Former Refugee Helps Others Arriving To America AT JFK Airport Omar Nur left his native Ethiopia more than 35 years ago. He landed at New York's JFK and took his first steps in his new country. In the decades since, he's helped others arriving at the airport.
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Former Refugee Helps Others Arriving To America AT JFK Airport

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Former Refugee Helps Others Arriving To America AT JFK Airport

Former Refugee Helps Others Arriving To America AT JFK Airport

Former Refugee Helps Others Arriving To America AT JFK Airport

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Omar Nur left his native Ethiopia more than 35 years ago. He landed at New York's JFK and took his first steps in his new country. In the decades since, he's helped others arriving at the airport.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Refugees - the demand to take them in and the fear of what they may do were at the heart of this year's election debate. Most people never actually meet them. But for the man we're going to hear from next, they're an everyday part of the job. Omar Nur works for the International Organization for Migration, which arranges travel for refugees approved for resettlement. Nur is a former refugee himself from Ethiopia. Reporter Will Coley met him at New York's JFK Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Good morning.

OMAR NUR: Good morning. Well, my name is Omar Nur.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good morning.

NUR: So today we have about 367 people arriving.

WILL COLEY, BYLINE: Nur has met thousands of refugees at his job with IOM.

NUR: Some of them are coming from Addis Ababa, from Kathmandu, Dar Es Salaam...

COLEY: Nur remembers everything about the day in 1980 that he came to the U.S., even the flight number.

NUR: On TWA Airlines 881, somewhere around 5:20. From the minute I arrived, what I said is this is a place where I want to work.

COLEY: Nur welcomes refugees just like he was welcomed decades ago. Nur was raised in a Muslim family. He says he grew up in a village where everyone helped each other.

NUR: What I teach my staff is every employee in the airport has impact. They will remember your actions. So please treat these people humanly.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Over loudspeaker) Delta Airlines connecting passengers...

COLEY: Inside terminal seven, the new arrivals file into a corner of passport control. I wasn't given clearance to interview them, so I watched. Everyone looks dazed and jet-lagged.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Please tell ladies and children to go over there and sit down.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: OK. (Speaking foreign language).

COLEY: Each family carries a large IOM plastic bag with important documents inside. Arife Bek double checks names and destinations.

ARIFE BEK: You're going to Providence?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Providence.

BEK: Sign here. These all belong to you.

COLEY: This Syrian family has gone through years of screenings and interviews, waiting for this moment. Nur says this is nearly the last step - signing their names.

NUR: Until now, they are foreigners. But once they get out of this building, they are like anybody else.

COLEY: In the arrivals area, IOM helps refugees with connecting flights or van shuttles. Now that they're in the U.S., refugees must eventually pay back IOM for their plane tickets. Nur started a charity in his free time, rescuing unclaimed strollers some Lost and Found and giving them to arriving families.

NUR: When I give them the baby strollers, they think now here is America (laughter). Really, America is a land of opportunities, that it starts there, you know.

COLEY: Nur knows refugee arrivals will never forget when they arrived.

NUR: I see every day myself in their shoes.

COLEY: Next year, Nur and his team plan to meet 35,000 refugees traveling through JFK.

For NPR News, I'm Will Coley in Queens, N.Y.

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