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Business Grows in US Town That Embraces Refugees

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Refugees often arrive in the United States with few clothes and other belongings.

From these simple beginnings, most refugees rebuild their lives, overcoming language and cultural barriers. Some even set up small businesses, helping to improve the economy in the community where they have resettled.

Yasha Ismailov is one such person. He owns and operates an automobile repair shop in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“We can fix any car. So you know, it happens a lot of times when nobody can fix it in town, they send it here. They know already we'll fix it if no one can fix it.”

Ismailov bought the business, called Larry’s Auto, nine years ago.

'When we came (to the) United States, we (were) working so hard (for the) first three years before we started (the) business. We (were) working for people, sometimes (working) double jobs. First, my job was painting, second job (was) installing the AC. Third, my job was electric...'

Ismailov was born to a Meskhetian Turkish family in Uzbekistan. Meskthetians are an ethnic subgroup of Turks. They were expelled in railroad cars by the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, during World War II. Most of them were left in Uzbekistan.

'My family had to run to Russia because (there was a) massacre in Uzbekistan (of) Turks in 1989.'

Ismailov was seven years old at the time of the attacks.

But Russian officials were not very welcoming. Meskhetian Turks were barred from Russian citizenship, owning property and holding jobs.

When the United States began accepting Meskhetian Turks as refugees in 2004, Ismailov, his brother and parents were resettled in Charlottesville. Ismailov was 22 years old. He is now 35.

“When we came to Charlottesville back in 2005, we just bring clothes. That’s all.”

He says the International Rescue Committee (IRC) told him Charlottesville “was a nice place, good and ‘you will like it, so go there.’ We felt free. We felt better than over there. We felt safe.”

Now married to a fellow refugee, Yasha Ismailov has two children and owns his own home. (J. Soh/VOA)
Now married to a fellow refugee, Yasha Ismailov has two children and owns his own home. (J. Soh/VOA)

Charlottesville is a small city about 190 kilometers from Washington, D.C. It is known as a place where refugees are welcome.

More than 3,000 refugees have restarted their lives there since the late 1990s with the help of the IRC. Harriet Kuhr is the director of the group’s local office.

“There are jobs for them here. And then, as they become more stable, they are opening their own small businesses. It really adds a lot of diversity, but it also adds economic impact. So the refugees are not takers. They’re giving back by helping the community grow economically.”

Ismailov’s car repair business now has seven employees who work on about 150 cars a month. He has also begun to sell used cars.

“We (are) still working so hard to try to do business better. The second business -- the dealer(ship) business -- is going so well, too. Now we almost sell like two, three cars every day...”

Ismailov is now a U.S. citizen and owns his house. He married another refugee.

“My life in America is good. I have two kids. I have my wife. They are in a good school. I have nice neighbors. I have (a) job, and nobody bothers me. I'm proud to be able to contribute to the community in Charlottesville. My daughter (is a) swimmer, and I hope one day she wins (an) Olympic medal for (the) United States.”

Yet Ismailov worries about the increasing number of refugees around the world.

“I (could) be one of them, too. I am lucky I am here, (but) they (are) not. I feel sorry about them. So I’d like to help them with something if I can.”

I’m Alice Bryant.

VOA Correspondent June Soh reported this story from Charlottesville, Virginia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section, or visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

install - v. to add something to an existing structure, such as a building

AC - n. air conditioning

massacre - n. the act of killing a number of people

diversity - n. the act of having many differing parts

subgroup - n. a smaller group within a larger group or community

stable - adj. not changing; firmly established

contribute - v. to give or supply something to others

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