Soulmates Meet in a Refugee Camp
Nurul Ali Ahmed is a new US citizen whose forced migration journey began in a small town in Burma, Southeast Asia. Born Rohingya, a minority stateless ethnic group long persecuted by the Myanmar government, Nurul fled from targeted violence and persecution with his family at the age of 14, ending up in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
It’s there that Nurul met and married his beloved wife and began their life together. Soulmates, they lived together in the refugee camp for 13 years, welcoming three beautiful children. Unable to return to Burma due to tremendous persecution of the Rohingya, and with no end in sight to living in the refugee camp, Nurul knew he needed to seek additional work in his field of tailoring to provide for his growing family. Because of his experience and accomplishment as a master tailor, Nurul was invited to join a tailoring firm in Malaysia, an opportunity that provided much greater financial stability – and hopefully a future of moving out of the refugee camp – for his wife and three children.
Tragedy in Malaysia
While Nurul and his family were saddened by his move to Malaysia, they were grateful for the additional financial support, with dreams of being resettled as refugees together in the near future. For two years, Nurul was steadfast in his work, with apprentices learning under his tutelage. He worked hard and faithfully sent his income to support them.
In the early hours of an otherwise unusual morning on his way to work, Nurul had a motorcycle accident that left him hospitalized with a minor injury to his leg. “I was in such severe pain after I got out of the hospital a month later that I didn’t think I would live even through the week. But I think God wanted me to live since I’m still alive.”
In a series of tragic medical missteps and neglect, Nurul underwent six surgeries over the following 15 months, having his leg amputated little by little due to an untreated infection that continued to spread up his leg. Constantly in severe pain, he begged the medical staff for medicine but they refused, threatening to kill him and leave his body where no one would find it.
After his life was threatened by the people tasked with caring for him, Nurul contacted the local UN office, whose staff came to the hospital and started questioning how a minor injury led to full leg amputation. After investigating the tragic series of events, they determined that severe medical malpractice resulting from hateful discrimination of Rohingya people led to Nurul’s leg amputation.
Over the course of a year, the UN worked with Nurul to process extensive paperwork to be approved for refugee resettlement. He was overjoyed when he got news that he would be resettled as a refugee in Durham in 2015! While it meant he would be half a world away from his family, he was deeply hopeful that he’d receive better medical care and that his family would be resettled as refugees in Durham before long.
A Day to Remember
Nurul vividly recalls September 25, 2015, the day he arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, thick with hope and promise for the future. World Relief Durham met him at the airport and drove him to his new home, a furnished apartment with a stocked fridge, homey touches, and a Burmese welcome meal.
The next weeks and months were a blur of caseworker meetings to get him enrolled in social services, establish a bank account, and all else that goes into rebuilding your life in a new country. He was deeply grateful to have his mobility significantly improved after being fitted for a prosthetic leg at Duke University Hospital. Nurul says that between the intensive case management support, excellent medical care, and kind volunteers, “I just knew my life was going to be much better here. World Relief helped me in every way, only for my welfare. But I missed my family terribly and longed for us to be all together.”
Hope for Reunification
With over eight years since seeing his wife and children, Nurul wants nothing more than to be reunited with his wife and children – now 15, 14, and 9 years old – and the hope of their arrival is what keeps him going most days as he manages the deeply painful reality of living alone with a disability.
Beginning in 2017, Nurul filed a petition for his family to be reunited with him in Durham. Sadly, his family is still waiting to be approved for refugee resettlement. Their case has remained pending for multiple years due to immigration policies in recent years that have kept refugee families apart. World Relief Durham has recently assisted him with writing advocacy letters to bring attention to his case.
This past year, Nurul participated in World Relief Durham’s Tech Literacy Group and Rohingya Men’s Support Group. He received a new laptop and weekly training on utilizing technology to connect to the broader world through Zoom, email, Microsoft Office, and online banking. The Rohingya men’s group enabled him to deeply connect with people from the same language group and receive training on wellness, the importance of mental health, and strategies for incorporating wellness into daily life.
“I try to think positively and stay hopeful that my family will be here soon. But I can’t work without my wife here to help with transportation because I use a wheelchair, and I can’t do all the things I imagined I’d be able to do in the US. I am very hopeful that the new President will make things much better for refugees like my family who are waiting to be together again.”
Nurul recalls the extreme pride he felt on December 7, 2020 when he became a US citizen. “I was very happy that day and I really want to thank the people of this country. I came to this country as a disabled person and then I became a citizen. I still can’t believe it.”
Now the soulmates wait to be reunited. “My life will get better when my family arrives. Please pray that it happens soon. I hope my story reaches you and many others.”
We are so grateful to Nurul for sharing his story. We need you to help us reunite families like Nurul’s, and stick with them as they rebuild. Click this link to find out how to join us as we help refugees and other immigrants [Re]Build their lives in the U.S.
This post was originally published on World Relief.