All were silent as Salemu Alimasi, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told the heart-wrenching story of being separated from his parents at just six years old for 1.5 years during his home country’s civil war. Later found by his grandfather and eventually united with his parents, Alimasi spent a collective five years in refugee camps in Tanzania and Uganda – in often deplorable conditions – before immigrating to Houston in 2011.

Alimasi, now 28, spoke at the Jan. 25 Interfaith Solidarity Vigil, hosted by IM at the Akbar Ali Jamal Great Hall, to mark the one-year anniversary of the current administration’s travel ban for refugees. Approximately 75 were in attendance.

Being able to relocate to the United States at age 21 saved Alimasi’s life and the lives of his family. Since his arrival, he has slowly rebuilt his life, working as a case worker for IM and helping other refugees, getting married in 2015 and welcoming a daughter the following year. He said he has great hopes to continue his education – so far a long-term goal because of financial hurtles.

“We are here today to reflect on how the ban has affected us, but most importantly, how we can take action to defend refugee resettlement,” Alimasi said. “You cannot imagine how much it means to a refugee when someone says, ‘How can I help you?’ Pick up a phone and call your representative and tell them that you value refugees. Please go and vote. Teach people about refugees. We are coming together from different faith traditions. Let’s share a faith in justice and a dignity for human life.”

His words struck many chords, especially as the number of refugees resettled into the country reached an all-time low of 45,000 in the 2018 fiscal year.

Alimasi was joined by Ali Al Sudani, vice president for Refugee Services, the Rev. Hannah Terry of United Methodist Church and Gislaine Williams, a grassroots organizer of the Refugee Council USA.

All took part in a moment of silence as lights were dimmed and participants held candles as a symbol of hope and solidarity.