Naureen Rafiq, M.D., left, treats patient Lah Say, a refugee from Burma, at the CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center – University Campus

With hundreds of soon-to-be graduates assembled on the CHI Health Center Arena floor for commencement in May 2024, Creighton University President, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., reminded them – no, urged them – that the world needs their minds, hearts and hands.

“The world always blisters and bleeds in so many ways,” Fr. Hendrickson said, referencing conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and Haiti. He then paused before poignantly adding, “Today, there are 110 million refugees.”

“The world is begging for your energy, optimism, and ingenuity,” he continued. “As Creighton has taught you to be aware, honest, and discerning, Creighton has also formed you to heal, to hope, and to lead.”

Heal, hope and lead, along with personal passion and compassion, also accurately reflect Creighton’s multifaceted and growing involvement with the immigrant and refugee experience – on and off its campus and in its classrooms and clinics.

Below is a glimpse of some of the ways Creighton students, faculty, staff and alumni are fulfilling one of the Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences by being committed to caring for migrants, displaced persons, refugees, and victims of wars.

Creighton pharmacy student Omaima AL Garaawi at the Creighton Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix

Pharmacy Student Wants to ‘Be the Change’
For Omaima AL Garaawi, a pharmacy student on Creighton’s Phoenix campus, the refugee experience is both personal and inspirational. The difficulties she and her family faced escaping Iraq when she was 15 drastically altered her life. They are also shaping her future as a healthcare professional.

“Our decision to leave Iraq was driven by the harsh realities of living in a conflict zone,” AL Garaawi said. “The fear of bombings, attacks and the general instability made everyday life a struggle.

“When I was in elementary school, a car bomb exploded near my school. The goal was to kill as many children as possible. Lucky for me, I was still in my classroom.”

The family applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2009, and they arrived in Phoenix four years later after asylum was granted. One of those she left behind was her godfather, who later was killed in a terrorist bombing of the carpet-weaving factory where he worked. Despite this great loss, her godfather’s advice inspires and shapes her educational and professional journey.

He advised her to “Be the change.” He emphasized the importance of raising awareness and making a positive impact in the lives of others.

AL Garaawi combines her interest in healthcare and her desire to help others through the American Dream Academy, an initiative to empower people, including refugees, by providing resources and guidance on education and employment opportunities. She volunteered as a translator and panelist at weekend workshops and continues to serve as a mentor to Syrian high school students.

“The American Dream Academy gave me a platform to share my experiences and insights, particularly in the field of pharmacy, with other refugees,” AL Garaawi said. “My personal experiences as a refugee fueled my passion for helping others facing similar challenges.”

Naureen Rafiq, MD, (right) and Farzad Effan, MD, (middle) a family medicine resident, assist patient Lah Say, a refugee from Burma, at the CHI Health

Professor ‘Blessed’ to Care for Refugees
Addressing the health and social needs of refugees wasn’t something Naureen Rafiq, M.D., associate professor in the School of Medicine, envisioned when she dreamed of becoming a physician.

“I never thought of working with the refugee population,” Rafiq said. “But when my Creighton residency program allowed me to work with refugees, I felt completely at ease to care for them because I could also see myself in some of the patients.”

Rafiq leads medical residents in providing healthcare and screenings to refugees in Omaha, as part of a Creighton Department of Family Medicine clinic that began in 2008. For the last seventeen years, caring for refugees as part of the residency clinic has been a major part of the healthcare she delivers.

“I feel blessed to be part of refugee care,” said Rafiq, a Pakistani American who came to the U.S. after graduating from medical school and getting married.

“There are about 43 languages that are spoken in our clinic and the patients are from so many parts of the world, including Burma, Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine and more. They are scared and worried, harboring dreams of a free and fair world where they can live peacefully. Health literacy is one of the most important aspects of their lives that was neglected while they lived in refugee camps,” she said.

Rafiq says the clinic has steadily grown over the years and offers all services under one roof, in-person interpreters, and diverse clinic staff members who speak many of the refugee languages.

“Our program is constantly evolving and looking for better ways to serve our patients,” she said. “Evaluation of mental health and screening for depression and PTSD, with referral to the therapist, is our latest addition.”

César Magaña Linares, JD’22

Alumnus Champions Immigration Law
Leaving their home country of El Salvador was a “monumental decision” for the family of César Magaña Linares, J.D. ’22. When he was 2 years old, he and his mother joined his father, who had been living in the U.S. His two older siblings stayed in El Salvador with a close aunt and followed later.

“For many families, the decision about bringing some children to the U.S. and not others can lead to bigger family problems, whereby children build resentment or disconnection,” Magaña said. “That did not happen to us. My family had a unified goal in eventually having us all be here with a better life.”

After graduating from the Creighton School of Law in 2022, Magaña began his career as an attorney at the Immigrant Legal Center + Refugee Empowerment Center in Omaha. The center is Nebraska’s largest immigrant and refugee focused nonprofit, welcoming 425 refugees from around the world in 2023. It’s a job he feels uniquely called to do.

“I am deeply moved by the immigrant experience,” he says. “I have the mental fortitude to be there for others when they have experienced immigrant trauma, and I have the cultural competence to do so in an approachable and ethical manner. I truly believe this is my calling and where I am meant to be in the world.”

Engaging with the Refugee Community
“Accompanying refugees is integral to our Jesuit, Catholic identity and mission,” said Creighton alumna Becca Huju, program manager for local community engagement at the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ) on Creighton’s Omaha campus.

Omaha is home to thousands of refugees from dozens of countries and Huju said students are frequently inspired by building relationships with the hard-working, resilient new community members.

Volunteer and educational opportunities through the SCSJ are plentiful and include direct service, migration justice education, donation drives, Service & Justice Trips, Faith & Justice Internships, partnering with Jesuit Refugee Service/USA to advocate for refugees with legislators, and more.

“We have much to learn from our refugee neighbors, and together we work to create a more welcoming community,” Huju said. “It’s a mutually beneficial experience for all involved.”

Contributed by the Office of Communications and Marketing at Creighton University. All photos from Creighton University.