Over the past few decades, millions of Iraqis have escaped violence and uncertainty in their own homes. Our coverage of Everything Iraqi would not be complete without trying to tell some of their stories.
Najwa met Ibrahim Hassan after he deserted the Syrian army in the 1980s and sought refuge in her native Iraq. Although Najwa is Kurdish, she said marrying Ibrahim, a Syrian Arab, was never an issue. The couple lived in Mosul, Iraq, where they raised three sons, Ahmed, Omar and Murad.
They stayed in Iraq throughout the US invasion and the years of conflict that followed. But then in 2014, ISIS took over the area and came to the couple’s home. They accused Ibrahim of being a “traitor” for marrying an “American agent”, since Kurdish forces are backed by the US, and he was brutally killed in front of his wife and their children.
Najwa was briefly detained and managed to get back to her children, a neighbor convinced them they had to flee the city. Smugglers helped them get to Erbil and then across the border to Turkey. They spent time in a refugee camp in the country’s southeast before going to Istanbul where they lived in the street and sold bottles of water to passersby in an Istanbul park. Finally, after saving enough money and receiving modest donations from sympathetic Turks, they paid a smuggler and made the harrowing boat trip to the Greek islands.
Had the family arrived only a few months earlier before the route from Greece to northern Europe was shut, they might already be in Germany where Najwa’s sister has lived for more than 20 years. Ahmed and Omar have disabilities, which were exacerbated when ISIS attacked them, and are in urgent need of proper medical care that Greece’s public hospitals cannot provide.
It’s now been nine months that Najwa and her boys have been stuck in Greece. Two weeks ago they were finally allowed to go to Athens where they’re living in a tiny room in a dilapidated hotel in the city’s center. Ahmed’s health is quickly deteriorating, and he looks much frailer since I met him only one month ago. In the meantime, Najwa continues being a mother while waiting for a phone call to know if they will be able to travel to a country where they can find the care and safety that they, and many others, desperately need.
Video by Matthew Cassel, filmmaker and journalist.