CLEVELAND — A refugee is anyone that's forced to leave their country to escape war, natural disaster or persecution. The United States has been a safe place for millions of refugees for decades and Cleveland has been a part of that process. Now Northeast Ohio is prepared to become a new home for those fleeing Ukraine.
Where just a few months ago Cleveland opened its doors to thousands of refugees one of which is the Sadat family.
If you walked into their living room you would see them dancing, laughing, and enjoying what seems to be a normal life, but for the Sadat family, it was five months ago when their lives in Afghanistan became a battlefield.
“When the Taliban came in our country, they took everything everywhere. So, at that time, we lost hope, we lost our jobs, everything,” said Sayed Marouf Sadat.
“They did not hesitate to stab or shoot anyone,” said Sayed Sharif Sadat when describing what it was like living under the Taliban's siege.
Sayed Marouf, Sayed Sherif along with their four sisters and mom fled Afghanistan on the 10th day of the Taliban take over. When they fled they stood at the airport with thousands of people who had the same idea.
“In that crowd, we had to stand there for more than 10 hours,” said Sadat.
Once they made it on that military plane, reality set in for the Sadat's.
“It's a harsh feeling for everyone because everyone had dreams in their country,” said Sadat.
They landed in Qatar, then days later headed to a military base in Virginia. That's where processing began and they were put on the US committee for refugees and immigrants' radar.
“The Sadat’s were the first family we were notified we'd be receiving. We had a phone call with them on the military base and got to know them. Also, what their needs would be so that we could start to shape our entire program,” said Darren Hamm the executive director of USCRI.
After 52 days, they made their way to Cleveland where they were finally met by a familiar face, their uncle who they hadn't seen in seven years.
“I can still feel that night. That was a very happy night for all of us,” said Sayed Marouf Sadat.
For the next five months, they worked with USCRI to build their life from the ground up starting with the basics like housing and means to buy food.
“Also the medical cards, employment authorizations and the social security numbers,” said Sayed Marouf Sadat.
Soon the kids were enrolled in school and Sadat, the oldest brother got a job.
But along with basic amenities they also had to adjust to the American culture and freedom that women have.
“The best thing for us is for our sisters and all the women who came from Afghanistan, for them it was so bad there, they had no rights,” said Sayed Sharif Sadat.
While here in the US his sisters have jobs and are in school. They also adjusted to things that seem simple to many but were not possible in Afghanistan. Things like not hearing gunfire or bombings on the regular or knowing they could make it home safely when they left their house.
“We would say goodbye to our families because we didn't know when our how we were going to die,” said Sadat.
So here they sit five months later, now calling the US their second home.
“I can't thank them enough for everything. For their love for all their good intentions,” said Sadat.
Then Sadat’s are one of the hundreds of other refugees the USCRI has brought in, but now they are preparing for Ukrainian refugees..
“While we have more than two million displaced in Ukraine currently, it wouldn't be necessarily receiving them all at once, as we had with those from Afghanistan,” said Hamm.
The Sadat’s feel for the Ukrainian refugees and send a message of hope and love to anyone who has to flee their country just as they did.
“I'll tell them that everything will be okay. You came in the country that helps you and they will help you as long as possible. You must stand up and do whatever you want. Never lose your hope. Everything will be okay one day,” said Sadat.
The Sadat’s father and a lot more family members are still in Afghanistan, they hope to bring them here soon or someday. USCRI IS continuously helping refugees if you'd like to help or volunteer click here.
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