Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sufferance Iraqi Children

Kidnap, murder, soldiers, explosion, army, militia, ambush car, refugee; these words are the pattern of vocabulary of Iraqi children growing up in mayhem.

Iraqs’ children have lost their youth to car bombs, missiles, mortars attacks. They are the war wounded, the displaced, the fearful, the new workforce, yet they bear their wounds of war with determination and a patient shrug; for today in Baghdad, Sadr City, Anbar, Basra, Karbala, Kirkurt, Najaf, Diyala Sulaymaniyah, Qadisiyah, Babil, Dahuk, Arbil, Tam’mim, Salah ad Din, Amman, Damascus, Beirut; sufferance is the badge of all their tribes.

In Iraq, the tens of thousands of war victims are faced with endless, often insurmountable obstacles to get even basic medical attention. After years of conflict, the Iraqi health-care system is overwhelmed by the constant influx of wounded patients who flood the hospital on a daily basis. Because of the violence, threats and kidnappings many doctors have left the country, many have been targeted or killed. The remaining ones must tend to the most urgent, life-threatening cases first.

Iraqi refugees wait anxiously inside their apartments in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, for the phone call from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) telling them they have been selected to resettle in America, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Iceland. The children with nothing to do wait also.

In Jordan hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated by the UN and various humanitarian organizations to expand schools so Iraqi refugee children can attend classes yet, few are. Constant bullying and beating from Jordanian and Palestinian children understandably make the Iraqi child want to stay indoors. Even going outside to play may become a battleground between the “locals” and the “foreigners.”

In Syria and Lebanon there are very few organizations that help the Iraqis. If a childs mother or father is caught working, they will be arrested and deported. Often the children are made to earn the money that supports the rest of the family.

Iraqi refugees are putting not only a strain on their current situation but lessening the chances of “resettlement” by giving birth to a new generation, a generation in exile.

But, what does the next generation of Iraqi children bearing not only physical but psychological scars hold? Will they in 10 in 20 years be able to patiently shrug off the sufferance of their tribe?

A young Iraqi child whose parents were targeted because his mother is a Sunni, his father a Shiite, wears the hat he made at a childs center in Amman, Jordan. He and his parents refused to show his face as even in Amman, they fear for their lives. August 2008.

An Iraqi girl shows the photo of her brother who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Iraq. Her family was repeatedly threatened and finally left Iraq in June, 2008. Her father was also shot, he survived but is physically and mentally handicapped. She now begs for food and money and lives with her mother, father and younger brother in the Saida Zainab district of Damascus, Syria. September 2008

Hanna Hadi is a typical outspoken, fun loving 13 years old except that she suffers serious burns on her face, head, and body from a suicide bombing in 2004 in Al-Nafaf, Iraq. Hanna initially received treatment in Iraq, but after repeated surgeries she was still unable to eat properly, see, or breath. A doctor in Iraq recommended Hanna be accepted in the MSF program in Amman, Jordan. She has lived in the Kaser Jeddha Hotel for a year and has had several maxillofacial as well as plastic surgeries. She will undergo more plastic surgeries in hopes of gaining a resemblance to the young beautiful girl she once was, before returning to Iraq. September 2008.

Hanan is a quiet and sincere 13 years old who suffered serious burns to her chest and neck area from an explosion when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Al Najaf, Iraq. She now receives plastic surgery in Amman, Jordan in a program sponsored by MSF. September 2008

Somaya is 7 years old and from Nasereya, Iraq. She suffers from facial burns and broken bones, caused by an ambush car, which exploded near her home. The wounds lead to facial infections because of inadequate treatment in Iraq. Somaya now receives maxillofacial and plastic surgery medical treatment in Amman, Jordan through MSF. September 2008.

Haneen is 10 years old. In 2006 a car exploded near her house causing severe burns to her back, shoulder and arm. She was initially treated in Iraq but the severity of her wounds allowed her sponsorship in the MSF program for plastic surgery in Amman, Jordan. September 2008.

Elaf only 7 years old has severe burns on her right leg and lost her left leg when a missile exploded in her home in Nasereye in 2007. She has been fitted with a prosthetic leg and receives treatment for her burns in Amman, Jordan. September 2008.

Zenab exercises in the hallway under the concerned supervision of her mother at the Kaser Jeddha Hotel in Amman, Jordan. Zenab lost 10cm of bone from her right leg when a bomb exploded in a market place in Baghdad, Iraq. Her left leg and right arm were also burned. August, 2008.

A Shia Iraqi family taking care of their newborn twins at their home in the Dahiyeh District of Beirut. The man of the house was a professor in Iraq, but fled with his family to Lebanon 18 months ago when he was repeatedly threatened. Refugees like this family, waiting to be resettled, are now expanding their families while in exile. August 2008.

An 8-year-old Iraqi refugee works selling toys to tourists in the Al-Hamidieh market in Damascus, Syria. Iraqi refugees all across the Levant are not allowed to work, if caught by the authorities they will be arrested and deported. With savings spent, and very little assistance given by the UN, it is often up the refugee children to shoulder the responsibility of earning a living for their families. September, 2008.

Iraqi Sunni children hold a childrens’ Christian Story Book given to them by a group of Christians who run an Iraqi church in Amman, Jordan. Their mother died from blood poisoning last year in Amman. The children regularly attend educational programs sponsored by the church. Their interest in Jesus has caused great concern for the father who fears retribution from Muslim neighbors for allowing his children to attend these courses. The Iraqi refugee community remains divided even outside of Iraq. They do not confide in each other for fear that there maybe spies amongst them.
July, 2008.

A young Sabean Iraqi boy looks out a window of his family apartment in Amman, Jordan. Iraqi children are regularly bullied and beaten by Jordanian and Palestinian children whenever they venture out of their apartments. Iraqi parents have no legal rights and fear the attention any complaint against Jordanian citizens may bring to them and their status as refugees. Consequently, Iraqi children tend to stay indoors to avoid any trouble playing may cause to them and their family. July, 2008.

A teenage Iraqi girl in her bedroom in Amman, Jordan. She was molested by the mullah of the mosque her family went to for comfort. She no longer leaves the apartment for fear of neighborhood gossip.. She and her sister now stay inside all day long. Both hope someday to go to America, where they believe they will be safe - or as her family says, be able to confront anyone who tries to harm them. July 2008

Sara feeds her child, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy. Her daughter's health has steadily worsened since arriving in Damascus, Syria one year ago. Sara goes from one charity to another trying to get medical attention for her child. September 2008.

Living with his refugee family in Beirut, this Arabic-speaking Iraqi boy stays home from school and plays video games. In the school system he attends, classes are conducted in French or English, only - yet another disadvantage for those awaiting resettlement here. August 2008.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Raad The Hero - Healing with Happiness

It was Raad (right) who kept insisting that Ahmad (left) pose for the camera, I took the shots in low light, hiding the severity of the facial injuries. Ahmad was pleased.

Raad and Ahmed outside the physiotherapy room at Kaser Zedha Hotel, where MSF is hosting over 40 victims of war and their companions, often close family relatives. MSF doctors perform the operations at the Red Crescent Hospital. Raad has already had 4 operations on his hands and is waiting for his hand to heal before continuing with the reconstructive surgeries.

Raad and Ahmed having fun posing for photos. These are two great guys, we joked, imagined them in Canada, laughed til we cried.

A car exploded in a busy part of Kirkuk. Raad Sahad a tailor by profession ran to help, that’s when the second explosion occurred. Raad suffered severe burned on his face, arms and hands. He is now sponsored by MSF and has lived in the Kaser Zedh Hotel since August 9, 2007. He has had 4 operations and with a laugh tells me is now has moment in his hands.

Raad is one of the most remarkable people I have met during my stay in Amman. Though he suffered a huge tragedy he keeps everyone at the Hotel laughing. He is optimistic that he will be able to hold scissors again, to make clothes, to start a business, to do anything he wants, as soon as he gets full movement in his hands.

Raads’ close friend at the Hotel is 22 year old Ahmad Hukala. Ahmad suffered severe burns in an explosion in a mosque in Mosul. When I see Ahmad I see the pain and longing of a young man to have a normal life, to visit friends, to have girlfriends, to get married. Ahmad unlike Raad is embarrassed about the way he looks, he envies his friend Raads long thick hair. When I see Ahmad alone he is quiet, sullen and depressed. Then along comes Raad and Ahmad is at least for the moment transformed into a smiling joking young man enjoying talking with a good friend.

Bomb at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad

“My hopes are to walk, continue my studies, get married and have a future.”

The prosthetic hand of Hasanen Basim Khudier.

Hasanen Basim Khudier puts on his prosthetic hand during a trauma session with resident MSF phychiatrist Yousef.

In 2004 Hasanen Basim Khudier was a 21 year old a mechanical engineer student at Al Mustansiyra University in Baghdad. He was in the hallway of the university when a Katusha rocket hit. From the explosion he lost the muscles in his left thigh, 20cm of bone from his left shin, and 4 fingers from his right hand. He saw his best friends head explode.

He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, but there was no treatment, facilities or medicines available. The doctors did what they could and sent him home. Eventually he was fitted with a prosthetic hand. In 2005 Hasanen raised US $10,000 from private donors to come to Amman for reconstructive bone surgery. The operation failed.

He is now sponsored by MSF and has had several operations, including bone transplants. To straighten his leg the doctors have attached a platinum external brace. They are waiting to see if the bone will develop, it’s a slow process, but Hasanen is determined to keep his leg and eventually walk again.

Waiting, waiting, waiting

“There were many threats and terror by the Muslims against the Sabeans, but it was hidden, no one talked about it, we were all scared,” said Amir Hadar of the situation of Sabeans in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Amir, his mother and 2 sisters show their UNHCR refugee status.

In 2000, Amir a single man, now living with his mother and 2 sisters in Amman worked as a cameraman for a TV station owned by Oday the much-feared son of Saddam. Odays’ guards would tease and threaten Amir making his life miserable, “it was like a sport for them,” said Amir of his ordeal. “I couldn’t take it anymore, so in 2001 I fled to Jordan and applied for asylum.”

Amirs’ father died (a natural death) in Iraq in 2003 leaving Amirs mother and 2 sisters to take care of themselves and the huge home which had been in the family for generations. Then came the threats. It got worse and worse until one night masked men broke into their home, pointed a gun at the eldest sister and the mother and told them to get out or they would kidnap them. The 3 women left as soon as they could get a passport taking nothing but a bag with them to Amman.

“ We cannot go forward and cannot go backwards, we are in a prison,” said the sister of Amir.

Savings gone

"I used to be so rich now see how far I have fallen," says Ali Halif a goldsmith from Iraq now living in Amman, Jordan.

Ali Halif shows his identity card which gives his profession as goldsmith. Ali Halif is extremely bitter about his situation. He never planned to stay in Jordan for going on 8 years.

The family of Ali Halif in their courtyard.

The courtyard where Ali Halif spends his time building a garden.

Ali Halif had a flourishing business in Diyala during the reign of Saddam Husseins Baath Party. Like many in the Sabean community, he is a gold smith and made his living by importing and exporting gold. Many though not all of the Sabeans’ I interviewed told me they were persecuted because of their religion, telling me that if a Muslim kills a Sabean he will go to paradise.

Ali Halif tells me his fear and intimidation began in 2001 when his sons, at the time 3 and 7 years old, were out playing during the Shia holy celebration of Hassen al Hussain a
To honor this day Shia families prepare huge plates of traditional foods, which they share amongst each other. Ali Halifs’ sons were curious and looked at the food, for this sacrilegious act they were caught by teenage boys who said they had polluted their food and therefore no Shia could eat it. The teenage boys said they would teach these Sabeans a lesson and poured boiling hot water on the sons of Ali Halif, scarring them for life.

Ali took the boys to a hospital, but the staff at the hospital said they would not treat them unless they filed a police report. Ali then took the boys to the police gave a report, on the way back to the hospital Shias working with Saddam Hussein told them to retract the statement. Ali then took his sons to his relative, a doctor. Five months later the police took the oldest son to jail for 5 days. Shia strongmen kept coming to his business demanding money. He tells me he had no protection from the police or government so he sold all of his assets and escaped with his family to Jordan in 2001.

At that time the Halif family was still rich, and able to afford a good life in Jordan. I asked him why he did not start a business in Jordan at the time when he had money to invest. He told me that when things calmed down or even during the first year of the War in Iraq he planned to go back to Iraq. He also told me he had no plans to seek asylum or refugee status. He has relatives who were also in Jordan during 2001-2003, relatives he helped financially, relatives who sought and were accepted to third countries as asylum seekers.

Finally in 2004 realizing there was no future for him in Jordan or Iraq, the Halif family filed with the UNHCR as refugees. They continue to wait for resettlement to a third country.

Ali Halif was visibly angry when he told that just this week (July 29, 2008), he called the UNHCR to inquire of his status. According to Ali, the worker told him not to call again because he is annoying them and if he calls again they will refuse to resettle him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Social consequences of being a victim of war

‘I hope to have plastic surgery, I hate the way I look, I feel embarrassed What is the future going to provide now that I am not myself anymore.’

Wasal Joni shows the burns she sustained when a missile crashed into her home in Basra. She is sponsored by MSF for reconstructive surgery in Amman, Jordan.

In 2005, Wasal Joni was in her house near the Basra airport when a missile hit. Wasals’ entire body was burned except for her face. “I don’t know who shot the missile, who was responsible because if any of the political militias launch missiles to attack the British at their base, the British have sophisticated weapons that return the missile or something like that,” she explains. She doesn’t know and it makes no difference now, she is scarred not only on her body but in her heart and soul.

Wasal’s husband divorced her and remarried, leaving her with 2 children to care for while she herself is in excruciating pain, and recovery. She has very little confidence left, she wants to go back and be herself again, she wants her life back. Wasals heart shines, her eyes are so full of beauty I can’t really express how I felt listening to Wasals story.

She told me of the Basra situation. The Mafia Militias, the insecurity, the kidnapping, no one buys anything new it will just be stolen or you can be killed for it, the collective punishment, the shooting of civilians, the curfews, the ever present suspicions, any flame or light can be a catalyst for an attack, another missile entering her home. She was happy the British were there, “they were not as mean as the American Army or the Iraqi Army.”

Civilian causalities, or shall we just call them mistakes.

“The Americans burst into our house pointed a gun at my 3 year old daughters head and shot her.”

"AH" a 23 years old double amputee sits in her wheelchair in her bedroom at the Zeda Hotel in Amman, Jordan. She is sponsored by MSF and is receiving prosthetic therapy.

I met AH who is a double amputee at the Zeda Hotel, she is sponsored by MSF and is receiving prosthetic treatment. AH wanted desperately to tell me her story but her father did not want her to go through this again. He told me that their story has been published many times, on TV and nothing has ever come of it, they have received no compensation or justice. AH would not give up and finally we got her fathers consent.

This is horrifying incident took place at noon in 2004 in Ambar. The American Marines had surrounded their neighborhood, the loudspeakers telling the residents not to come out of their homes. Amals family, her father, mother, 3 sisters, 2 brothers and baby girl were sitting in the living room eating lunch. They saw a tank in their backyard, it started to shoot at their home. Then 2 soldiers burst into their home, (both in their early 30’s which shows that these were not young 20 year old inexperienced soldiers, one white, one black.) They were only 2 meters away when they shot Amals daughter in the head.

“I was holding her in my arms, her head burst open and even parts hit the ceiling, then the soldiers threw 2 grenades and left,” says Amal, her eyes blank.

Suddenly, jeeps, tanks, and a helicopter surrounded their home. The family went to the kitchen, the father took his white scarf and through the opened window waved it to the helicopter above. He said it was so close he could see the soldiers inside. It made no difference, 2 missiles were shot and fell near the kitchen doorway. “AH” mother and 9-year-old sister were killed. The rest of the “living” family members were seriously injured, one brother sustained 2 broken and smashed legs, AH lost both her legs, miraculously only the father sustained minimal injuries. Alone AH’s father began moving his families’ bodies out of the house.
Many American Marines entered the house again, they saw the dead bodies and put them in black bags, put the wounded into the helicopter and took them to the medical base. Then they threw grenades and bombed the house to the ground. They said it was a case of misinformation, the official army response was, “it was a mistake, an accident.” In fact it was another cover-up, just like in Haditha. But at least those soldiers were charged, the case became known and maybe even the family members who survived were compensated. For this family there has not been any justice whatsoever.

For the next years AH’s father has sought compensation from the Americans, they have received nothing. “We live only day by day, we can not plan anything for the future, now we want only treatment, we have given up on the Americans, only MSF have helped us,” says the father of AH. He went on to tell me what he said to an American General he met at the American medical base.

“It would be an honor to kill you. If an Iraqi came to America and an entire family of civilians, Bush himself would hold the gun and shoot him.”

Another husband disappears

Wafa'a Taleb Faleh shows her UNHCR refugee papers in the small hallway of her apartment which she uses as the salon to greet guests. She is raising her 2 sons alone, her husband went to work one day and never returned. His body was never found, she has no idea what happened to him.

Wafa'a shows the ID of her husband who worked as a translator for one of the military contractors like Blackwater.

Wafa'a in the kitchen, a strong and independent woman who must work to support her 2 sons, she often suffers from severe depression and anxiety.

In 2005 Wafa’a Taleb Faleh worked with CARITAS helping people and the NEW IRAQ CHARITABLE SOCIETY showing dignitaries around Iraq. Her husband was a translator for one of the western contractors like Blackwater, (she refused to tell me which one.) Her husband was a Christian but converted to Islam in order to marry her. Wafa’ah and her husband were threatened because they worked for “the enemy as well as for being a Christian, those who threatened them would not believe they were Muslim.

On July 11, 2005 Wafa’as’ husband left the house, he never came back, his body was never found. Wafa’a suffers from severe depression in Amman, though does all she can to raise her 2 sons. She tells me she is exhausted by the stress and pressure of working illegally as a waitress for wedding parties in hotels where she earns 5 JD a night. She is sickened by the way the men at these events who call her bitch, whore and humiliate her treat her.

“We have no control over our lives, we can’t talk, we can’t complain, we can’t go to the police to report our mistreatment by people, by our neighbors. My kids are hit and beaten by the Palestinians and Jordanians, they call them names and intimidate them all the time. I just want to have the right to work, to have a home, to have some control over my life, to educate my kids. I don’t care about being rich or even going to America or wherever, I just want to be settled somewhere. I can’t go back to Iraq, they will kill me, and then what will happen to my sons,” says Wafa’a of her situation in Amman, Jordan.

She gets 140 JD from charity groups, her rent is 100 JD, she earns about 180-190 JD a month working illegally. Wafa’a went to the UNHCR to complain about her situation, they told her, “we are the UN, you can wait or you can go back to Iraq.”

*** Personal Notes:

I have listened to complaints concerning the UNHCR from almost every family I have interviewed. They tell me of rich Iraqis who were ‘invited’ to leave Iraq for America, Australia, Canada, but some of them refused saying they have a good business in Amman and don’t want to leave. In one case, so the rumor goes, the UNHCR representative drove to the rich families home with papers and full permission to leave, which the rich family refused. Another case is of a rich Iraqi whose sons are studying in Universities in America. I have tried to interview the rich families here, but to date they have all refused. Rumors, innuendos, who knows what the truth is? Each family feels their case is more important and compelling than the rest and deserve a better life, a settled life anywhere, most don’t care, as long as they can work, their children get an education, and they can, like Wafa’a said, have some control over their lives. My observations are that the Iraqis are becoming more and more disillusioned with the UNHCR yet feel helpless to plead their cases or seek legal council.

Today “M” my fixer here in Amman, told me that he was personally propositioned from one of the UNHCR caseworkers asking for US $10,000 who said he will be able to forward his case. “M” with a bemused smile said, “and how am I going to get $10,000?”

Mafia Militia a Profitable Business in Post War Iraq.

Kafah Ata a Sabean from Iraq and her 3 sons in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. Kafahs' husband was a personal bodyguard for Saddam Hussein and his son Oday. Photos of Saddam Hussein take center stage on their living room wall. They remain faithful to Saddam saying the chaos that is in Iraq now would never have happened if Saddam was in power.

The youngest son of Kafah looks out the window, he is often too afraid to go out and play with the neighborhood kids, Palestinian or Jordanian, because they hit him and call him names.

Kafah praying in her home.

“In my family they kidnapped my husband “M”, nephew, uncle, brother-in-law, shot and killed my aunt and her son,” said Kafah Ata of why she and her family are in Jordan waiting to be resettled. “In 2004 we paid US $2000 for my husband, we came to Jordan right after. My husband was a paramedic in the Iran war, the Gulf war, and this war, he was honored with 12 medals. When there was no war, my husband was a personal bodyguard for Saddam and his son Oday. He saw Saddam or Oday almost everyday, they were good to him, Saddam was like a father.”

The people who worked with Saddam were given a card which stated that they were a friend of Saddam and therefore untouchable. The family is Sabean, were allowed to go to church, pray as they wanted, and had no problems with other religious or ethnic groups in Iraq. Sometime in 2003 “M” was sitting in his office when he got a letter, which read, ‘either you convert to Islam or we will kill you.’ “We all stayed in our house in Baghdad but kept hearing news of friends being killed, so we left for Dialla,” said Kafah. “In Dialla, my husband had a business selling police dogs. After one year in Dialla we heard from friends that it was safe to return to Baghdad - so we went back.”

“M” was kidnapped shortly after their return. They don’t know who kidnapped him; the men were masked just one of the hundreds of Mafia Militias doing business by kidnapping people. They called “M’s” brother, the sound of M’s screams while being tortured in the background, and told him to pay 2000 American dollars or they would kill “M”. The family paid the ransom and “M” was released.

This was not the case for Kafahs nephew, uncle, aunt or brother-in-law all of whom were kidnapped and killed or shot in the attempt of being kidnapped. “Now there is no law, no order, no justice, no nothing, its uncontrolled,” says Kafah of the situation in Iraq. “They kidnapped my nephew at the university when he was walking on the road. We paid the money, but he never came back. My uncle, we also paid the money, then our neighbors called us saying to come quickly. We found my uncle dead on the street. My brother-in-law was kidnapped from his shop, the kidnappers phoned us and demanded 70,000 American dollars! They told us to throw the money over the bridge and don’t worry he will come back. That was a year and a half ago, we never found his body. In the beginning the Mafia Militias asked for 1000 or 2000 US dollars, like with my husband, then they got more and more successful and started demanding more and more money. So now if you are from a rich family you pay a lot of money and they kill them anyway, so tell me where is the democracy, the justice, the security the Americans promised,” asked Kafah looking visibly upset.

In Amman though they live the waiting game at least they are safe, they can sleep without the fear of being kidnapped, tortured, raped or whatever else the Mafia militias are doing to the people of Iraq.

Kafah wanted to say this to those of you reading her story,” I know the world is not happy because of what happens in Iraq. I know you support us, but we get nothing. You think we are okay because you support us be we aren’t. Iran is taking Iraq because they want the oil and to get revenge for the Iran/Iraq war. The government is speaking Farsi, not Arabic. Look at Muhktar Al Sadr, he even changed his name to an Iranian name.”

Alone and Six Months Pregnant with Twins

Iraqi refugee Shahar Hussein Mehdi shows the food she is able to make on a budget of 20 JD a month.

Sharah and her 13 old daughter. They are alone in their apartment in Amman. Her husband was caught working and was deported in April 2008.

Sahar is 6 months pregnant with twins, she receives medical treatment from CARITAS and some help from CARE. She will be needing a C-section and must rely on neighbors to help her after giving birth. Her husband is in Iraq.

In Iraq Sahar Hussein Mehdi and her husband were very poor but were able scrape enough money together to rent an unremarkable home in Baghdad. After the fall of Saddam Husseins’ Baath party in 2003, their landlord came threatening them with eviction if they didn’t pay more rent. The couple said they have a contract for their home and wouldn’t leave. A few days later the landlord came back, pulled out a gun and shot. The bullet hit Sahar in the arm, shortly after they left for Amman to claim refugee status.

In 2007 Sahar gave birth to her daughter in Amman. In April 2008 her husband was caught working and deported to Iraq. Sahar is 6 months pregnant with twins. She lives alone in a small apartment in Jabal Hussein. She receives 80 JD from CARE, 60 JD she spends on rent, the rest on food. CARE also provides her with 3 diaper packages a month. “Thank God,” explains Sahar, “some of my neighbors help me when they can. But I am scared because I will have to have a cesarean section and who will look after my daughter or me.”

Sahar went to Lawyer Yara at UNHCR where she was told that she will soon be accepted in the resettlement program and if her husband can make it to Syria she can pick him up on her way. (personally I question these facts, but it does give Sahar hope and that I hope will enable her calmness in the last months of her pregnancy.) Sahar must wait til she gives birth to her twins (a boy and a girl), before she is able to travel, but it looks like she may get a chance for a new life…somewhere….inshallah.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Heart like the Sun

A photo of Ranin at 3 years of age.

Ranins father shows the medical report and diagram of the 1st operation Ranin needs to battle her obesity. It will cost over $US 5000.

Ranin has a heart like the sun says her sister Ranin. She has come to Amman to recieve treatment for obesity.

Ranin is 177 kilos and cannot stand or walk, her she is helped to her feet by her sister and a friend. Her father (right) spent most of his savings to bring her to Amman for treatment.

Ranin and her sister Rana in a hotel room they rent waiting to find someone or an organization to help them receive treatment. Their savings will run out in a month and a half and they will be forced to return to Iraq.

Ranin poses for this photo in the hopes that someone will see it and help her become a normal human being, able to walk, visit friends and go to school.

“Ranin has a heart like the sun, she shines on everyone, she wants to visit her friends, she deserves the chance to be normal, she needs help. We are not rich, my father has spent all this money to come here, all of our savings. It cost US$1200 for a one-way ticket from Iraq and now the hotel and treatment, we don’t have much time and we hope that you can help us somehow please.

Ranin Raad Hashims father and sister brought Ranin to Amman in the hope that she will get treatment for severe obesity. Ranins soft sweet voice is in deep contrast to her 177 kilo size. Her disease has prevented her from going to school, visiting friends or leading any semblance of a normal life. Ranin is unable to walk, she suffers from liver problems, she doesn’t have her period, she sometimes sleeps 24 hours a day, the rest of the time she spends watching TV, talking on the cell phone with friends and often falls into deep depressions. She has tried to diet but it never helps. Ranin has been huge all her life, no matter if she eats of not, she can’t lose weight. It is hormonal and there are no treatments or programs for obesity in Iraq.

The doctors told her that she will need at least 2 operations, the first one costing 4050 JD, as well as hormonal treatment and follow up diet programs. Ranins father has only 2 months to apply for assistance and treatment before he must return to Iraq. If his daughter can find a sponsor he will agree to leave her here and arrange somehow to have her returned to Iraq. They are not refugees, they are seeking medical treatment only. It is the families hope that an NGO or doctor in the west will here of their case and offer help.

If anyone out there has any contacts or knows of NGOs who may be able to help Ranin, please contact me at it is of utmost importance, I am writing to various publications to see if I can raise awareness in the hopes that a doctor or organization will sponsor Ranins treatment here or elsewhere.

Settling old Scores

Namir Medina and family in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. Namir was tortured in Basra and now suffers from 3 slipped discs. He was able to escape, and one year later his family came to Amman in the hopes of starting a new life.

The injuries Namir sustained from torture are still visible after 3 years.

Namir Medina is unable to walk without a cane, he can only sit or stand for short periods of time. He has a special mattress to sleep on which was donated from an Italian NGO in Amman, Jordan.

Namir Medina shows the sort of tool used to torture him by a former co-worker who now heads one of the terrorist, or rather criminal groups in Basra. He says this one is small, the one they used on his was bigger.

Namir Medina is 40 years old, his wife Sohad A Meta Alblebesh is 35, they have 3 girls aged 16, 13 and 3. Namir was an engineer for the Revolutionary Commercial Council of Ministry of Heavy Industry (RCCMHI), in other words a melting and cast iron company. In order to work at this company Namir had to belong to the Baath party and therefore had to sign a paper saying if he knew anyone including his mother, father, friends, , who were speaking against the government, he was to take them promptly to the police for questioning. He signed this paper, knowing full well that his cousin who was the leader of a “communist group” ran away from Iraq in 1979. Of course Namir was a child at the time but that apparently didn’t matter, as Namir was soon to find out.

When applying for another job Namir was given a tip that the government had uncovered a file about his cousin and wanted to find him to question why he had not included his cousins activities or whereabouts when he signed the contract with the RCCMHI. This could lead to serious consequences so Namir fled to Jordan in 1999. He could not go back while Saddam was in power, his friend warned him that his name was on a “wanted list.”

In 2004 Namir decided to return to Iraq because he thought he would be safe and also as an engineer he would be in great demand in the reconstruction of Iraq. He applied at a steel company, based in Basra. “All that was left of the company was one office, the rest was inoperable because it had been bombed. Sitting in the office was Adan this big Shia man dressed like Muktar Sadr. I worked with him before, he was an electrician, says Namir of his experience when he went to apply for a job. “After waiting a week I went back and Adan said there is no work for you ever. I asked him why. He said you have to belong to a group.” Namir laughed as he explained, “there was hezbudowa, hezbulala, hezbu this and hezbu that, at least 36 hezus fighting eachother for control of Basra.”

Namir then opened a small market out of his apartment selling vegetables and dry goods. 3 months later 2 masked people came and took him away. They blindfolded him, threw him in the car and took him to a house. In the house he saw 14 other men. That night he was tortured. His feet and hands were bound, and hung on a rod. They didn’t ask him anything, they just tortured him like that all night. They would spread him by pulling his feet or hands along the rod. The result was 3 slipped discs. Then he was untied and put back into the main room with the other captured men. He wanted to know why he was there. The handler said I don’t know you have to ask the “manager.”

The next afternoon h was face to face with the manager, who said, “your name is Namir Mehdi, you worked at the RCCMHI.” Though “the managers” face was masked Namir recognized his voice as “J” the ‘parts and requisitions’ man who worked in at Namirs former company RCCMHI. Namir told me that this was during the Iraq embargo when things like ball bearing were very hard to come by. He noticed that many of the parts went missing and told his boss. The man he was now face to face with was “J” the parts man.

“J” told the torturer to tie Namir to a bed. “They tortured me with a welding rod. All over my body they burned me, I would pass out, they would throw water on me and do it again. Each session lasted about an hour and a half then they would put me back into the main room. I could hear screaming coming from the other rooms, we were all tortured. We were allowed to go to the toilet once a day. It was during one of these trips to the toilet that I told the torturer I would pay him money if he would get me out of here. He wanted $US 20,000. I told him my brother would pay. The torturer would have to escape too, because if he were found he would be caught and killed. Two days later during my toilet break I escaped with 2 of these torturers. They drove me to my brothers house, my brother gave them SUS 11.000, they didn’t even know how to count the money. They just took it and left. I escaped Iraq that night leaving my family behind,” said Namir of his ordeal.

After two days in Amman, Namirs daughter witnessed the brutal murder of her uncle. To this day she suffers from nightmares.

Trust is an Issue

From this interview I learned that the Iraqi refugees are not a cohesive group, and each have their stories, their secrets, and these secrets could cost them their lives.

"J" and his 2 sons in their home in Amman, Jordan.

A newspaper clipping of Saddam Hussein hangs on the wall of J's home. There are many Iraqi refugees who continue to honor Saddam Hussein as the father of Iraq.

J is a Muslim who has converted to Christianity, which is illegal in Jordan.

“I do my best to get through each day and keep what is left of my family together,” says “H” of his current situation as a refugee in Amman, Jordan, “my boys are my life, my love.” H and his two sons live in an apartment without refrigerator, or cooker. His wife died 4 years ago from blood poisoning. He now does everything for his two sons, including protecting them by not telling his story. He is too scared. Scared of his fellow Iraqi refugees, scared of the Kurds who he says now run the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan, scared of the UNHCR because they ask him questions he will not answer, scared of the Iraqi government, scared because he converted to Christianity, scared of the Americans, scared of his and his sons. “H” wants to live in peace, no more killing, no more death, no more army.

What “H” did tell me is that Saddam Hussein is his father, the father of Iraq, the number 1 President for all Arabs. “He was the one who kept Iraq together, he was fair, everyone was equal, Shia, Sunni, Muslim, Christian, Kurd it didn’t matter as long as you swore fidelity to Saddam, he would protect you and your family. Now look at the government, they are run by Shia and Kurds and they don’t stop the killing, they want the killing,” was all H would tell me. He also said he came to Jordan in 2003 before the Iraq War started.

During the 2 hours I spent with H and his sons, I did understand what was not said and I will honor his wishes not to write about it or speak about it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baptism at an Orthodox Church in Amman, Jordan

The head priest at an Orthodox church in Amman, Jordan.

The priest pours baptism water on the head of Jolie Mary.

Jolie Mary after being Baptized, she was so good, she didn't cry or make any fuss during the 15 minute ritual.

The priest leads Jolie Marys parents and godparents around the main altar at an Orthodox church in Amman, Jordan.

The baptism over Jolie Mary is held by her godmother.

Mohammed dropped me off to go to his family for the Friday family gathering. I decided just to walk around, as I had no translator today to visit Iraqis or Palestinians. I went to Jabal Hussein and along my walk I saw this Orthodox Church. I asked the well-dressed people standing outside if church was open and if I could go in. They told me there was a baptism about to take place so I asked if I could take photos, they all welcomed me.

I went in and met the Palestinian Christian family and Orthodox priests who were baptizing their young girl “Jolie Mary” they also welcomed me as did the two Orthodox priests, all saying sure and please do take photos. It never ceases to amaze me how welcoming the people are here, imagine walking into a church in Canada saying hey can I take some photos or your baptism, I think they would look at me like I was crazy! So here are some photos of the baptism of Jolie Mary. And of course I have offered to burn a CD for the family.