Nadia Daud spends nearly 80 percent of her time living abroad, traveling to some of the most troubled regions of the world. When she’s not overseas, she has an apartment in Washington, D.C. But ask her where her home is, and she’ll tell you—Pullman, Washington.
The 31-year-old refugee officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grew up south of Pioneer Hill in Pullman, graduated from local schools, and then matriculated to Washington State University. It was a remarkably stable childhood for someone who now lives out of a suitcase and spends her days interviewing refugees.
“In this last year and a half I have gone to places and seen things I could only dream about when I was a child,” she wrote in an e-mail from Beirut in mid-March. “I was a strange little girl in that instead of having posters of movie stars or music idols or sports stars decorating my room, I had flags of other countries and maps decorating my room.”
And now those countries are much more than names on a map. In just the last year she has been on a Kenyan safari in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, worked at a refugee camp in Tanzania where white people were still a rarity, rode an elephant through the jungles of Thailand, went snow-shoeing in the mountains of Lebanon, and visited holy sites throughout the Middle East.
The sightseeing is a welcome and necessary respite from what can be emotionally grueling work.
As a refugee officer—recently promoted to supervisor—Daud interviews people who have left their homelands because they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a particular social group.
“We have to interview each applicant and decide if their testimony is credible,” Daud wrote. Even if someone has been persecuted, she wrote, that person is ineligible for safe haven in the U.S. if he or she has persecuted someone else.
“There is a big difference between where we interview and who we interview,” Daud wrote. When some kind of political upheaval occurs that results in refugees fleeing the country, Daud or other refugee officers head for the refugee camps, not the political hot spot. So a brief listing of her assignments includes interviewing Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Sudanese in Kenya; Burundians in Tanzania; Congolese in Rwanda; Burmese in Thailand; Bhutanese in Nepal; and Iraqis in Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Lebanon.
She can hardly imagine the horrors that people have lived through, she said, and many of their stories move her to tears. “My assignments aren’t difficult because it is the job I signed up for,” Daud wrote, “but interviewing Iraqis is the hardest.
“They are very emotional and raw cases. Many of the people I interview have been both kidnapped and tortured themselves, or someone in their family has been kidnapped, tortured, and killed.”
Still, she said, she enjoys interviewing Iraqis. Daud’s father, Munir, was born in Aleppo, Syria, and she has relatives living in that area. That personal connection inspired her to pursue an emphasis in Middle Eastern studies at WSU, and being able to help people in that region is particularly satisfying.
“I get to help people and families that really need it,” she wrote. “We all wish we could help people in need, but in this job, I know I am.”
Even while she can and does provide a lifeline to many in need, at times she is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of those she cannot help. According to Daud, there are approximately 10 million refugees worldwide, and about 13 million more people who have been forced to flee their homes but are still living within their country’s borders. That is why she was profoundly affected by a recent visit to Rwanda.
“So far, Rwanda has been the most beautiful country I have ever visited in my life,” she wrote. What happened there will always be part of the fabric of the country, but, she wrote, she realized that even countries that have experienced mass genocide can eventually get better. “I am sure Rwanda has a lot more work to do,” she wrote, “but it gave me hope that some of these countries could get there someday.”
Daud graduated from WSU in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a global politics emphasis and minors in Spanish and Asian studies. Her first job was with the Washington State Human Rights Commission in Seattle. While in Seattle she also worked for the Northwest Immigration Rights Project. Then, in 2002, she joined the Department of Homeland Security in San Francisco and worked as a district adjudication officer, interviewing immigrants whom the government suspected of faking marriage to gain a green card. Daud became a refugee officer in 2007 and transferred to Washington, D.C.
To hear Daud describe it, her main complaint is that because she’s based in D.C. she can only make it back to Pullman twice a year.
“I wish I could return more often!” she wrote. Her parents, Munir ’67, ‘72 and Janet ‘67, who met at WSU in the 1960s, still live in town, and two of her three siblings are working in Washington—Laila Daud works in Kent with Child Protective Services, and John Daud designs video games with a company in Bellevue. Her younger sister, Ranna Daud ’04, does marketing for an events company in Las Vegas.
“Even though I’ve seen all these rare and exotic places in the world, there is no place like home,” she wrote. “I’m very thankful Pullman is my hometown because it is a great reminder of how peaceful life can actually be.”