Iraqi refugee voices: The impossibility of return

Originally published
View original
"It is impossible to go back to Iraq because I would be killed, but I can barely survive here in Syria."

A single middle-aged woman in Damascus says that her only hope is resettlement. She is willing to go anywhere, although she, like most Iraqis, has many questions about what life is like in some of the resettlement countries. She came to Syria after her parents were kidnapped and killed in Iraq. She says that she would be killed if she returned; in any case, her house was burned down so she would have nowhere to go. While she is grateful to get a small stipend for her volunteer work with a humanitarian agency, she struggles each day because all of her money goes to rent. "I live alone...I have no family. I just want to be resettled somewhere."

"We were threatened, our son was kidnapped, we lost everything...All this because we are Christians."

A woman alone with her four children in Damascus tells us that her only hope is to be able to get to Norway, where her husband fled last year. The family had to leave Baghdad after they were threatened for being Christian and working for the UN. Their son was kidnapped by militias, and paying the $25,000 ransom left the family completely destitute. According to this woman, return to Iraq is impossible. In the last two years they spent in Bagdad, it was too dangerous for her to go to school, and their church was burned. "Before the war, we had a large villa, and lived very well. Now, I pray to be able to pay the rent for one one-room apartment in Syria".

"They wanted to kill me and killed my brother-in-law instead. After that, I knew I had to leave."

According to this young man, his barbershop was bombed and his wife's brother killed by the Mahdi's army. He now lives with his wife and two children in Damascus and tells us there is no way he will ever return to Iraq. "Once a glass is broken, there is no way to fix it," he tells us. He believes that if he is forced to return, he will end up being displaced in his own country, as his old neighborhood is now mostly Shia. He is able to find work some days in Syria, but it isn't enough to sustain his family, as Syria has become very expensive and their rent is high. His children don't go to school because he can not take them everyday, and his wife is ill. But he only starts crying when talking about his mother: "She died in Iraq and I couldn't even go to her funeral".

"There are laws preventing foreigners from working. I just hope that the government [of Lebanon] will make an exception for Iraqis."

A young Iraqi man in Lebanon recently lost his job because he was working illegally and his employer was worried that the police would come arrest him. "The people in the shop are my friends, but they thought it was best for me to leave." He said that he would like to get sponsored so that he would work legally. He wondered out loud, "There are Lebanese who need to work, so why would anyone hire me?" However, since his wife is Lebanese, he is hoping that the Government of Lebanon will change the law so that he can work legally. His wife's mother is dead and her father is remarried so he is the only person who can support his wife and two young children.

"I have served my sentence in prison but I will stay in here because I can't go back to Iraq."

After serving a three-year sentence for a crime he says he did not commit, one man has decided to remain in a Lebanese prison rather be deported back to Iraq. "I love sewing and opened a shop in Lebanon. I brought a house and a car here. But, in 2004 somebody came to the shop with an envelope for someone else..." He explained that he did not know that there were fake papers in the envelope until the police arrested him. "I am stuck. My business, my house: it's all gone. I would like to be resettled but I don't know how to read and write. I am taking classes in prison, but even if I learn how to read and write, nobody wants to resettle a criminal." He voice softened as he explained that the man responsible for the crime was never arrested. "I've never broken the law, even in prison where everyone breaks the law."