Syed Nazakat in New Delhi

On a burning hot evening last year the lingering sound of bombing and gunfire sent Basima, 45, through Baghdad city and into the Baghdad’s international airport. He paid smugglers a hefty 4,000 U.S $ to get her on flight to get out of the country to escape the violence that had left his many relatives, friends dead and his country totally devastated. Basima, an Iraqi refuge and a mother of three girls managed to reach India with her two daughters while her elder daughter is in a refuge camp in Germany. She was in an explosion the month before her father told her that she should leave, and watched people die before her eyes. “After life in Baghdad, nothing is able to disappoint me. If you live in a place where you have five or 10 explosions every day, it becomes usual, and the only question is whether you survived.”

Today, one-year later Basima’s life has become tough, miserable. She along with her two young daughters and other relatives is living in a dingy one room in Vasant Kunj area of Delhi. In Baghdad she was living in big house, owned two cars and business. But now like most Iraqi refugees, as well as those in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, he life has totally shattered. She is running out of money and places.  And although he fears for his family in Baghdad, going back isn’t an option he’ll consider.

“Going back to Iraq is no option. Iraq has become a big graveyard. The America has plagued our country into disaster,” says Basima.

Every month Basima has to pay rent, buy food and pay for other things. But she has no work Her only income is three thousand rupees provided by the UNHCR which she says is not even sufficient to pay the rent of apartment. To make things worse for her, the agent has taken away her passport before leaving her at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

There may be no starker reminder of today’s Iraq than the suffering of these Iraqi refuges who are at the receiving end of U.S. invasion and the bloody sectarian violence the invasion triggered in Iraq. Iraqis are fleeing sectarian violence, targeted killings, and banditry in Iraq and taking shelter in other countries. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi there are around 160 Iraqis seeking refuge in India. But only few are recognised by UNHRC and others are still under consideration for grant of refuge status.

Last week, all these Iraqi refuges staged a sit in outside the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refuges to press their demands. 
“We have no identity. We have no home and country now. We want to be sent somewhere where we can work and rebuild our life,” says Jamal Ibraheem, a 45-year-old Iraqi man who left Iraq some eight months ago. He was on the run from militants who left threatening notes in his yard, warning, “Your time will come soon.” Jamal, who is a Sunnis Muslim, dislike even talking about the sectarian divide, which he  prefers to leave behind. Before 2003 and today, they say, they’ve always simply been Muslims.
The tragedy of these Iraqi refuges is that they have been living as refuges from the last sixty years. Many of them were thrown out of Palestine after Israel occupied their areas in Arab-Israel war in 1948. After leaving Israel, they went to Iraq and reestablished their lives. And when everything was going nice for them American invaded Iraq in 2003 and what fallowed
was the terrible saga of killings.

As sun starts to set, Basima and other Iraqi refuges are spreading their bedding on the street outside the United Nations office in Jorbag area of New Delhi. The refuges are saying that they are also worried about their children who attending no school since they left Iraq. “Other children made fun of their Iraqi accents, but soon enough, they caught to the new dialect. India is a hospitable country. Still, it is not home,” says Basima.

And where is that? The children can’t decide. They sit, quiet, and well-behaved, watching curiously every vehicle passing through the street.
What should the family do now? Each child has a different answer.

“Stay here,” says Nur, 9.

“Go back to Iraq,” answers Mustafa, her twin brother.

“To Palestine, or to Canada” declares Shams, 13 and slender, and stares back at the street.

(Sahara Time, 2007)


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