WHILE WALKING home from the University of Mosul, Omar Salih was kidnapped by Shia militia. He spent the next three days in a dark room with no food or water, and the sounds of people being killed in the next room over. Omar thought he was next in line.
And then a US special forces coalition staged a military offensive in the area where Omar was being held. After hours of gunshots, Omar’s door was opened. The light blinded him. And then he noticed that the people who opened his door were wearing US military uniforms. His thoughts went from the likelihood of death to the certainty of hope and security.
In the next 6 months, the US government would grant Omar the option to resettle as a refugee in the United States. He went to Salt Lake City, Utah. This is where I met him.
I helped Omar launch a mobile car detailing business, which allowed him to have a second source of income. Yet, as we worked together, I realized there were deeper challenges affecting his progress.
Omar was struggling with PTSD. He had nightmares and vivid flashbacks. He was always worried about his family members who were still in Mosul. His parents and cousins were there. And the conflict in Mosul was worsening.
And then Omar told me that he had to sell his business assets. His mother became sick and needed money for medical care. The nearby hospital had been destroyed by ISIS. She had to travel for hours to receive care. Omar sent all his savings to her. The surgery she would later have saved her life.
In 2017, I went back to Utah and visited Omar. When he showed up to the restaurant I sensed his distress. Omar told me that a week earlier his 14-year-old cousin and 40-year-old uncle had been killed by an airstrike in Mosul.
I spent that night crying alone and sympathizing for Omar. Omar’s openness made me realize the deep importance of being comfortable with vulnerability. Omar’s losses made me gravitate closer to those I love. Omar’s caring nature motivated me to commit my life to helping the world’s most vulnerable.
The next time you develop an opinion for a refugee or immigrant, consider what they may have been through to get here.