Ali spent a few more months in jail, and then he got a letter from the judge saying it was a mistake. He was not involved in this particular case. But when he was released from jail, he was not happy at all. His head hung between his shoulders, as if his soul had flown out of his body. His wife and in-laws were waiting for him. He took his young son in his arms and start crying.
His in-laws suggested he go to Europe and seek asylum. Since he was not rich, he couldn’t afford it. They had to pay more than $15,000 to smugglers to take all three of them to Europe. His in-laws offered him some money and said, “You can go alone. We will take care of your wife and son. Once you have your citizenship, you will be able to bring your family to Europe. All Iraqis have done it.”
Although he was not guilty of any crime, according to Saddam Hussein’s government, still his in-laws were afraid because they couldn’t find out who set their house afire. It was not an accident; someone has done it on purpose.
After a long journey, he reached Holland, but after three interviews, the Holland courts rejected his asylum plea. They said: you were not a politician or antigovernment activist. The government released you from jail. Your government says your house burned because of gas leakage. You couldn’t prove to us that your life was in danger because of religion, race, or politics. According to the Geneva Agreement, a refugee is someone whose life is threatened or in danger in their home country because they are an anti-government activist. Sorry, we can’t consider you a political refugee.
He had to return to Iraq. The day he found out, his roommate offered him drugs to get high and forget his sorrow, but instead, he got mad. He couldn’t forget that he had to pay his in-laws back, and he didn’t have any money, any house, nothing left. That was the day he began breaking windows in the middle of the night.
Translator for Refugees
Dear reader, I have dozens of stories like this to share with you but, as I promised, I have to write about myself. After that terrible night when Ali was arrested, I tried to catch up with my life. My daughter was going to school. I became a volunteer translator for Afghans, Iranians, Russians, and Pakistanis. My husband was taking care of my younger daughter while I was translating for my friends.
I got close to almost everyone. I knew that Afghans had a good chance of getting their citizenship. Almost all Afghans got their citizenship within eleven days, but the maximum was about three months. I had hope of getting my citizenship soon too.
Once a week, we had to go to the police station in the refugee camp and sign ourselves in. It showed we were present in the camp. If someone was absent, he or she lost one week payment. (The payment was 14 guilder—the currency of the Netherlands at the time—per person per week.) Three absences meant closing the file. After closing the file, the person must return to his country or go back to the immigration police and reopen the case.
One day I took my four-month-old baby in a baby carriage outside for fresh air. I saw one of my Afghan friends had her baby in her arms and was running towards the social worker’s office seeking medical help. I asked other ladies who were outside to take care of my child. I went to the office and saw she was crying. Her baby wasn’t breathing properly.
They called an ambulance and asked me to go with her. Everything happened so suddenly that I couldn’t go back to my baby and ask someone to take care of her. Since my husband was not in camp that day, I told the social worker to ask one of the Afghan families to take care of my baby. She said, “Sure I will.”
I went with her to hospital, translated for her, and the doctors’ helpful hands helped the baby survive. She asked me to thank the doctor for his wonderful job. The doctor said, “No, you must thank your translator because she helped us a lot. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
I was happy and proud of my work. When we came back to the camp, it was almost dark. I was walking with her inside the camp. I saw a few kids playing in the yard, two of them along with my older daughter were running and pushing the baby carriage. I stopped walking for a moment and thought: are those my children? I started running toward them. When the kids saw me, they said, “Aunty, aunty, you were not here. Your kid was crying. That is why we are running with her, to make her calm.” My daughter, her mouth almost frozen, asked me, “Mom, where have you been? I came from school and our door was locked. I came to the yard and saw my sister in her baby-trolley crying. I tried a lot to make her calm but she was cold and was crying. She is hungry. I didn’t know what to do.”
I took my daughter in my arms and she was ice cold. I asked her to run with the baby carriage toward our cabin. I opened the door and first fed the baby and then my older daughter. Once they were calm again, I felt so angry. My blood was boiling. It was not fear at all. I went with an Afghan refugee to help her, but there was no one to take care of my daughter. Both of my daughters caught colds. The next day, everyone shared their apologies. They said there was a big misunderstanding. My decision at first was not to help others. But I couldn’t see people suffering, especially elders and children.
TO BE CONTINUED…