English Teacher, 1988, Najaf, Iraq.

I can't live as a nobody

June 15, 2016

I am 28 years old. Me, my husband and our  three kids arrived in Luxembourg in November 2015. We are from Najaf, Iraq.

My husband is Shia, i am Sunna

In Najaf, most of the people are Shia. Before i married, when i was younger, we wouldn’t bother about religion. It wasn’t a discussion subject at all. No one would care.

My husband is a lawyer. He was a very famous lawyer in Najaf. Some time before we left, he was appointed by the government to work a new project related to establishing the key-card payment system for the displaced people from western Iaq. Somehow he got into trouble with the party in the government as they asked him something he could not accept due to his ethics.

One day

One day, while my husband was abroad, some people came to my house. They were looking for my husband. I told them he wasn’t there but they thought i was lying. I thought they were actually thieves but they didn’t steal anything. Finally, they took boiling water and put in on my youngest child’s arm. He was badly burnt. They forced me to call my husband. The kids were crying. They spoke with my husband. Then they left. They were four. I left my house with the kids to stay with my parents. My husband came back 2 days later, he told me we were in a bad situation and we should leave.

The threat was clear

We left for Bagdad, where we stayed a few months at a friend’s house to arrange the trip. We took several cars to join Turkey. We couldn’t take a plane, it was too risky, we thought they might track us. We stayed in Turkey nearly 2 months. It took us some time to arrange the boat trip to Greece. We finally found someone. We gave him the money.

We stayed in the forest near Izmir for 2 days, it was very cold. We were a whole group. One helped the other.

We had paid to cross to Greece on a big ship but when we arrived on the shore, we realized the boat was very small. We were sixty people and all of us were supposed to fit in that small boat. We did not accept. We waited five more days for another ship. That ship was bigger but the group to go on the boat was also.

We had no choice, we were tired. It was cold and raining. We left in the night. The contract we agreed on said the boat driver would stay on the boat but after 5 minutes another boat came across and the boat driver left our boat. We were alone on the boat. It was crazy. All the people on the boat were crying. We were so afraid. Some guy, a hero, took over the steering. It was raining. The sea was wild. We were soaked. The boat moved from one side to the other. We do not know how to swim.

After 1.5 hours a big rock hit the motor. We were close to Greece. A boat came for us. A brave man jumped to the sea with a string and attached it to our boat to pull us. Everyone was screaming. The kids were crying. Strangely my kids did not, they were quiet, scared.

My daughter always asks me “Mummy, why did you put us on that boat? Why did you do that?”. I can’t explain the circumstances to her now. One day she will understand. We did not have a chance in Iraq. Maybe she will excuse us one day. When she understands.

© atelier d’images sven becker

We were so tired, depressed and scared after the trip

The first night we arrived in Luxembourg we slept in the Luxexpo camp. We felt safe, it was luxury for us after the long trip. Every one was nice. There are not enough words to thanks for that.

We are staying in the foyer of the old Maternity now. The kids are doing fine. I realize i am much less strict with my children than before. They lost so much too. I feel responsible for that.

When we left, we didn’t plan to come to Luxembourg. After the trip, we were so tired, depressed and scared. When we finally arrived in Europe, i would have given my fingerprints in any country. Most people we hear from go to Germany or Sweden.

After the crossing to Greece, the Red Cross took care of us. They gave us dry clothes. My youngest baby Taha got very sick. The gave him medication but he would not get better. We were all sick but he was in a really bad state, loosing a lot of weight. When we arrived in Luxembourg, i stayed in the hospital with my baby for a few days.

© atelier d’images sven becker

I love to stay at the national library, the cathedral…

I love to stay and work at the Bibliothèque nationale in the city. Three times a week i attend a french course at the Institut national des langues. It finishes at 10 o’clock. Then i spend half an hour in the Cathedral as the library only opens at 10.30.

I love to sit in the Cathedral, it is so quiet and pure, nice and safe. I feel comfortable there. It doesn’t matter that i am a muslim.

I pray in the Cathedral. I light candles. Last time an old Chinese woman thought i was nun (laughs). She came to hold me, she didn’t understand any french, any english. She thought i was a catholic nun and asked me to take holy water. She was crying and praying. I just hold her a while.

Then i go to the national library. I study my french there, do my homework and learn for my test. I try to read french novels. I even found arabic audiobooks to learn french. I like the quietness. In the foyer you know it is noisy and i’m always busy there.


At the university (uni.lu) i study theory of knowledge and historiography as an “auditeur libre”. That’s where i learned about Gelle Fra, the golden woman. I enjoyed learning about the stories, like when she was in the football stadium for 30 years.  The courses are in english.

I wish so much i can access the courses as a regular student in September. They told me it was not possible till i have my status. That worries me, i do not want to loose time. I really want to do the exams like all the other students.

© atelier d'images sven becker
© atelier d’images sven becker

It is not easy to be a refugee

The most difficult thing for me is that i miss my mum so much. I phone her her with Viber. My family will not leave for Europe.

My brother studies engineering at the university, my father is also an engineer. They do not want to be refugees. It is not easy to be a refugee. My brother and my father would prefer to die than live like refugees.

They say they couldn’t stand waiting for someone to give them food. I hope they will change their minds.


I wouldn’t have left Iraq if i had the choice

I used to be an english teacher for primary school. At the same time, i was student in an open college and a member of the cultural center in charge of supporting young girls aged 15-18 who face difficult life situations. Many of these girls had lost their fathers, were facing forced marriage. We were a group of women helping and supporting these young girls, teaching them english. The girls appreciated very much talking to me.

I wouldn’t have left Iraq if i had the choice. Now i have to start my life from zero. In my country i was a english teacher, i had a house, i had a car, i could go anywhere. I had a mother, a father. I had everything.

I had money. My salary was good, my husband also had a good job as a lawyer. We would travel in the summer, go to holiday to Turkey. We used to go to the sea, visit museums. Imagine, last year we went to Turkey as refugees…

 I can’t live as a nobody

I would love to work in a museum, even as a volunteer. I would be happy to do that. I have a diploma as an english teacher but here i would love to study history as a regular student, get a certification from the University of Luxembourg and work in a museum. Unfortunately i have been told i can’t be a regular student till i have my status. That will take months though. That way i could build something in Luxembourg.

Luxembourg is my country now. I can’t stay a refugee. I want to do things. I can’t live as a nobody.

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