Kurdish Iraqi Refugee Helps Shape Afghan Futures in America

Julie H. Case

A Special Immigrant Visa brought her safely to the U.S. in 2016. Now, a refugee from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is putting her unique skills and experiences to use helping resettle Afghan refugees.

Maybe it’s the fact that she speaks three languages—English, Arabic, and Kurdish—that makes Shno Abdullah so good at her job. Maybe it’s her unique life experience as an immigrant. Or maybe, it’s just the fact that while in the shoes of so many refugees in the U.S. someone made Abdullah feel so welcome that she wants to pass it on.

Born and raised in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Shno Abdullah came to the U.S. under a Special Immigrant Visa—a set of programs launched in 2009 for Iraq and Afghanistan citizens who worked for the U.S. State Department and Armed Forces. Abdullah’s husband worked with the U.S. military in Iraq; Shno worked on projects that were funded by U.S. State Department to support democracy in Iraq. When the couple qualified for an SIV, they immigrated to the U.S. in 2016, landing in Alexandria, VA. 

Another six years on Shno stumbled upon Team Rubicon via a friend’s LinkedIn post and found a new calling with an organization she’d not heard of prior. 

“I have been looking for opportunities to support the people that come to this country, whether they’re immigrants like myself, other migrants, or people like refugees from Afghanistan or Ukraine … no matter from where,” says Abdullah. “I just wanted to find a chance to support those newcomers to the United States.”

Shno Abdullah, Zohal Madosi, and other Greyshirts meet with the U.S. State Department’s Under Secretary For Public Diplomacy And Public Affairs for World Refugee Day.

Late in 2021 Abdullah had volunteered as an ESL and cultural orientation instructor at Quantico, Upshur Camp, with refugee families from Afghanistan were temporarily living. But in 2022 she signed up to volunteer with Team Rubicon, serving first as a volunteer leader on Team Rubicon’s Afghan refugee resettlement program. Then, she got promoted to Task Force Leader. Today, she is a leased employee with Team Rubicon and helps oversee its resettlement efforts in Silver Springs, MD.

“I was in their shoes,” she says. “Now, I want to be part of the effort to help [these Afghan refugees] overcome the challenges of immigrating as smoothly and as fast as possible. I want to be part of that; I want to support them in this area.”

With her ability to speak multiple languages, and especially given her fluency in Arabic, Abdullah is a unique asset to the program. And while she might be able to put those skills to use in a more lucrative position elsewhere, it’s serving the newly migrated and being part of the immigrant community that gives her the greatest satisfaction. She also admits she is, in some ways, repaying a debt of gratitude. 

“I met some people at the beginning and I always will have a special gratitude for them in my heart because they made me feel I’m welcome,” says the passionate Abdullah. “They gave me this great feeling that I am being welcomed in the United States. They made me feel like this is going to be my second home.” 

So, she pays it forward, this time to Afghan refugees resettling in the U.S. “I had this feeling, and I want to pass along this kind of feeling through my work with Team Rubicon.”

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