WARNING: This video contains content that some may find disturbing.
"If I did not come to the U.S., I probably would be dead by now," says Nurjahan Khatun, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi woman who was granted asylum in 2013. Nurjahan, who survived a vicious acid attack when she was growing up in Bangladesh, is now a permanent U.S. citizen. She says she sees the United States as home.
"I am finally, finally at home," Nurjahan says. "I feel home, for me, is America because this is where I am comfortable in my own skin."
Nurjahan was only 9 when an acid attack disfigured her face, eating through flesh and bone and rendering her unrecognizable. The acid was meant for Nurjahan's sister, a 13-year-old, for rejecting the marriage proposal of an adult male. Acid attacks are designed to subordinate women who go against cultural norms by depriving them of the thing the society feels is most important to women: their beauty.
And it's not uncommon: There have been 3,347 acid attacks in Bangladesh since 1999, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation
After the attack, Nurjahan was brought to the United States for a series of facial restoration surgeries. The process was painstaking, more than 30 surgeries in total, and in 2004, as planned, she was sent back to Bangladesh.
Culturally, however, Nurjahan had changed. When she first came to the United States, she wanted nothing more than to return home to her community. Later, after four years abroad, it was a bit of a culture shock. According to Nurjahan, she was harassed by people on the street.
Nurjahan returned to the United States in 2006 under a B-2 visa, which is given out for leisure, tourism or medical treatment. After years of renewing it, there were delays in the approval process, and ultimately, in 2009, she was forced to return to Bangladesh, where she feared for her safety.
Then, miraculously, in 2011, Nurjahan was granted humanitarian parole and, eventually, asylum. It was a life changer for Nurjahan. She is currently working at a biotech firm in Florida. She plans to go back to school to get a master's degree in microbiology or cellular biology, with the ultimate goal of working for Doctors Without Borders.
"I say, you know, sometimes you have to lose something, give up something, to gain something better," Nurjahan says. "Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice how I look to gain my education, a better understanding of the world. If this didn't happen to me and if I didn't come to the U.S., then I would not know all this existed."