Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A refugee in America: Hope vs. reality

(Monday, October 10, 2011, Press Democrat)-- Eritrean-born Hadish Khassay, 24, arrived in America over a year ago but can't find work and is staying with various extended family members. He hasn't talked to his wife in Ethiopia in eight months and may attempt to return to Africa.

Hadish Khassay sat on a yellow couch in his aunt's Santa Rosa apartment on Northcoast Street with a blue, glass cross around his neck. Things are not as he'd hoped they would be.

In July 2010, Khassay's US Airways flight landed in Oakland, a night, a day and a dream away from the Shimelba refugee camp in barren northern Ethiopia.

He fled his homeland, Eritrea, when he was 15. His country was warring with its neighbor, Ethiopia, and was going to force him to take up a gun. So, on foot and risking execution by Eritrean soldiers, he escaped.

In Ethiopia he farmed goats for $17 a month for eight years, defying a government ban on refugees working. He married, but his wife, Lemet, and son, Robel, now aged 4, lived a day's drive away.

So, again, Khassay left for another country. He became one of Santa Rosa's 160,000 residents, and one of 11 Eritrean refugees that the nonprofit social services agency Catholic Charities has resettled in Sonoma County since 2008.

He planned a new life, expecting he would bring his family to join him. Now 24, he's come to like America. “Freedom,” he said, a pebble of English in a stream of his native Tigrinya. 

But today he is struggling. And the two-time refugee wants to return to life as a refugee in Africa.
It's hard here, he said. He can't find work, mostly because he doesn't speak English, though he is trying tol earn. 

Khassay had a friend with him for an interview, an Eritrean who has been in America since 1990 and speaks English well. His name is Medhin; he didn't want his last name used. 

“He thought everything was going to be OK. He would find a job and take care of his family, but it's not working out,” Medhin said. Read  the full story at  Press Democrat »

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