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How one Iraqi refugee’s story reached thousands on ‘Humans of New York’

Video edited by Mori Rothman/PBS NewsHour Weekend

Aya Abdullah, an Iraqi interpreter, became a refugee at the age of 14. After her family received threats, they moved from their home in Iraq to Syria. Now, they live in Turkey after leaving Syria to escape the war.

Abdullah’s story spread across social media after she worked with Brandon Stanton, the photographer for the popular “Humans of New York” blog, as he documented the stories of refugees in Turkey and Jordan. She recently joined the NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan for a Skype conversation.

Without citizenship, her family’s options are limited, she said. She cannot get a degree or find another job. And as more and more refugees arrive daily in Turkey, prejudice against them has increased, she said. “We’ve had to switch apartments four times because our landlord decided that Arabic people are no longer allowed,” she told Stanton.

Abdullah described about her family’s process of applying for resettlement through the UNHCR to Sreenivasan. The process is lengthy and involves multiple interviews and months of waiting. Abdullah’s family did two interviews with UNHCR, then two with ICMC, over the course of four and a half years.

In September, the family received word that their application had been accepted — but a follow-up letter in December said that their application had been denied due to “security reasons.”

“We’re not dangerous. We just escaped from war to go to a safer place,” Abdullah told Sreenivasan. “We’re not going to do something bad in your country. This is what I want to say: not every Muslim is a bad person. Because there [are] bad people in our religion, and there [are] bad people in America or the Christian religion. It’s about being a good person.”

A petition to bring her to the U.S. has garnered more than 800,000 signatures so far.

Watch the NewsHour tonight for more on her story and Humans of New York.

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