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Racing for refugees
QU staffer, refugee encourages New Haven run
New Haven’s Run for Refugees race had a special meaning for Quinnipiac staffer Raya Al-Wasti.
Over 1,100 people attended this ninth annual Run for Refugees 5K run/walk, organized by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) on Sunday morning at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven.
Al-Wasti, an administrative assistant in the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement, who came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq in 2011, attended the race in past years, but was unable to attend this year’s run. She said the organization helped her when she first moved to America and she still volunteers for the group today.
IRIS is a non-profit organization that helps refugees and other displaced people establish new lives in Connecticut. Each year, IRIS resettles approximately 200 refugees coming from areas like Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba and Syria.
The event helps raise money and support for the refugees who have found a new haven in Connecticut. Before the race began, runners held signs reading “we welcome refugees” in multiple languages.
Dylan Fearon, a Quinnipiac junior and member of the men’s cross country team, came in first place and completed the race in 16 minutes and 13 seconds.
The post-race party included live music and international food.
“I thought it was incredible,” Aine McKeever, a second-year strategic communications graduate student said. “It brings a bright light for refugees that there is hope to come to the United States and other parts of the world as well.”
Al-Wasti was born in Baghdad and worked as an office manager for a telecommunications company. Al-Wasti was threatened regularly through text messages because of her connections with American consultants through her job.
“Unfortunately, this is a normal thing,” Al-Wasti said.
One day on her way to work, Al-Wasti was told that if she kept working with that specific company, she would be killed. Al-Wasti immediately quit her job and moved north of Iraq, to Kurdistan.
“In any moment you don’t know if you’ll lose your life,” Al-Wasti said. “I never thought that I would leave my country.”
She stayed in Kurdistan for one year until her application to enter the United States was finally approved in 2011. The process took over four years and included multiple interviews, security checks and medical screenings.
When Al-Wasti arrived in the United States, IRIS was the organization that helped her begin her new life. They helped her pay her bills and rent while she got accustomed to life in America. Though she had many people helping her, Al-Wasti says her first six months in a completely new environment were “horrible.” She had no job and no friends.
“To build yourself again from zero…it’s not really easy,” Al-Wasti said.
She had worked for more than 12 years in offices and was able to start working as an administrator at a factory, because of her experience and English speaking skills.
Later on, IRIS told her about a job opening at Quinnipiac’s Department of Cultural and Global Engagement (DCGE). Al-Wasti applied because the job entailed with working with a diverse community. IRIS told her not to be too hopeful because jobs like this were not easy to get.
But DCGE found her to be a perfect fit for the position and hired her.
“That’s why I like to be here—part of this department—because it’s representing me,” Al-Wasti said.
Though she works full time with DCGE, she still volunteers with IRIS when she has the time. She helped spread the word about the Run for Refugees and says it’s a great opportunity to reunite with the families she has met through IRIS.
Al-Wasti is able to keep in touch with her family and friends in Iraq. She hopes to return to Iraq one day and have the opportunity to help people there. She feels people judge refugees solely according to the violent images they see through the media.
“No one wants to leave their history, friends or career,” Al-Wasti said. “They really want to live and that’s it.”