Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ali and Sadha

Ali and Sadha became friends when both worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad. Strong ties remained over the years. When both families ended up in Damascus they renewed their friendship. “We have never considered religion before, why should we now? Before the war religion never mattered.” Sadha says emphatically.

During the Iraq-Iran war Ali was a soldier in Saddam’s army. He lost his left arm below the elbow and suffered many shrapnel wounds from an explosion, yet factions in his country now call him a traitor because of his work with the Red Cross. Ali worked as a security guard at the Red Cross for 11 years. “When Saddam was in power, working with foreigners was not a crime. I worked for a humanitarian organization. Now if you worked with foreigners you are persecuted.” After the war Ali’s family was living in Baghdad when Sunni militias became a threat in his neighborhood. He moved with his wife and 3 children to a Shia area in Diyala. When the Shia militias found out he worked for the ICRC, they threatened by them.
One night the entire family living next door was executed in their home. Ali fled with his family the next morning. They were so panicked they didn’t take anything with them, not even Ali’s prosthetic hand. They arrived in Syria with only the clothes on their backs.

Ali cannot find work. “Just yesterday I went to the Islamic Red Crescent to ask about work, I can do many things. When I told them I was Iraqi, they said, ‘Just go. Get out. We have nothing for you. Get out, go. Go!’" His 18 year old son Ahmed, who married his girlfriend from Iraq just last month, has left school in order to provide for the family. He earns $3 to $4 per day in a woodworking shop. The family receives $110 per month assistance from the UNHCR which just covers the rent. This month’s payment has been delayed and the rent hasn’t been paid. They are still waiting to hear from the UNHCR regarding their situation. They haven’t heard anything since they registered. “Nobody listens. You can’t even get past the door at the UNHCR or any embassy. Just say Iraqi and the answer is no.”

“It is difficult, but not just for me. It is difficult for all Iraqis. I can’t return back. I can’t even think about it. I don’t ever want to return back. I am only looking for a future for my children. Anywhere but Iraq.”
Sadha began work at the ICRC as a cook and housekeeper until a job in the accounting office was available. She and her husband had studied Tourism and Hotel Management at the university. In the 80’s she spent time in the United States as a student. “But I returned back to Iraq” she says with regret. Tourism was not a lucrative field in the 90’s in Iraq so Sadha concentrated on accounting.

During the war she stayed close to home. After the war, even home was not safe as Islamic groups became more prominent in the neighborhood. As Christians, the family tried to quietly go about their business. In 2005 the ICRC was bombed and in an effort to protect employees the staff was drastically reduced. Sadha left the ICRC and began work with an American contractor. Shortly thereafter her home was attacked. A neighbor called her and warned her not to return home. Her name appeared on a death list of one of the militias. Her family never returned to their home and the house was occupied by strangers. Shortly thereafter, her son Fadi narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt on his way to school, and the family fled to Syria in June of 2007.

“We left everything. We lost everything. After twenty six years of marriage we put our remaining belongings in four bags and fled Iraq”, Sadha says.

“We are barely surviving, we sold some gold”, her husband Faed interjects, pointing to his ring finger which is missing his wedding band. “We are waiting, but nobody cares.”

Sadha continues, “When we registered at the UNHCR the person was so rude. I told him he should care about everyone he is working for a humanitarian organization. He told me if I kept talking like that he would call security to push us out. I asked to see his boss, any boss, someone who cared about us. He said no.” After a moment, she adds, “We are just looking for a peaceful place to begin again. A shelter for us. We try to find anyone who may offer a little light to give us hope.”
“It is one of my dreams- of all Iraqi’s dreams, -they call us from the UN department of resettlement” says Faed. “No one calls”, Sadha interupts. “No one calls”, continues Faed,“And we are waiting. It is our last chance. We cannot stay here and we cannot return back. We need a little light.”