On November, 2014, a young woman named Asmaa Albukaie arrived in Boise with her two teenage sons – making them the first Syrian refugees in the entire stare of Idaho. This year, Boise has taken in 122 Syrian refugees, more than twice as many as Los Angeles, Boston and New York combined.
After fleeing Syria, Ms. Albukaie arrived in Egypt where she applied for refugee status through the United Nations, and qualified as a “vulnerable case” because she was a single mother. After two years of intensive interviews and background checks, Ms. Albukaie received an airplane ticket for the United States.
“I noticed that women in movies, American women, decide whatever they want to decide…. So I made my own decision to learn and study,” says Albukaie. Once settled in Boise, those American movies quickly paid off because Ms. Albukaie was able to quickly learn English which soon landed her a job as an interpreter. Then, after a few months, she got hired as a Resettlement Officer helping other newly settled refugees.
Albukaie talks about how strict the vetting process is. As PRI reports, “All applicants are first screened by the UN, then three US government agencies: the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Overall, the process to admit Syrian refugees generally takes 18 to 24 months, if applicants pass all the hurdles. Around 10,000 Syrian refugees have been accepted to the US over the past 12 months. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she’d like to increase the annual intake to 65,000.”
Last month, Ms. Albukaie along with seven other colleagues, were honored at the White House as part of Welcoming Week which celebrated innovative ways to integrate immigrants into the U.S.
Ms. Albukaie says she has faced hate crimes, one of her sons was sadly beaten up for being Muslim but despite the setbacks, offers this: “When people say ‘terrorist’ to me… when I smile and wave and say hello, their face changes from somebody that’s mad to somebody who’s welcoming, more calm. I believe Muslim attitudes can change what American people think about Muslims.”