'What Else Is Coming?' Manchester Refugees Try to Make Sense of Executive Ban

Jan 30, 2017

Muktar Osman, at ORIS, the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success
Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, signed Friday, has stirred anxiety and uncertainty among refugees and those who work with them. In New Hampshire’s biggest city, Muktar Osman is in the middle of it.

Osman was born in Somalia. He spent a decade at a Kenyan refugee camp, before he got resettled to Manchester with his parents. That was in 2003. Today, Osman is 27.

When Osman left for Manchester, he left behind three younger siblings – two brothers and sister. They’re still in Kenya, where they began the paperwork for an immigration visa two years ago. They provided the U.S. Consulate document after document, and had finally arrived at the very last step: an interview, scheduled for February 6th.

“We’ve been waiting for this thing for so long, and now we thought we were finally at the final stage,” Osman said. “But instead, we received –“ Osman stopped, and tapped his phone. “You know this is the actual email of cancellation?”

Osman read me the first paragraph of the letter cancelling their interview appointment.

Because his siblings don’t have Kenyan immigration documents, Osman says, they are subject to bribery by the authorities. They have no idea when American visas might begin to be issued for Somalis again.

Elementary School students from Bow, NH sent letters to the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, where Osman works.

Osman says the executive order “makes no sense.” “Why not add Saudi Arabia; why not add Pakistan; why not add Afghanistan? Why only those seven?” he said. 

Osman worries for his siblings, but he also worries about his community here in Manchester. He works as a client coordinator for the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, which is based in the city.

More than 100  refugees are resettled in Manchester every year. And according to US census numbers, roughly 1,000 Manchester residents hail from nations temporarily banned by the Trump administration’s executive order.

Elementary School students from Bow, NH sen letters to ORIS, the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, in Manchester.

Osman says in his work, family and social life – he’s surrounded by immigrants. Almost everyone is scared, and watching Trump.

“So what else is he going to do for the next four years? Nobody knows,” he said, adding that he – a naturalized citizen – is also scared. “This is the beginning. What else is coming?”

Then, Osman points to an envelope from the elementary school students in Bow, NH. It’s postmarked January 7, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Dozens of red, white and blue construction paper cards are strewn next to it on the table, saying “USA! Welcome!” on the front. Inside, messages are penciled in children’s handwriting. Osman says, he reads these letters to his refugee clients. He reads one outloud:  

Dear friend,

Welcome to the USA. There are food, shelters and this is a free country. There is no war here, and people have every right to do whatever you want to. We have an army that will protect us all. Even you. I hope you enjoy the USA.

Sincerely,

Tyler.

These cards, and the phone calls Osman says his organization receives daily are an important reminder for him, and his clients.

“The vast majority of American people like us and want us. They want us to be a part of their American community. That’s what we tell people. And this is the proof that we show to them.”