Former Somali refugee in Pittsburgh: ‘We feel like we don’t have anywhere to go’

President Trump reportedly plans to suspend refugee admissions for 120 days.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

Aweys Mwaliya has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade after escaping civil war in his home country of Somalia as a refugee.

Now the country that he calls home is being led by a man who makes Mwaliya and others in the Somali Bantu community in Pittsburgh feel the same kind of discrimination they experienced in refugee camps in Kenya.

“We feel like we don’t have anywhere to go,” he told The Incline today.

“We run from Somalia because of people killing us,” said Mwaliya, who’s part of the Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh. “If you stop the refugee program, what is gonna happen to my relatives who have been in the refugee camps for more than 20 years now? What [is] their hope? Are we gonna see them ever? Are we gonna see each other again if I remain here in the U.S.?”

President Donald Trump reportedly plans to sign an order that would suspend refugee admissions for 120 days while the vetting process is reviewed; indefinitely block people from Syria from being resettled in the U.S.; and temporarily stop people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country, per a draft obtained by several news outlets.

An order Trump signed Wednesday is aimed at punishing sanctuary cities, municipalities like Philadelphia that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. While Pittsburgh doesn’t call itself a sanctuary city, Mayor Bill Peduto released a statement Wednesday night affirming the city’s commitment to protecting and empowering immigrants.

“Pittsburgh is, has been, and always will be a welcoming city and a diverse city. It’s in our nature,” he said. “We are a tough city, a blue collar city and a city with a big heart. We will continue to show everyone the respect and compassion they deserve — regardless of who they are, where they’re from, who they love or how they found their way to our beloved city.”

Mwaliya, who was the subject of a City Paper story on the struggles of the Somali Bantu community in Pittsburgh, came to the U.S. in the 2000s and to this city in 2011. He said Pittsburgh has been welcoming.

“Our concern is that if you have the president of the country itself saying that Somalians are terrorists, this might be another situation,” he said. “It doesn’t mean all people in Pittsburgh will be welcoming. They may have different opinions about us.”

During the presidential campaign, for example, members of the Somali Bantu community started self-censoring, Mwaliya said. Some of the young members of his community told other high school students they are from Kenya, not Somalia. And even some of the older members are afraid to say where they’re from.

“Our experience living in Pittsburgh has been so good. We’ve never experienced any discrimination,” he said. But “the fear is coming more and more with the people.”

Mwaliya is a U.S. citizen, but he said he’s afraid his citizenship could be revoked. For others who have just arrived as refugees, there are fears about deportation, he said.

Pennsylvania’s two senators are split on refugee resettlement in the U.S. While Sen. Bob Casey has said “We cannot turn our back on Syrian refugees,” Sen. Pat Toomey has called for the program to be suspended as “we presently have no fully reliable way of vetting those who come from chaotic terrorist havens such as Syria.”

Mwaliya said he’d like Toomey to meet with the Somali Bantu community so they can “tell him who we are in Pittsburgh and why we have chosen to be in the United States.”

“In every community, we have bad people and we have good people, but we can’t say all people are really bad,” he said.

Somalians are doctors, police officers and good neighbors who cooperate with local law enforcement, he said. They are citizens who have taken “the oath that they will support” America.

“They release the citizenship of their country to live here in the United States,” he said. “There’s a reason for that.”