Tawfig Fikryi is thankful for the opportunities he has in the United States of America.
The native of South Sudan arrived in the U.S. in 2003 from Syria, where he had lived for six years after fleeing persecution and torture in Sudan during the Sudanese Civil War.
As a refugee, Fikryi had to wait in Syria for the U.N. to designate a host country, and he is grateful that his host country is the U.S.
“I had friends who went to Australia and it is more difficult. They give you aid but not opportunities. In the U.S., you have more chances to achieve whatever goals are in your mind. There are lots of opportunities.’’
We share Fikyri’s story today in recognition of the final week of the Share the Journey campaign, launched Sept. 27, 2017, by Pope Francis and sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services. The goal of the campaign is to build empathy toward migrants and refugees; more than 100 dioceses in the U.S. – including Memphis – have participated.
Fikryi arrived in Memphis in 2014 with his wife and son after living and working in Las Vegas for more than a decade. The family came to Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) to take the naturalization classes offered by CCWTN to prepare for the test required to become a U.S. citizen. They each received their U.S. Citizenship through naturalization between 2016 and 2017.
“It helps a lot to become a U.S. citizen. It is different than being an immigrant,” he said. “You get all the rights. I voted.”
Fikryi was a schoolteacher in Sudan, but suffered persecution during that country’s civil war. He was accused of being a rebel and of spying for the U.S. He was actually put in the detention center in northern Sudan where he was tortured until an old classmate who was in the military helped him secure release. One of the reasons Fikryi was targeted was his religion, he says. “Once you say you are a Christian, you are in trouble,” he said.
Now 63, Fikryi is a forklift driver who works 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and he is looking for a second job. In addition to supporting his wife, he also sends money to family still living in the Republic of South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011 and became an independent country. ‘”We have people back home relying on us, and we need to assist them with whatever little we have.”