"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.
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.