Lives lost: Pakistani immigrant helped others in Jersey City


JERSEY CITY, NJ – When a friend of the Khan family got a job for a New Jersey politician, family patriarch Shafqat Khan was regularly present at the politician’s office, dropping by frequently to ask for help from people in need.

It was natural for Khan, a longtime resident of Jersey City, grateful for having successfully immigrated with his family to the United States in the 1980s from Pakistan via Libya. Family members say he has spent much of the past two decades finding ways to help other Pakistani immigrants who have joined his community just across the Hudson River from New York City.

Khan, who has helped recent immigrants apply for driver’s licenses and organized events for people of different faiths and cultures to understand each other better after the September 11 attacks, died of COVID-19 on April 14 at the age of 76. He left behind his wife, three children, seven grandchildren and a legacy of relationships.

“He had a very clear idea of ​​what was right and wrong and he couldn’t sit apart if he saw someone struggling, if he could help him he would,” he said. said his daughter, Sabila Khan.

“I really want to believe that I am carrying on his legacy the best that I can,” she said, biting back tears. “I try to be constructive in my grief and I think my dad would be proud.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories remembering people who have died from coronavirus around the world.

Khan and his wife always wanted to leave Pakistan for a better life in the United States, but had parents in Libya. So they went there for the first time in 1974, where he held an administrative position for a pharmaceutical company.

This stay ultimately lasted longer than the couple had anticipated and Sabila Khan, the couple’s youngest child, was born in Libya before the family of five moved to the United States in 1982 and settled in Jersey City.

Khan enrolled in a computer course that was supposed to lead to a job that would allow the family to gain legal residency in the United States. The work never materialized, Sabila Khan said, leading to a difficult period of several years when the family lived illegally and in precarious conditions in the country.

“It was difficult, my parents tried a lot to protect us from the problems they had to face, we didn’t have health insurance… money was always a problem for them, they struggled a lot”, she declared.

But Sabila Khan said her father believed the best opportunities for his children were in the United States, not Libya or Pakistan. He landed a job as general manager of a convenience store with a pharmacy in Brooklyn owned by someone he had trained years earlier in Pakistan.

This work led Khan to secure sponsorship for himself and his family for legal residence in the United States in the early 1990s, and they became United States citizens later in the decade.

Khan’s daughter said she remembered him constantly working six days a week, leaving home in the morning and returning home in the evening. Khan eventually alleviated his hectic work schedule, but was always an avid politician and decided to become more involved in Jersey City’s large Pakistani immigrant community.

Just before the September 11 attacks, he created a group called Pakistanis for America, aimed at educating Pakistani immigrants about the American political process while helping them get on the electoral roll.

But after the attacks, the group focused on organizing events where leaders “from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds engaged in honest and open dialogue on the state of affairs after 9/11, including the stigma that Muslims face, ”said Sabila Khan.

Paraphrasing her father, she said he often said that “at the end of the day we are all working towards the same goals. We want to keep food on the table for our families and we want opportunities for our children.

Khan was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the condition that causes problems with walking and balance in people.

He spent about a year in a Jersey City rehabilitation center and hoped to return home soon, but the rehabilitation center closed to visitors on March 11 as the coronavirus spread.

It was the last time Khan saw a direct family member – his wife and one of his sons.

His family called him regularly over the following weeks, but started hearing less from him after learning he had a fever.

In early April, a nurse said Khan was suffering from congestion and on April 6 he was taken to a hospital emergency room, where Sabila Khan said he had to wait three days to get a normal bed.

Family members using FaceTime said he was loved but saw him with their eyes closed. A nurse told Sabila Khan he opened his eyes later after that last call.

Since Khan’s death, family members have been delighted to hear people tell them how he helped them adjust to American life.

“It was his life’s work and he made it his mission and he helped people every step of the way,” said Sabila Khan.


Hajela reported from Essex County, New Jersey.


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