After nine months in the United States, Zia Ziauddin still has not found a job, but it’s not because he isn’t qualified. Before resettling in the United States with his family, Ziauddin worked in a senior position at a city management company in Afghanistan. He has several skills to offer but finding the right fit has been hard.
“In some interviews they say I am overqualified for the entry-level position I applied to,” Ziauddin said. “That makes me unhappy and disappointed but this is my situation and I am dealing with it.”
Ziauddin is a refugee. He is one of thousands who come to North Carolina every year for safety. Ziauddin said back in Afghanistan, his family was receiving threats from the Taliban for about three years before they were able to come to the United States.
Ziauddin is also disabled. He lost his left leg many years ago after accidently stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan, preventing him from taking any job that demands a lot of moving. Ziauddin said the transition into their new home in Raleigh has been up and down, but the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in North Carolina (USCRI-NC) helped Ziauddin’s family secure a home and look for a job when they arrived.
“Being forced out of your country is a sad and violent thing to happen to huge amounts of people, but it can turn into a positive thing for them and our community,” Grace Benson, Case Manager for USCRI-NC, said.
Benson is helping organize a festival to celebrate the cultures and contributions of refugees like Ziauddin. The World Refugee Day Festival is a free celebration this Saturday, June 20 at Method Road Park in Raleigh from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is one of several celebrations and festivals happening across the state:
- Durham: June 27, 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. at 1917 Yearby Ave. Church World Service
- Greensboro: June 20, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Center City Park, 200 N. Elm St. North Carolina African Services Coalition, Church World Services, New Arrivals Institute, African Services, Church world Services, City of Greensboro, New Arrivals Institute, Montagnard Dega Association, City of Greensboro
- Wilmington: June 20, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Hugh MacRae Park, 1799 S. College Rd. Interfaith Refugee Ministry
World Refugee Day is an international day dedicated to recognizing the struggle of refugees across the world. Benson said the Raleigh festival combines awareness with an opportunity for each person- whether they are from Myanmar, Iraq, Somalia or Cuba- to display their unique cultural contribution to the Triangle.
“People in the Triangle recognize diversity well but people may not recognize that a lot of this diversity comes from our refugee population.”
In 2014, North Carolina resettled 2,443 refugees, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The state ranked 12th in the country for the most refugees, housing about 3.5% percent of the 69,986 refugees who came to the U.S. that year. A refugee is defined by the United Nations Convention on Refugees as somebody who flees persecution in their home country because of “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
35 percent of North Carolina’s refugees resettled in the Triangle in 2013, more than any other area in the state. USCRI-NC plans to resettle 315 refugees this year. Benson said each refugee arrives eager to achieve self-sufficiency like Ziauddin.
“Every refugee we see gets off the plane and says, ‘I want to work. I want to do well.’ Finding work is never an attitude problem- they want to contribute,” Benson said. “You aren’t able to work in a refugee camp, and people may have been in the camp 10 to 20 years, so when you get out you are ready to go.”
Ziauddin said the festival is an opportunity for the Triangle’s refugees to share experiences while celebrating the mix of cultures they have to offer. Attractions at the festival will range from an Ethiopian dance group to authentic Congolese cuisine. All the while, refugees will celebrate with the local organizations – Lutheran Services Carolinas, American Red Cross of Eastern NC, Girl Scouts – that have helped several land on their feet and go forward in their new homes.