Refugee Stories: Bo*

*Bo is an alias used by this refugee to protect his identity

Bo is from Afghanistan’s Nangarhār Province, where he worked for U.S. coalition forces as a translator for about 8 years. His choice of employment brought him into serious trouble with the Taliban. The Taliban threatened, harassed, and attacked Bo on several occasions, and there was even an attempt to kidnap him. But he always stood his ground and defended his affiliation with the U.S. In his own words:

“You know, they didn’t want me to support the U.S. army or [be] working for them and they kept calling from different numbers and giving me threats over the phone and trying to scare me so I would stop working for the U.S. Army but I didn’t listen to them at all. I kept telling them that ‘they are helping with our government, supporting our police and making hospitals and clinics and supporting our schools. They are doing a great job over here’.”

Bo endured much pressure over the years for his support of the U.S., but realized that things would only get worse and that his life and family were in danger. He decided to go to the U.S. embassy and apply for a special immigrant visa program. The process for that was difficult, but Bo was able to immigrate to the U.S. with his family in 2014.

The change was not an easy adjustment. The family did not know anyone in their new home and found themselves disappointed by a charity who promised to help them but lacked follow-through. At that time, Hampton Roads Refugee Relief did not exist, so they had fewer alternative opportunities to find help acclimating to the new area. With his wife and three children depending on him, Bo knew he needed to find a job.

He initially thought this would be easy. After all, he is a university graduate who speaks English and has great technical skills. But employment was not as forthcoming as he thought it would be. After a long and difficult search, he was finally able to secure a position as a store manager at a 7-Eleven convenience store. “It took a long time to get a job, but finally I was adjusted and able to get a job at a convenience store and support my family and I’m happy.”

After living in the U.S. under their special visa for four years and nine months, Bo and his wife were eligible to apply for American citizenship. There were many forms and applications to complete and biometrics and fingerprinting to be done. Once the process was completed, they were finally naturalized citizens of the U.S. Both then registered to vote and participated in the 2020 elections. What was their first time participating in the elections like?

“Actually, there was no line thankfully that day. It was around 11-ish. The entire process took me like, I would say, five minutes. I think I was lucky. Yeah, actually my wife went there first and she was already out and she called me and said, ‘There’s no line if you want to come out and vote.’ …So she voted, and then I voted too.”

This was their first time voting; when asked why they did so, Bo replied, “Actually it was part of our responsibility because once you become a US citizen, or a citizen of any country, you have to vote, so I thought that it was a great chance for me and I always wanted to be a US citizen and be able to vote for somebody who I like and believe would do way better for this country.”

Bo believes that his vote for Joe Biden will help support needy people, lower crime, and reduce unemployment, especially in Newport News, where he has found that jobs are scarce.

Getting American citizenship and voting for the first time in the U.S. were high points in a year that has been full of changes and uncertainty. After the pandemic hit, Bo decided to stop working at 7-Eleven, both because of a need to reduce staff, and for fear of spreading illness to his wife, who has health issues. He is currently looking for other employment.

Fortunately, he is in a better position to do so now than when he first arrived in the U.S. Although many of his credits from university in Afghanistan did not transfer, Bo completed his associate’s degree at Thomas Nelson Community College last year and is now working on a Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity at Old Dominion University as well as various certifications for information systems and technology.

After he completes his education, Bo hopes to find a better-paying job. While he is open to prospects in D.C., northern Virginia, or other states as well, he also wouldn’t mind staying in Newport News if he can get a position here. “I’m really adjusted to this city. I’ve been to other states and other cities, but I really like it [here]. You know, it’s quiet.”

Interview conducted by April Wells, Hampton Roads Refugee Relief Volunteer Co-Coordinator

Article by Wendy Mweo, April Wells, and Mai-Anh Tran