From being a refugee to helping refugees: one Arizona man’s journey

by | Jan 13, 2017

In 2006, at a time of violence and turbulence in Iraq, Mustafa Alalusi and his mother and sister went to Syria .

“We went to Syria, and Syria was just temporary living,” he said, his father even stayed in Iraq.

However, his father eventually deemed the situation in Iraq too dangerous, and joined them in Syria.

“My dad came and he said look it’s not going well so we have to stay here and we’re not going back,” Alalusi, now 27, said.

What was supposed to be a vacation turned into a four year stay.


From Iraq to Arizona: one refugee’s story

by Alexandra Watts | NextGenRadio

Mustafa Alalusi at the Helping Hand for Relief and Development in Chandler, Arizona. (Photo by Alexandra Watts)

“I remember that day,” he said, recalling the day he learned he was not going back to Iraq. “I was like crying. I went to a room, because I remembered my friends, the high school … my city and the way we used to hang out. I kept that sad feeling for a couple of days that I’m not going back.”

He recalls having to call friends to tell them that he was not coming back to the country.

Alalusi and his family stayed in Syria and applied for refugee status with the United Nations. After four years, Alalusi and his family settled in Arizona.

Alalusi and his family settled in Arizona, a place he was familiar with.

“We used to read a lot of passages about the US, about like [American] hobbies,” he said.

“I read in one of the books about Arizona and about water rafting,” Alalusi said, specifically recalling a photo of the Colorado River.


Arizona is welcoming to refugees. In 2015, more than 3,000 refugees arrived in Arizona from multiple countries, including Syria and Burma, according to federal government data.

Not only does Alalusi strive to better himself, but he wants to better the life of others who were once in his position. He took a part-time job as the operations and warehouse coordinator at the Arizona branch of Helping Hands for Relief and Development, an Islamic charity that provides international aid.


Mustafa's T-shirt reads Support, Educate, Empower

Mustafa’s T-shirt (Photo by Alexandra Watts)

“I was like crying. I went to a room, because I remembered my friends, the high school … my city and the way we used to hang out. I kept that sad feeling for a couple of days that I’m not going back.”

Mustafa Alalusi

“In our religion we believe that there is two rights that we have to fulfill as Muslims,” he said. “The rights of Allah and the rights of fulfilling the rest of the creation.”

“Our organization is relief, but also development,” said Gul Siddiqi, who runs HHRD’s Arizona branch. “We want long term good that comes out of this.”

Last year, both Siddiqi and Alalusi took trips for relief. Siddiqi went to Jordan to visit Syrian refugees.

Alalusi went to Haiti to distribute food and aid to individuals in Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Alalusi shows videos from of food distributions and visits to orphanages on his trip.

“I think you know just like a long dress. And then the hat is…it looks it’s handmade….I think this is probably all she has now,” he said as he shows a video of a woman in Haiti.

He also has an understanding of refugees and those in need, with him being one himself.

Alalusi continues to better his life in the United States. Both he and his sister are attending community colleges in the Phoenix area. Alalusi hopes to eventually transfer to Arizona State University wants to study in electrical engineering and sustainability.

“I think here in the U.S., there is a better future,” Alalusi said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you know, could predict what are you gonna be in the future. I’m thankful and grateful for this opportunity to be here.”

“As they say, you know, America is the land of dreams,” Alalusi said. “You know, I could work on my dreams, I could strive to reach accomplish everything that I’ve been thinking about.”