED: Judge seems reluctant to issue another travel ban injunction

More than anything she feels sad for those in Syria, Iraq and other countries where ISIS has stranglehold because a path to escape is now more difficult. Those seeking escape from ISIS feel isolated, because that’s how she felt for nearly three years living in Turkey waiting for her family’s refugee application accepted.

“For me I escaped ISIS,” Algbory said. “There are lots of people like me and my family, because they can’t live there. It’s so hard for them.”

“I had to live that experience. I know how it feels to have no life,” Algbory said of the isolation waiting for her refugee application to be approved. “Three years can feel like 30 years.”

About the Author