Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"I am tired - I am tired and tired of it all. I just want a place to call home" - Feb 6

Jeannie and Minor (see Feb 5 post) joined Maha, me and Lana (who works with Yale Law Group which assists Iraqi refugees with resettlement) to visit two families. Lana would get their stories and other information to submit to Yale Law Group for consideration to be added to their client list.

First we returned to visit Thukra and her family (See Jan 30th post: Children with no hope for a future)

Lana, fluent in both Arabic and English, interviewed the family, asking them to tell their stories again as she documented them in her laptop.
I am always amazed at the courage so many have as they recount unimaginably horrific experiences and discuss the state of their lives in exile. I know that a good part of this courage is desperation; they need assistance terribly or they cannot bear the conditions they are in and want resettlement so badly that they will open their souls and share their anguish if they think it will bring relief from what they experience now. Their pain is so big and they've endured it for so long, it sometimes spills out in tears when they talk about it.

Thukra was telling Lana about how her two eldest can only "audit" school, how they receive no grades or record of their academic achievements. She told us, "Mustafa wants to be a pilot. When he tells me - it breaks my heart - but I must tell him that he CANNOT" She breaks down.

As a mother myself, I cannot imagine the depth of her pain, cannot imagine having to tell a child that their dreams cannot be fullfilled, that they are stuck behind immoveable walls - walls that in reality are only flimsy words typed on documents but that are, to this bright boy and his plans for a future, as formidable as the Himalayas.

We all weep with Thukra but our tears are useless. We must do all that we can to find a way for this family to be resettled and for the ability to believe in dreams be restored to her son.
We then visit Atiaf, her husband, Salah and their three children: Eathar (15), Manar (12), and Taha (8).

Atiaf is exhausted. She works as a paid volunteer with a relief agency 6 days per week but her wages are not enough to take care of their needs. She comes home to take care of the house and children. But it seems that the biggest cause of her exhaustion is that it never ends - and she just longs for a time when the stress and uncertainty are over.

"I am tired - I am tired and tired of it all. It is impossible to go back to Iraq. I did not come here to stay here. I just want a place to call home" and she breaks down and weeps.

Salah was hit by shrapnal from a cluster bomb in the Iran-Iraq War. He suffered PTSD from that war but was receiving regular treatment and was improving. Then, with the US invasion of 2003, his condition regressed. He suffers now and, although taking medication, he still struggles with the demons daily.

He tells us "I've not just endured a lot, I've endured too much. It was common to see dead people laying on the ground. When we left our houses, we did not know if we would return"

Atiaf and Salah have lost many family members: Salah's cousin and nephew were at the market and a car bomb killed them both. Atiaf's uncle was praying in a mosque when it was surrounded by militia and burned, killing him. Her cousin was delivering furniture when militia missles hit and killed him.

The children have been through a lot, too. Thaha was nearly kidnapped when he was four years old. He left his grandmother's house to go home. His aunt watched from the doorway as a car followed him and then stopped to ask him directions. His aunt screamed and the man left quickly. But now Thaha sees abductors in the wad of blankets on the bed, is afraid to go to the bathroom alone, and his brother says that sometimes he keeps him awake until dawn because he is afraid. When he sees strangers he worries that they want to kidnap him.

They left Iraq after getting threatening emails and leaflets with threats were dropped into their garden. The leaflets read: "Leave or we will not just kill you; we will burn you"

The family remains in limbo - no longer in Iraq but the ghosts of it followed them here and are a part of their lives now. Their lives here are dominated by this past and their daily survival. They feel that their only hope is to be resettled, to be able to plan for and create a new future for themselves.

We are emotionally drained after sharing the sadness and frustration of these families who were only living their lives in Iraq and had their entire existance torn apart and forever altered in ways that can never be repaired because of mythical "weapons of mass destruction" and then another myth - to bring them "freedom". Their ability to heal over these wounds and to find eventual freedom from the relentless ghosts of the past and now relies on their ability to find safe refuge in a third country. Our exhaustion is nothing compared to theirs.

How much longer must they wait?