No safe place

Faisal Razmal

Gritty images of an Afghan refugee document how thugs shattered his dreams


Faisal Razmal, 28, served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan as an interpreter, facing death before coming here for a better life. “It was my dream to be in a safe place,” he said. “... But what happened here is more than everything I faced in Afghanistan.” On Aug. 2, 2015, he returned to his  home at the Skyview Villa Apartments from his job as a security guard. He and fellow Afghans were accosted by teens. One fired a flare gun, leaving Razmal blind in one eye and with a different view of his new life.


Afghan refugees Faisal Sediqi, 24, left, and Paiwastoon Hussain Khail, 22, center, who both worked for U.S. armed forces, were witnesses to Faisal Razmal being shot. With few resources available to them, the refugees struggle to find jobs. They had gathered in the parking lot with Razmal to hear about job openings at the Citrus Heights shopping center where he worked.

A maddening bit of bureaucracy has erased the names of thousands of Afghan refugees arriving in the United States, making it harder to launch their new lives. Special Immigrant Visas granting them U.S. entry, such as this one belonging to Faisal Razmal, listed their first names as last names. Their last names were replaced with an acronym “FNU,” meaning “first name unknown.”

Four days after being shot in the face, Faisal Razmal rests on the sofa as his 16-month-old daughter, Bib Maryam, seems to mimic his mood. He has been frustrated in his attempts to reclaim his name officially and change it from FNU – “First Name Unknown.” “The problem is the U.S. is too big,” he said. “Nobody does their job and everybody passes it on.” 

His eye throbbing with pain from shrapnel that severed his optic nerve when he was shot in the eye with a flare gun, Faisal Razmal kisses his daughter, Bib Maryam Razmal, 16 months old, as his wife, Madeema Razmal, 22, welcomes him home after he spent two days at UC Davis Medical Center being treated for his eye injury.

Faisal Razmal holds his daughter Bib Maryam as he shares breakfast with his wife Madeema at Skyview Villa in Sacramento. “It felt like my face was on fire,” he said about his eye injury. He described how he crumpled to the ground, screaming for someone to call 911. After he returned home from the hospital, the former security guard slept with his family on the floor near the front door to feel safer.

A security fence bordering the Skyview Villa Apartments can be seen from the window by Bib Maryam on a folding metal chair. The complex is commonly referred to as a “compound” by the residents. Since Faisal Razmal’s injury, the family has struggled to pay bills. “I need at least $500 dollars a month to pay my bills, gas, electric, food, basic necessities,” Razmal said.

Madeema Razmal watches over Bib Maryam at play, a month after her husband was attacked. Seven months pregnant, Madeema Razmal had hoped to prepare for the baby’s arrival and attend her required English classes, but instead needed to care for her husband Faisal as he recovered from his injuries.

Bib Maryam holds an apple as her father, who has been out of work since August, says he is running out of money to pay the bills and buy food.

Using his American flag-covered mobile phone as a mirror, Faisal Razmal wipes fluid from his injured eye. At that appointment in September, a surgeon at UC Davis Medical Center examined his eye and told him he wouldn’t lose the eye but his eyesight would not return. “I think to myself how this is the United States, it’s a powerful country,” Razmal said. “They do a lot of things, but they can’t fix my eye.”

Faisal Razmal waits for his wife to place Bib Maryam in her car seat as the family prepares to go shopping in November.

Faisal Razmal rubs his eye as he shops at WinCo with his  wife, Madeema, and their daughter, Bib Maryam. Months after his injury, Razmal said his eye still itches and has worsened  after several eye appointments were canceled. “I was told I had to go through a primary care physician, but my family doctor couldn’t see me for more than a month,” he said. “I can only read a few lines, and I’m feeling dizzy.”

Wearing U.S. Army shorts, Faisal Razmal carries daughter Bib Maryam as his wife, Madeema, follows behind at WinCo. They conserve money by shopping at discount stores. Razmal said he plans to seek psychological treatment for trauma and memory loss.

Madeema holds her 2-day-old son, Malek Mohammad Omar Razmal, as she watches her daughter, Bib Maryam, 22 months old, at Skyview Villa. Above their sofa is an Afghan prayer of protection and blessing from the Quran.

Marlo McKelvy, the mother of Renaldo Dejour Williams, 16, who was charged with shooting  Faisal Razmal in the face with a flare gun, reviews the police report at her home in Sacramento. “My son didn’t do this crime,” she said. “If he did, then let him do the time, but he didn’t.”

Marlo McKelvy talks to her son’s defense attorney at her home. Renaldo Dejour Williams, 16, was charged with shooting Afghan refugee Faisal Razmal in the face with a flare gun. Police reports say Williams was a member of the Trigga Mob Gang. McKelvy has since moved from the neighborhood, saying it’s too dangerous.

As her two children nap under a blanket on the floor, Madeema Razmal sobs after arguing with her husband about the condition of their new upstairs apartment. They moved to the second floor in February to feel more secure, but the rugs were dirty and bugs were a problem. She also continued to worry that her husband would never get a good job again because of his disfigured face.

Madeema Razmal said the family sleeps with the lights on because of the bug infestation. The family is constantly itching, and they say they feel bugs crawling all over them.

Madeema Razmal watches over her husband and daughter at Skyview Villa. 

Faisal Razmal shaves before going to his night security job. He worries about how his eye injury will affect his life, and Madeema said he has changed  since he lost his eyesight. “She say, since you lost your eye, you don’t listen to me,” Faisal Razmal said. “You don’t stay with me. You don’t take your time.”

Bib Maryam watches nursery-rhyme cartoons in English in their second-floor apartment.

Madeema Razmal warms up leftovers of a traditional Afghan meal of chicken, rice, carrots and raisins for her husband, Faisal, in their sparse apartment. They keep a supply of bottled water because they don’t trust the water to be clean.

With their daughter nearby, Madeema Razmal  plays with her 3-month-old son after serving a dinner of beans to her husband, Faisal. Madeema Razmal is now participating in an English class (ESL) and tries to stay upbeat about their future.

Faisal Razmal waves goodbye to his wife as leaves for his shift as a night security guard at Skyview Villa Apartments and the surrounding properties in February. Razmal had hoped the job would become permanent and suggested hiring more guards when he realized it was too dangerous for him to walk alone. He was disappointed with the minimum-wage salary. 

Faisal Razmal, right, holds a knife confiscated while on security rounds of three complexes including Skyview VIlla Apartments with Alal Ghupam-Ali, left. Razmal and his Afghan friend, who also has Special Immigrant Visa status, worked together on the night shift because they thought it was too dangerous to work alone. The apartment complex has since canceled that security contract. Razmal has tried washing dishes and cars and worked as a gas station janitor.

Razmal, far left, patrols the parking lot with Ghupam-Ali, center left, at the Oak Plaza apartments. Most of the complexes were littered with empty beer cans, liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia. The man at right, who said he was from Oakland, was one of many hanging out late at night in the various lots. 

At 2 a.m., Razmal checks a footbridge in one of three complexes he patrols on his night security shift.

Afghan SIV holder Jawed Naizai, 24, balances daughter Hadiya Naizai, 2, at Skyview Villa.  After leaving the Alameda area in March, he and his wife Marizah Naizai, 22, had nowhere to go. They moved in with Faisal and Madeema Razmal’s family with hopes of getting their own apartment. Naizai worked with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for nearly five years.

Madeema Razmal, holding her 4-month-old son, said  she sometimes becomes angry about bills. She said her husband “came from Afghanistan, he has no job, nobody to help him and his relatives in Afghanistan won’t leave him alone.” Razmal was hosting another Afghan family, Marizah Naizai, 22, her daughter Hadiya, 2, right, and husband Jawed, 24, (not pictured) who were equally frustrated with the resettlement process, lack of money and support. 

Faisal Razmal eats a meager meal of canned beans  and ponders his future with his daughter, Bib Maryam. “I’ve gotten three eviction notices with three days’ notice,” he said. “I have no food, no money, no nothing. I applied for disability nine months ago and haven’t received one penny.” He said  he needs a job, “I don’t need free,” he said. “I want to pay back.”


He escaped Afghan violence, only to be attacked in a Sacramento parking lot