With Help from Oregon Department of Human Services and Partners, This Refugee is Now Safe, Working and Headed to Graduate School

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World Refugee Day, June 20, shines a light on the rights, needs and dreams of those forced to flee.

Habibullah Sahak was studying at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in 2021 when violence broke out. The United States had withdrawn troops, and the university was forced to close amid the violence. Sahak was evacuated to Kyrgyzstan to continue his studies at the American University of Central Asia for two years. In the meantime, he was also waiting for his immigration case to be approved so he could immigrate to the United States. He couldn’t go back to his home country now ruled by the Taliban. According to the United National Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan, there is severe economic decline, poverty, a collapsed public health system, widespread malnutrition, and the exclusion of women and girls from public life.

Sahak was approved for immigration and arrived in Oregon December 22, 2023. He is a refugee.

World Refugee Day is Thursday, June 20 – a day to be aware of the journey refugees take to come to this country and a day to celebrate the strength of refugees and the lives they must now create.

“My parents and my siblings are still in Afghanistan – only I have the chance to live life,” Sahak said.

Sahak was eligible for refugee cash and food assistance and free healthcare by being on the Oregon Health Plan through the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) Self-Sufficiency Program (SSP). He received these benefits from local Self-Sufficiency Program office in Beaverton.

“Habibullah came to this country with a lot of skill sets, and as a family coach, my job was to support him providing resources to make him self-sufficient and move forward based on his strengths,” Bharat Banskota, SSP,” said.

Habibullah Sahak, October 23, 2023, discusses the unsure fate and future of Afghanistan with U.S Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic Lesslie Viguerie during an Ambassador Talk event at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Sahak was able to get a Social Security Number and a driver’s license as well, within a short period of time. With the guidance of SSP he visited websites of the resettlement agencies. He applied to several and then got a job with Catholic Charities of Oregon. He now works as a Match Grant Case Manager and Employment Support Specialist where he helps immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers get jobs and helps them be self-sufficient.

And even more exciting news is that he has been accepted to the Master of Arts, master’s degree program at an Ivy League school, Columbia University in New York. He will be in the Arts and Sciences, Human Rights Studies program. He said he is currently trying to find a way to pay tuition and living expenses while at Columbia University.

His dream is to join international organizations such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, International Criminal Justice (ICJ), International Criminal Court (ICC) or to get an influencing position with the U.S. Department of State. Sahak credits the assistance he received as a refugee from ODHS.

“I am really glad you guys helped me a lot. This help makes a difference for a lot of refugees. You guys really make change. If I had stayed in Afghanistan I would study online. My life and career would be probably wasted. I would never have been able to pursue my master’s degree.  

“I believe the assistance refugees receive truly means a lot. I tell the teams that help refugees and asylum seekers that this is massive part of our humanity. Everyone deserves to live and have a good life. What I mean by this is that it really matters. Our support really changes lives.

Regardless of our faith, our race, our color, we are all the same and shall stay sincere to ourselves and our creator and everyone else around us. Humans should treat each other as humans,” Sahak said.  

ODHS Refugee Services: https://www.oregon.gov/odhs/refugees/pages/default.aspx

Office of Immigration and Refugee Advancement:  https://www.oregon.gov/odhs/about/pages/oira.aspx

Learn more about World Refugee Day: https://www.unhcr.org/events/world-refugee-day-2024.

About Author

Christine Decker is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Before working in communications she was a working journalist.

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