Yazidi refugee sets example by helping others in Lincoln

Story and visuals by Bree Samani, NewsNetNebraska

Farhan Alyas is always sure to smile and crack a few jokes while helping Yazidi refugees adjust to their new world in Lincoln, Neb.

Alyas is a Yazidi refugee himself and uses his own experience of coming to the United States to help others.

Life in Iraq

Five years ago, Alyas lived in Sinjar, Iraq with his family. He worked as an interpreter for the United States Army and lived a dangerous life as an unwelcome minority that helped the unwanted U.S. troops.

“We had a private taxi driver, everything was in private.” Alyas said. “Even we would go home at a certain time to be safe.”  

Alyas enjoyed translating his native language of Kurmanji to English for the soldiers, even though he put his life at risk doing it.

“If we go to the mission, we didn’t know if we would come back safe one night,” he said. “So pretty much every mission we come back we would say peace!”  

Coming to the United States

Once U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, Alyas was given a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). It gave him an entrance to a safer life in the United States in 2012. Alyas began his new life in Lansing, Michigan, moved to Houston, Texas, and has settled in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Alyas said he came to Lincoln because it is home to the largest Yazidi population in America. More than 1,000 Yazidis call Lincoln home, and Alyas says the job opportunities here are good.

“I like having close friends with me and the parties,” Alyas said. “It’s good to have a community where you feel you are close to somebody.”

Alyas has friends in Lincoln he grew up with in Iraq, even people who were once close neighbors in his former homeland.

“Many Yazidis here also served in the army as translators too,” he said.

Bringing his family

Alyas’ family remains in Iraq. Before coming to the United States, Alyas helped his family apply for immigration. Five years later, they are still waiting for U.S. government visas. The one exception is Alyas’ brother Khairi who moved to Lincoln 10 months ago.  

Khairi now lives with Farhan and is thankful to be living a safer life. Farhan is missed by the family, Khairi said. “He is a good person in the family and left a big space in the family,” Khairi said.  

Helping others

Lincoln’s Yazda Cultural Center client progress in six months.

Farhan works as a security specialist at Lincoln Regional Center where he helps take care of patients. In his free time, Alyas volunteers and helps other Yazidis at the Lincoln Yazda Cultural center.

“They need help because when they arrive here it is hard for them, and the culture and language is completely different and everything is pretty much new for them,” Alyas said.  

Alyas helps new Yazidi refugees with job applications, reading their mail, teaching classes and more.

Jolene McCulley, program manager for the Lincoln Yazda Cultural Center said Alyas will do anything to help the Yazidi commuity.

“Farhan is voluntary. So he is doing it, just because he wants to help,” McCulley said. “And so his character really is helpful, and caring and if he can he will go above and beyond to help in any way.”

Farhan relates to the new refugees, and he uses what he learned in his own experience to guide them, McCulley said.

“I think he is a good example of how it is to come as a refugee and succeed as a refugee. So I think he is able to show them that the process will lead to being independent, just by his example,” McCulley said.

“It’s my habit, to try and help others,” Alyas said.


A new place to call home

Alyas loves everything about the United States and even hopes to serve in the U.S. army again in the future.

“Here is safe and there’s more freedom and everything is nice here,” Alyas said. “It’s nice to be able to do whatever you want to do and not be terrified like our place back home.”

Alyas applied for his citizenship six months ago and became a citizen on Oct. 31, 2017. Alyas hopes to use his new citizenship to continue to help people.

“It is one of my happiness, to help others,” Alyas said.


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