“If you stay, you die. If you leave, you live”: The Stories of Iraqi Refugees (Part I)
That quote comes from a 26-year old Iraqi doctor to whom the BBC gives the pseudonym “Matthew”. Matthew fled Iraq for Sweden in September 2007 after armed men came to his door trying to kill him. He goes on to state,
“I can now live without fear […] When you hear that Sweden has fought its last war 400 years ago, there’s no expecting any war […] So you feel you can live in safety. You feel more human.”
At the time of this article’s publication, there have been between 82,349 and 89,867 civilian deaths in Iraq since March 2003 according to Iraq Body Count.
It is true that under Saddam Hussein’s regime thousands were killed and even more simply disappeared. As Matthew says, however, what ever improvement the new government brings, the fear of death and continued violence prompts many to seek a better life elsewhere. According to UNHCR’s September 2007 report, approximately 60,000 Iraqi’s are forced to leave their homes each month due to ongoing violence.
On December 10, 2004, Gorges Toma moved his family from their Iraqi home to a less than tenable living situation in Turkey following the murder his brother. In Turkey the Christian family lives in a small Muslim town. They must get permission to leave the city, are legally forbidden to work, and all family members over 18 must register daily at the police station. They wait for the call telling them they have been granted asylum in America.
Twenty-eight year old Ammar Abdulla left Iraq in November 2006 for Damascus.
“I used to run a translating bureau in Baghdad. I left in November last year after I received a threatening letter with a bullet in it saying don’t ever open the office again. I closed up, and a few days later a car bomb went off outside and completely demolished the office. I am here in Damascus with my two sisters. One is a doctor; she was working at a health centre in Iraq when a cleaner said to her: “Put a veil over your head or you know what will happen to you.” A cleaner threatened my sister. My parents are still in Baghdad; that’s why I can’t send you a ‘photo of myself, it may get them in trouble.”
World Vision, a non governmental organization dedicated to the plight of children, warns of a “trapped” generation of Iraqi children growing up in this disarray and violence. It is through their literature that I learned of Fawaz’s story.
Nine-year old Fawaz and his family are Iraqi refugees living in Amman. When Fawaz was 6 he was kidnapped. The 21 days it took his family to gather the US 13,500 ransom to secure his return has left him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In Amman, his is not allowed to attend school, something that might help him return to a semblance of normality. He has regressed to thumb sucking and is alternately overly attached to his parents and violently aggressive—all signs of the traumatic effect of his ordeal.
Conflicts persist throughout the world leaving countless victims in their wake.
Here are some ways you can make a difference in the lives of these refugees:
Sponsor an Iraqi child. Provide basic necessities for them. Let them know that someone out there cares about what happens to them.
Donate to War Child in Iraq (If you are in the UK you can use your mobile phone to donate. In the US check out the rest of their site) War child works with child victims of conflict throughout the world. In Iraq they are working with children living on the street who otherwise have no one to care for them.
In the second part of this article, I will talk about the overall Iraq refugee crisis and what various countries are doing to help/ hurt the refugees’ chances for obtaining a better life.