World Refugee Day: How refugees find opportunities in Roanoke

Roanoke is one of three cities in Virginia that has a refugee resettlement program

ROANOKE, Va. – United Nations named June 20 World Refugee Day to honor the stories of refugees around the world.

Mohammad Hassanzada is a man who ran away from combat and warfare in Afghanistan to lead a new life in America.

Since Hassanzada was a child, he loved to weave colorful fabric into unique rugs after school.

As he grew older and had to move on in life, he brought his passion with him and eventually set up shop on a U.S. Army base, but that came with threats.

“At midnight they throw letters in your home, ‘stop working with the military,” Hassanzada recalled from the notes. “‘Otherwise we are going to kill you.’”

To save his life, Hassanzada escaped to California, and later in 2017 called our own Star City his new home.

Here, Hassanzada opened a rug store as a way to pay tribute to his roots and share his culture.

But the first days of adjusting were tough and overwhelming.

“It’s difficult to find how to get your driver’s license, job. It is very difficult in the first days,” Hassanzada said.

But that’s where Commonwealth Catholic Charities stepped in to help.

Navigating through language barriers, the charity organization aims to extend a hand by helping families gain a home, enroll in school and start a fresh life.

“Everything is new here,” Marnie Mills with Commonwealth Catholic Charities said. “Maybe they had a job back where they came from that here, it’s going to be a little more difficult.”

Nearly 370 refugees have resettled in the Star City since 2020, according to the city.

Roanoke is one of only three cities in Virginia with a refugee resettlement agency.

While Hassanzada will always miss his country deeply, he is grateful for the U.S. offering him the land of opportunity. “If somebody wants to make their life better this is the right place,” he said.

About the Author:

Alexus joined 10 News in October 2020.