No Photo, no name, please!
Most refugees from Iraq and Syria had first held out for better times or fled within the country hoping for a quick end of the civil war. ISIS atrocities are the most frequent reason for them to make the hard decision to leave. To protect relatives at home, many asked me to change their names or use initials.
I meet R (24) in a restaurant in Mitilini. R's family is still in Mosul, Iraq - and he fears for their safety. They had a good live, the father a manager; R. studying economics and holding a government job. Then, in 2014, ISIS invaded and their lives fell apart. ISIS closed the university and was going after government workers like his aunt. She was killed.
He waited – thinking it would not last, but it got worse, so he left in 2015. “You could not even drive through Iraq without various visa for different militia areas.
Anyone who has some power assembles a militia and starts to ‘reign’ -
– you never know who considers you an enemy. They look at your name + you may get shot.” They crossed areas of militia, ISIS, Kurdish, and rebel groups – never knowing who may shoot. In the car they were ducking and speeding hoping not to get hit.
They had to drive into Syria because the nearest Turkish border was closed. Once in Turkey he stayed for 8 months in a city across from Istanbul (Üsküdar?). There he was arrested by the police and jailed.
Once released, he decided to go to the EU. It took 7 tries with the boat. They were harassed by police, shot at. Once, already on the open water, the Turkish police circled them so the boat almost flipped in the wake. Nobody had life vests – but he made it the end of 2015.
He now has asylum and working papers but cannot find work.
So he does volunteer work. Even that is hard. He says when he criticized their use of funds he was threatened by a US NGO worker that if he told on them nobody would believe him. He now happily works for PROEM-AID (Professional Emergency Aid) , a Spanish organization.