Leader Spotlight: Shakir Radeef
Tell us about your background.
Before moving from Baghdad to the United States in 2014, I spent much of my career working as a journalist in countries across the Middle East, covering election news and human rights. This included stories on emerging conflicts taking shape throughout the region and the stories of the refugees whose lives were uprooted by those conflicts.
The stories of the refugees I met motivated me to take action with local nonprofits providing services to internally displaced people in Iraq and Syrians seeking asylum in Jordan and Lebanon. Additionally, while still living in Iraq, I worked to increase political awareness and civic engagement within the context of Iraq’s new government.
It was important for me to lift up human rights, organize communities around the importance of voting, and encourage young people to use their new right to free speech. However, not everyone agreed and my life was threatened by opposition groups determined to censor my voice. In 2011, I applied for refugee status with IOM; in 2014, I resettled to the United States and started my new life.
How did those experiences shape the person you are today?
Even before becoming a refugee myself, I felt a sense of responsibility to raise awareness about internal displacement and share the stories of asylum seekers that l met while out in the field. I wrote a lot, especially while working with Syrian refugees in Jordan, and I was fortunate to listen to their dreams and witness the talents, and abilities of those who are displaced. Their experiences of being persecuted, along with my own, compelled me to continue the work of being an advocate for them as well as for a robust refugee resettlement program.
After living in the United States for almost five years, I now know with certainty that there is more than enough room in this country to offer safety and security for those who have been pushed out of their homes. The United States is a land of opportunity and there are opportunities here for the persecuted to use their skills and talents to make the nation stronger.
Describe your connection to Vets for American Ideals and the shared values that motivated you to get involved with our work.
In 2018, I attended an event hosted by Vets for American Ideals and listened to a group of members speak about their work and their values. Their refusal to leave others behind and their commitment to fighting for others with or without the uniform deeply resonated with me. I felt inspired to get re-engaged in the same type of advocacy work I was doing previously and speak out on the importance of protecting human rights and preserving the dignity of all people.
Later that year I attended an advocacy day hosted by Vets for American Ideals in Washington D.C. andtalked to lawmakers about why we need additional arrival slots for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa recipients. At that time, there were over nine thousand individuals on the SIV waitlist—all of whom helped serve alongside U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan. It was an amazing thing to be among veterans, SIVs, refugees, and allies, all advocating for the same cause despite our differing backgrounds. To me, this mirrors the experiences of war and the camaraderie between SIVs and military members. Despite all our differences, we all share the values and are willing to risk our lives to defend those values—if you’re in the uniform, if you’re out of the uniform, and if you’re like me and never wore the uniform.
Tell us about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
Through my work as a journalist and activist for democracy in the Middle East, a volunteer with NGOs out of refugee camps, and now as someone with refugee status working for a resettlement agency in Atlanta, I have the unique perspective of seeing these issues from many different angles.
I am doing my part by working with newly arrived refugees to provide case management, cultural orientation, airport pickups, health screenings, and afterschool programs for refugee youth. I’m proud to serve the new members of our community so that they may find lives of dignity and respect here in Atlanta. In the meantime, I continue to raise my voice and use the advocacy tools I received from Vets for American Ideals. They make me feel part of a larger community knowing that we are all in this together and there is room for all of us. I try to convey this same message so that we may see the change we hope to realize for refugees, SIVs, veterans, and all Americans.
What is your message for the U.S. Government about the SIV and Refugee Resettlement Program?
The world looks to the United States for leadership on issues of global conflict and human rights. Supporting the SIV and refugee resettlement programs is one of the best ways to demonstrate this leadership and to showcase our democratic values and ideals. Currently we are abdicating this leadership at a time when we are facing the worst global refugee crisis since World War II. As I learned from my friends at Vets for American Ideals, we don’t leave our brothers and sisters behind. Currently there are far too many SIVs and their families whose lives are in danger. It is time for us to remember the values we all stand for as Americans—whether you’ve served in uniform or not—and reclaim our historical role as champions of freedom, human rights, and democracy. Let’s bring home the SIVs and refugees currently left behind.