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Walk a Mile in Their Shoes Series : Coming Home

By Angela e Joyce

This is the story of one woman, her family, and their extraordinary journey of strength. From being displaced in Iraq and seeking refuge in Turkey to finally being able to come home to a less violent part of Iraq.

Ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqi people have suffered greatly. The overthrow of a dictator, short-term anarchy, the placement of a new fragile democratic government, civil war, growing terrorist organizations, and deep bitter divisions among its populous, have all led to extreme instability in the country. The violence and damage to infrastructure have left many with no medical care or access to food or water, let alone a sense of regularity and normalcy.

Alaa Abu Suhaib was born and raised in Basra, Iraq. She used to live a normal stable life like many Iraqi people. Even though Alaa had grown up with the infamous dictator Saddam Hussein, her life was, for the most part, peaceful. After the occupation of Iraq began in 2003, it completely changed Alaa’s reality. The condition of the country came close to anarchy and shortly after that, riddled with violence and unrest due to the heinous sectarian conflict. Murder, displacement, and marginalization were commonplace, and Alaa and her family were no exception. “I lost my father, my aunt, and her husband, who were all killed without being guilty of any crime, except that they were from a different sect, they suffered a bitter sectarian execution”.

After losing some of her family members, Alaa became displaced within her country. She fled to the area of Meveh Governorate which was supposed to be more peaceful. Alaa stayed there for a few years until another wave of violence, killing, and displacement came. At this time Alaa was arrested for not being the correct sect of religion. “I remained in prison until I was acquitted of their malicious claim, and I was released”.

Alaa did not know if there were any more peaceful areas of her country left. She thought there was no way out of this violence and oppression in her country. The only way to be free of it would be to seek refuge in a neighboring country, Turkey. What was left of Alaa’s family and herself decided to leave illegally and through smugglers (people who transport humans to a new country illegally). For 1,800 dollars per person, Alaa and her family would be transported inhumanly through an empty tank truck designated for transporting oil derivatives.

Alaa describes the experience, “The driver gave the children a drink to sleep so that they do not make any noise that would expose us to the border authorities. When we entered the basin, we were surprised by the presence of many families with their children. It was so crowded, but we had no choice and were forced to stay there. As time went on, gradually the oxygen inside that basin ran out, which led to shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, and fainting in many children. Many mothers were screaming, fearing that they would lose their children forever. Finally, we reached our destination just outside of Turkey.”

After Alaa and her family were released, they started to move from one place to another “we walked on foot for three hours out of fear, hunger and being obtained and sent back to the violent areas of Iraq”. Alaa was forced into areas inhabited by terrorists and then into areas controlled by the Free Army until she and her family reached a city called Azaz. The road that they would have needed to take to cross the Turkish border was closed because of the battles between the Free Army and the terrorist groups.

Trapped here for about fifteen days, Alaa suffered from a lack of food and security. The bombardment befell Azaz because of the fighting. Alaa and her family were helpless until the ceasefire and the road were opened. Alaa and her family finally entered Turkey and surrendered themselves to the border authorities. They detained us in camps for 45 days. The group was ill-treated by guards, which led to a hunger strike. This continued until a committee representative from the United Nations came to supervise the camp.

Immediately, Alaa and her family were released and given a choice between staying in Turkey or returning to Iraq. They chose to return to a safer part of Iraq. in Turkey Alaa and her family completed the proper legal procedures and obtained a passport and safe passage back to a safer part of Iraq. Once the legal procedures were completed, Alaa and her family came home. After completing these procedures, “we returned to our country, thank God for that” says Alaa.

Alaa’s story is one of many. There are so many Iraqi families that have suffered greatly over the last two decades because of the conflict in the country. That is why it is imperative that UN agencies and non-for-profits are able to send essential aid and support to the people who need it the most. Today in Iraq the fighting continues. The power struggle between the government forces of Iraq and terrorist militias has only escalated in recent months.

Life for Relief and development recently gave food baskets in Iraq to families who were impoverished from the war. Alaa and her family were one of the recipients of these food baskets. Designated for marginalized, unemployed, orphans, and families who do not have a breadwinner, these food baskets gave families the support they need in the immediate future. Alaa felt very grateful for the help that was given to her and her family. She says it couldn’t have come at a better time. LIFE has worked and will continue to work to give a voice and support to families like Alaa’s with the help of our generous donors. Alaa’s story is one of hope, strength, and resiliency. It is only through hearing another’s story do we understand what it is like to walk a mile in another’s shoes.



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