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Afghan family finds refuge in North Dakota

November 16, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An Afghan family that left home to avoid persecution for working with American officials has found a haven in North Dakota.

Nazir Mohammed, 27, and his wife, Zarghuna Zazai, 22, moved to Bismarck three months ago with their two young children, the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1wwkMo1 ) reported. Various U.S. agencies helped with their move and they received temporary assistance from Lutheran Social Services.

Although the family practices Islam, Mohammed felt that his job placed them in danger.

“I was working with the United States government in Afghanistan,” Mohammed said. “If you work with Americans, you are known as infidels — non-believers. You are not safe. So, I applied for this program about two-and-a-half years ago. Then, it was approved after waiting a long time.”

The family decided to move to North Dakota to be closer to Mohammed’s brother, who also lives in the state.

“He told me it was a good place to start,” said Mohammed. “It would be hard for me there (in Afghanistan). We came here to live the way we want to live.”

Mohammed said his job in Afghanistan involved fighting the drug trade with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

“The base we were working in, it was an organization against the drugs. We were working very closely with DEA — Drug Enforcement Agency — to stop the trade of heroin, poppy, hashish and explosives. We were working on important information,” he said.

After initially working as an interpreter and translator, Mohammed, who learned English in high school, worked his way up to shift supervisor.

“I got more concerned about my security. We knew about Afghanistan people that came before me through the program. I applied, too,” he said. “I personally did not see violence, but some of my coworkers and (I) were all threatened by late night phone calls: ‘If you come to this place or your home village, they will kill you. Watch out. They know about you.’ That was happening and bombs exploding were very common.”

Zazai speaks little English but is studying at the Adult Learning Center. Mohammed said their 5-year-old daughter, Heela, attends the Bismarck Early Childhood Education Program and is adjusting well. Heela will likely help her mother learn English as well, Mohammed said.

“Sure, there have been challenges. But since I have worked with Americans there for more than five years, that makes it a little easier for me now. They told me a lot about the United States. The big challenges are finding a job and building (my) credit to build a house,” he said.

Mohammed plans to work full-time as a pipe inspector for oil rigs in Bismarck.

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